Breastfeeding is one of the best things we can do for our baby.

With breastfeeding, babies get everything they need – food, water, touch, comfort, interaction, protection against diseases. Babies grow up happy.

Nowadays we can hear a lot about breastfeeding; some things are true, some are partly true and some are completely wrong. Here's a list of 10 of the most common breastfeeding myths and what the facts show.

But before we start, let's recall the main recommendation of experts:

During the first 6 months, babies should be exclusively breastfed.

The World Health Organisation

This means giving no juice, puree, porridge, yogurt or any other food or drink. When babies are exclusively breastfed, they don't even need water. Only after 6 months can we gradually introduce solids and other liquids.

Before 6 months, breast milk can be replaced only with infant formula. It's made to mimic breast milk, but is there a difference between the two?

Myth 1:
Formula is the same as breast milk.

Fact: The two are very different and breast milk is definitely better.

Breast milk can’t be imitated. It’s a unique, dynamic fluid because it constantly changes its composition to adapt to the baby’s needs. Unlike formula, for example, it contains immune cells that protect the baby against disease.

In addition, breastfeeding is extremely beneficial for cognitive development . Babies who are exclusively breastfed show greater brain growth than those who are on formula or combination feeding.

Did you know that…?
There is evidence that breastfed babies grow up to be smarter, better educated and better-paid adults. The longer the baby is breastfed, the greater the benefits.

What if I have to give my baby formula? Yes, there are rare cases when formula is the only way to feed a baby well, and it's wonderful that such an alternative exists. In cases when they have a choice, however, mothers should know that the ideal food for their baby is breast milk.

Myth 2:
Women with small breasts cannot breastfeed.

Fact: All mothers can breastfeed, with very rare exceptions.

Women are meant by nature to be able to breastfeed their babies, even twin-babies on their own. Neither the size and shape of the breasts, nor the mother's body type, has any effect on the amount of breast milk. What makes a difference is the ability of the baby to latch, suck and remove enough milk from the breasts.

Did you know that…?
The principle of breastmilk production is simple – the more frequently and thoroughly the breasts are emptied, the more they will try to refill.

If we put the baby to the breast often and they manage to suck actively, then the breasts will continue to produce the amount that the baby needs. However, if we skip breastfeeding and replace it with formula, the breasts will soon adjust to the lack of demand by the baby. Why should the body spend a lot of energy to produce breastmilk when there’s no need for it? As a result, breastmilk goes down and gradually stops.

In the rare cases when a mother is truly unable to breastfeed, it’s probably due to a rare genetic condition, serious illness or dangerous medication.

Myth 3:
There is non-nutritious breast milk.

Fact: Every breastmilk is very rich in nutrients.

There is no poor quality breastmilk. It’s never too thin or too thick, too fatty or too watery. It’s exactly as it should be, because it’s made to match the baby’s needs. In summer, for example, breastmilk has such a high water content that it’s all babies need to quench their thirst.

The myth of the non-nutritious breastmilk probably originates from cases when breastfed babies don’t gain enough weight. In these circumstances, the mother may decide that the problem lies in her breast milk and start to supplement with formula. Unfortunately, the mixed feeding itself causes her concerns to materialize. For the breasts, the less frequent sucking of the baby is a signal that they no longer need to produce as much milk, and as a result, the milk supply truly decreases.

In fact, almost all cases of inadequate weight gain are due to the baby’s incorrect latch or the inappropriate organization of breastfeeding throughout the day . The mother may think that the baby is swallowing, when they actually manage to suck very little. Sometimes parents delight in the baby’s “blissful” sleep, unaware that the baby is actually quite hungry, especially in the first "sleepier" weeks after birth.

Fortunately, these kinds of problems can be easily overcome as long as adequate measures are taken. On the same principle that it can decrease, breast milk can also increase with more frequent effective sucking or pumping.

Did you know that…?

There are organizations that help breastfeeding mothers free of charge. If you contact a volunteer lactation consultant, she will come to you in the hospital or at home, monitor the breastfeeding process and advise you on what is best for your baby. See more on the webpages of “Support for Breastfeeding” and “La Leche League”.

Myth 4:

The baby should not be nursed at night because the tummy needs to rest.

Fact: Night feeding is especially important for the newborn. It’s the only way it can get enough milk and what breasts need to produce it.

The myth that night feeding is harsh on the baby's tummy is completely wrong. Babies need night feedings to grow. Their tummies are so small especially at the beginning that they get full with liquid food and then empty again very quickly. If we decide not to night feed, it means we simply keep babies hungry, which impedes normal development.

Did you know that…?
The hormone which regulates milk production reaches its peak levels at night. This means that nighttime breastfeeding is key for maintaining a good milk supply. Also, the dark and quiet hours of the night are a great time to breastfeed because babies are more relaxed then and able to empty the breast better.

How often should you feed a baby? As often as it wants. Specialists deny feeding by the clock in the first weeks after birth. There are times when the baby is more hungry or thirsty, and there are times it’s not. It’s important to follow its rhythm without forcing it and without keeping it hungry.

The main guidelines for a newborn are: feeding on demand, at least 8 times a day, with a break between meals of no more than 4 hours. This means nursing approximately every 2-3 hours.

As babies grow, they learn to suck more effectively and gradually reduce the frequency of feedings. Night feeding continues to be an important and necessary part of breastfeeding, at least until the baby no longer relies exclusively on breast milk for food.

Myth 5:
Mothers have no breast milk in the first few days after birth.

Fact: A mother can breastfeed immediately after delivery.

While in the maternity ward, many mothers hear advice like "Mommy, your baby is hungry" or "You don't have any milk yet, it's better to give it the bottle." The truth is that as long as there is no medical reason, the practice of feeding the newborn with formula is not only wrong, but also harmful. It hinders the successful start of breastfeeding and deprives the baby of an extremely valuable liquid - colostrum.

Colostrum is the first type of milk that the breasts produce. It’s golden-yellow or light orange in color, in contrast to the whiter milk with which the breasts begin to fill a few days after birth. Colostrum production actually begins as early as pregnancy. Some pregnant women may notice droplets of colostrum leaking from their breasts. However, even when it's not visible, it's there..  

Colostrum is extremely rich in nutrients. It gives the newborn exactly what it needs. It gives protection against diseases outside the womb, supports the immature digestive system and fights jaundice.

Yet there is so little colostrum in the breasts - won't we starve the baby if that’s the only thing we feed it with? No, the volume of colostrum fully corresponds to the needs of the newborn. Right after birth, the baby's stomach is barely the size of a cherry. It only needs a few drops or about a teaspoon to fill up.

Therefore, the normal behavior of a newborn is to nurse little by little, very often. In this way, it practices the skill of sucking, and the breasts receive the stimulation they need to regulate milk production. That's why it’s best for newborns to room-in with their mothers at the maternity ward instead of being kept away in a separate newborn nursery. Only in this way can we be sure that breastfeeding follows the needs of the baby and not the schedule of the medical staff.

Did you know that…?
Experts recommend that babies be put to the breast within the first hour after delivery. That's when they’re most alert, looking for mom, and ready to nurse. Skin-to-skin contact helps a lot for a smooth start to breastfeeding.

Gradually, the baby's stomach grows and the volume of breast milk increases. Transitional milk "comes down" and the breasts noticeably begin to fill, usually 2 to 5 days after birth.

Is breastfeeding after a C-section possible? Do mothers need to drink a lot of boza – a traditional Bulgarian malt drink – to have more breast milk? If the mother’s breasts don’t feel full and the baby is crying, does that necessarily mean it’s hungry? Read the myths and truths on these and other popular questions in part 2 of the article.


Cover photo by David Veksler from Unsplash

"This publication was created with the financial support of the Active Citizens Fund Bulgaria under the Financial Mechanism of the European Economic Area. The entire responsibility for the content of this publication lies with the Health and Social Development Foundation and under no circumstances can it be assumed that this publication reflects the official opinion of the Financial Mechanism of the European Economic Area and the Operator of the Active Citizens Fund Bulgaria."

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