Want some unsolicited advice? Tell people you’re going to breastfeed your baby.
Suddenly everyone around you is an expert with pearls of wisdom to share about why you should breastfeed—or why you shouldn’t. Sure, you could get good advice—especially from moms who’ve been there. But you might get steered wrong, too. Here are seven clunkers, plus tips to help you figure out which advice is really worth following.
Myth: The longer you breastfeed, the longer it will take you to lose your post-baby excess weight.
Truth: Many women find breastfeeding helps them lose weight after giving birth, especially if they breastfeed exclusively for the first six months or so. Recently, the United States Department of Agriculture did a comprehensive review of studies looking at the effects of breastfeeding on moms’ health and concluded that breastfeeding is associated with postpartum weight loss in new moms. New research is finding that breastfeeding may not only help you get your figure back post-birth, it may help you stay a healthy weight throughout life. In one recent study of more than 740,000 women, British researchers found that for every six months a woman had breastfed earlier in life, her body mass index after menopause was reduced by 1 percent.
Myth: If your baby isn’t gaining enough weight, your breast milk is of low quality.
Fact: Even malnourished women can usually make high quality breast milk, according to La Leche League International. The problem is more likely to be that your baby is not ingesting enough milk (for any number of possible reasons), or has an underlying health problem that is preventing proper weight gain. Consult your baby’s doctor to determine the real reason he is not gaining weight normally.
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Myth: Give your breastfeeding baby one formula bottle at night and he will sleep through the night sooner.
Fact: “The old thinking was that formula forms bigger curds in your baby’s gut that sustain him longer so he will sleep through the night,” says New York City-based lactation consultant Heather Kelly, whose advice is featured in the new multimedia app Ready, Set, Baby! “The new thinking is that it’s the volume of milk, and not whether it is formula or breast milk, that determines when a baby will sleep through the night. Think of how groggy you feel after a big meal! If you think your baby drinks more when given a bottle rather than at the breast, giving your baby a big bottle of breast milk at bedtime may be just as helpful at getting him to sleep through the night as giving him formula. New research is revealing that giving a baby who is breastfed small amounts of formula may cause unhealthy changes in the normal bacteria in the gut. So, particularly in the first few months of life, breast milk alone is best.”
Myth: Your breasts will never be the same if you breastfeed.
Fact: Your breasts may never be the same once you go through a pregnancy, whether you breastfeed or not, because breast enlargement is a natural part of pregnancy. In fact, swollen, tender breasts are among the earliest signs of pregnancy. Darkening of the areola is another natural change that occurs during pregnancy. Most women find that their breasts return to their pre-pregnancy size and shape after they have a baby, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. However, a little sagging is not only normal after pregnancy, it’s normal as you age. You simply can’t fight gravity forever.
Myth: Drinking a beer a day increases your milk supply
Fact: The best way to increase your milk supply is through milk removal either by having your baby nurse at your breasts, or by pumping your breasts. Your body is incredibly attuned to producing exactly the right amount of milk based on how much milk is expressed from your breasts. The myth about beer probably refers to a long-held belief in some cultures that brewer’s yeast, an ingredient in beer, is a “galactagogue,” a substance that increases milk production. There is little or no scientific evidence that this is true, however. If you do want to drink a beer a day, make it nonalcoholic.
Myth: Women with small breasts usually can’t breastfeed as well as large-breasted women
Fact: Breast size has nothing to do with how well you can breastfeed or the quantity or quality of the milk your breasts produce.
Myth: Breastfeeding is a reliable form of birth control
Fact: Exclusive breastfeeding can prevent ovulation, but it is not considered a reliable form of birth control for all women. Once you introduce solid foods or offer formula in addition to breastfeeding, or your baby starts nursing less during the night, you may begin ovulating again and you could become pregnant if you have sex.
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Laura Flynn McCarthy is a New Hampshire-based writer who specializes in health and parenting topics.