Tackling the bad advice given to breastfeeding families

Alexiyah Coughlin, BSN, RN, IBCLC

Parenthood is sure to be one of the most vulnerable times in your life.  Feeding your baby is only one part of this chapter of your life.  As you embark on this path, we want you to know that it’s likely you’ll encounter a lot of advice along the way. Some of this advice may be helpful, but others-not so much.  This April Fool’s Day, our team of IBCLCs has come with a list of the worst advice patients have ever reported.  

  1.  “Sleep train your baby.” 

I’m starting out with a big one.  Sleep training is recommended by many pediatricians, sleep trainers, family, and friends.  And it can be detrimental to your breastfeeding journey.  It is a physiologic norm for young babies to feed overnight.  Because milk supply is heavily regulated by “supply = demand”, forcing a baby to sleep through the night before they’re ready contributes to a great number of low milk supply cases.  As a general rule of thumb, young infants should be fed on demand, even at night.  Instead of sleep training, try taking steps to make feeding at night a little less inconvenient:  bassinet next to your bed, have your partner get baby for you or soothe them back to sleep after feeds (teamwork is key), make a bed in the nursery, or consider safe co-sleeping.

  1.  “Prep your nipples.” 

I have to admit-I hadn’t heard this one until we were all brainstorming about the silliest advice we had heard.  Apparently some family and friends have encouraged new moms to prep their nipples-that is, to strengthen their nipples to prepare for breastfeeding.  Some have even encouraged the use of scouring pads.  I’ll combat this one with this-just NO!  Trust me when I say that your nipples were made for breastfeeding-no prep needed!

  1.  “Eat your placenta.”

I know, I know!  It’s tempting.  There has been a lot of encouragement over the years for moms to consume their placenta, either in a recipe or in capsule form over time.  Milk production relies on hormone balance.  At the end of pregnancy, estrogen and progesterone drop, while prolactin is high.  If estrogen or progesterone are abnormally high, milk supply is likely to suffer.  The placenta is a source of exogenous consumption of estrogen and progesterone and it’s consumption has been linked to low milk supply.  

  1.  “Wean the toddler.” 

If you’re pregnant and nursing a toddler, you may have heard that you should wean your older child.  This advice usually comes with various rationales.  Some say the toddler won’t leave any milk for the baby or that the milk won’t be the right composition for the baby.  Others say that breastfeeding during pregnancy will cause preterm labor.  The fact is that breastfeeding your older child during pregnancy is most likely safe.  It’s unlikely that a letdown produces enough of the hormone oxytocin to initiate preterm labor.  However, in very few cases, a provider may recommend against it if you are at higher risk for preterm labor, or if you’re experiencing contractions while breastfeeding.  On the other end, breastfeeding your older child at the same time as feeding your younger baby is called tandem nursing.  It’s completely normal, and your body is made to feed both.  Research has shown that the body may recognize each child’s suckling and alter milk composition to suit each baby’s needs-how cool is that!? 

  1.  “Pumping isn’t breastfeeding.” 

Let’s clear the air, because this one makes me sad every time I hear it!  If you’re expressing milk to feed your baby, you are absolutely breastfeeding.  Nurturing your baby can look different for different families, and that is okay!  Be proud of your unique journey and the wonderful benefits you’re giving to your breastfed child. 

  1.  “Tongue ties are a fad.”

Sorry to break the ice with this one:  oral ties are real, and they can be detrimental to your breastfeeding journey.  Unfortunately, there are many providers who are not trained or specifically educated in the mechanics of breastfeeding who believe that tongue ties are a “trend”.  In reality, restrictive tongue and lip ties can really impact breastfeeding comfort, supply, and transfer of milk.  Seeing an IBCLC with special training on recognizing restriction can help you decide if your baby has a restriction and how to help. 

  1.  “Switch breasts after x minutes.”

One of the most common pieces of advice I have to combat as an IBCLC is when parents are told they have to feed their baby on both breasts each feed.  For some, that’s absolutely true, but for others, it may actually be harmful advice.  Moms with oversupply may only need to feed on one breast.  The priority should usually be to empty one breast before offering the other, and alternate the first breast between feeds.  This method prevents oversupply and allows baby to get more fat to help them grow. 

  1.  “Pump and dump.” 

This is an archaic recommendation, dating way back.  Pumping and dumping has been utilized for decades as means to eliminate harmful substances, like certain medications or alcohol, from breast milk.  What we know is that these substances stay in the breast milk as long as they’re in the bloodstream.  For example, if you drink alcohol and then pump/dump, you will just make more alcoholic milk until the alcohol is cleared in your bloodstream.  The only time you should pump for this reason is if you experience fullness or discomfort during the period of time you’re waiting for clearance.  In most scenarios, pumped milk can be saved and used after a certain period of time when the substance has cleared from the milk in storage.  Moreover, there are very few medications that are unsafe for breastfeeding, but many providers who aren’t educated in breastfeeding will tell moms to pump and dump if they’re uncertain.  As a general rule of thumb, talk to your IBCLC if you’re questioning a medication or how to store contaminated milk.

  1.  “Don’t spoil your baby.” 

Some will tell new parents that they will spoil their baby if they hold them too much.  Fortunately, we are learning more and more that this really isn’t supportable advice.  Research has shown that babies who have attentive parents are more likely to thrive.  Infants need the nurturing hands of their parents, so hold, snuggle, and love on your baby as much as possible!  Trust me, you’re not going to “spoil” them!

  1.  “Just feed formula-it’s easier.” 

I’ll end with this one-formula is NOT easier!  I’m going to argue that feeding any baby is a huge commitment, no matter how you feed them.  Breastfeeding eliminates (or greatly reduces) the need for formula, which is expensive and requires preparation.  It’s best to weigh out other valid pros and cons when deciding how to feed your baby.  

As a parent, you’re sure to be faced with many pieces of advice along your journey.  If you are met with advice you’re questioning, it’s best to ask a qualified professional.  Lactation consultants are specially trained in helping families feed their babies.  We love to help you work through the advice you hear to ensure you get the most up-to-date information to help you feed your baby.  If you’d like to connect with one of our IBCLCs, click here to schedule an appointment.  You’ve got this, and we’ve got you!

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