This article originally appeared in The Telegraph.
Breastfeeding is a minefield. There are hundreds of opinions out there, and every one seems to be different. Should you do it at all? In public? Is formula better? What if you’re struggling?
It means that, often, many mums have no idea what’s true and what’s not, when it comes to feeding their babies. They can feel pressured and even guilty.
Mumsnet poll of 1,030 mums to mark World Breastfeeding Week found that three-quarters said they believed that there was “too much emphasis on telling women why they should breastfeed, and not enough on supporting them to breastfeed”.
Such is the confusion, that the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) has recommended breastfeeding be taught in schools, to pupils as young as 11.
The only thing to do? Ask the experts. I spoke to Rosie Dodds, forner senior policy advisor at the National Childbirth Trust, and Rebecca Schiller, chief executive of Birthrights and a doula – to bust the top 11 myths around breastfeeding.
1. Not every woman can produce milk
Actually, 99 per cent of women can produce enough milk to breastfeed. It happens more quickly for some women than others, but most can produce all the milk their baby needs.
Dodds says: “The more milk the baby takes, the more the mum produces. Sometimes women don’t think they have enough milk because the baby wants more.”
2. You don’t have to do it for 18 months
A 2014 study by Brunel University suggested that 18 months is the optimum time a woman should breastfeed, and the World Health Organisation suggests doing it for up to two years.
But Dodds says: “I would say the right time is how long the woman herself wants to do it.” She says that a baby will just continue happily for as long as its mother decides to carry on.
She recommends breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months. Thereafter, she advises mums to continue giving breast milk alongside solid food.
3. Breastfeeding isn’t that different to formula
The two milks are very different. Formula is essentially cows milk, and may contain around 30 beneficial ingredients. While breast milk has about 300.
“Breast milk helps the baby’s developing brain, their immune system, and has more hormones that will help the baby sleep, and help mothers go back to sleep,” explains Dodds.
“Babies who have been breast fed are in hospital less often. Formula-fed babies will be in hospital more often, that’s why there are these [suggested] cost savings.”
4. You can’t drink alcohol
Some mums choose not to drink at all while breastfeeding, but this is not necessary. Drinking in moderation, such as having a glass of wine with dinner, will not affect the baby.
“Alcohol does get through to breast milk, so have small amounts,” says Schiller. “The best time to drink is when you’re actually breastfeeding because by the time it gets into your system, the baby’s asleep.
“It gets into the milk at the same speed it gets into the bloodstream. It doesn’t stay in your breast milk until you’ve fed the baby – it fades as it would in your bloodstream.”
5. You can’t breastfeed if you work
Dodds say that it is possible to continue breastfeeding if a mum returns to work.
“You either do formula in the day and breastfeeding at night and weekends. Or express your milk at work and keep the milk in the fridge for the baby’s nursery or child minder.”
6. Start with short feeds and build up
This a myth that has no scientific value. Dodds says: “It’s nonsense. Feed your baby as long as it needs to be fed.”
7. Breast milk doesn’t change
Actually breast milk changes both during a feed, and during the day.
“It starts off being more thirst-quenching then you get more high fat milk that satisfies the baby,” says Dodds. “If they’re hungry they stay on longer for the ‘pudding’ which is creamy.”
8. You can’t breastfeed if you’ve had implants or piercings
So long as a plastic surgeon has not cut a milk duct, then any woman who has had cosmetic surgery, or nipple piercings, can still breastfeed.
9. It will make your boobs saggy
Recent research suggests that there is no difference between breasts that have breastfed and those that haven’t. Childbirth itself may have an effect on a women’s breasts, but feeding doesn’t.
10. You can’t breastfeed in public
Contrary to the behaviour of some establishments, you can. Under the equality act, every British woman is allowed to breastfeed in public.
In Scotland, it’s a criminal act to discriminate against a woman breastfeeding.
11. You’re a bad mother if you don’t breastfeed
Breastfeeding is not for everyone.
Schiller stresses: “No one is obligated to breastfeed and shouldn’t have to if they don’t want to. Keeping an open mind, and having a good support system are the most important things.