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Breastfeeding myths busted! (Part One)

Michelle Swadling

I was pregnant with my first child when the ill-informed breastfeeding advice began. The conversation would be initiated by a well-meaning friend asking if I was hoping to breastfeed once my baby was born. My naive self would eagerly respond with a yes. And then the comments would be made … “Women with pale skin can’t breastfeed”, “You will have to watch everything you eat so it doesn’t upset the baby”, amongst many other myths.

I decided to tackle a few popular myths with the help of Ingrid Mckenzie, from New Lives. Ingrid is a local Lactation Consultant, accredited by the International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (ICBLC), Childbirth Educator (Grad Dip CBE) and a member of the Australian Breastfeeding Association.

Myth #1: Fair-skinned women can’t breastfeed.

The first time I heard this myth, I was one week away from my due date with my first baby. Being quite fair-skinned myself, I googled this in a mad flurry. The anecdotal reasoning behind this is women with pale skin may be more sensitive to pain.

The website www.kellymom.com is one of the internet’s authoritative voices on breastfeeding, and they say, “This is a myth! The research has shown us that fair skin or hair does not increase the risk for nipple soreness. The most common cause of nipple soreness is a less than perfect latch and/or positioning.”

Sensitivity is common for everyone when they first start breastfeeding, not just women with fair skin. Ingrid McKenzie (ICBLC) confirms this. “It hurts because baby is breastfeeding so often. Early tenderness is common. It’s when there’s a sharp pain on the surface (of the nipple) when it’s a problem.”

Myth #2: Breastfeeding causes saggy breasts

If a woman is going to suffer from saggy breasts, it’s definitely not because of breastfeeding.

“Actually, pregnancy equals saggy breasts.” Ingrid says. “And they’re not saggy, they’re actually womanly and they’re how they’re meant to be.”

When a woman is pregnant, her body starts to see changes immediately.

“You know in the first 12 weeks? Those tender breasts are your breasts growing! Progestogen and oestrogen growing ducts and glandular tissue, that’s getting ready for breastfeeding.”

Another factor is the stretching of the ligaments that support the breasts. With all that extra growing during pregnancy, the ligaments may also be stretched. There is actually a medical term for saggy breasts—it’s called Ptosis. Whilst pregnancy is a contributing factor to ptosis, there are several other causes:

  • genetics
  • breast shape and size
  • weight gain
  • aging; and
  • According to a University of Kentucky study, smoking has a damaging effect on elastin that the body produces. Elastin is a protein that helps support the breasts. ~ Everyday Health

So whilst some women may blame breastfeeding on ptosis, the truth is they would have ended up with saggy breasts whether they breastfed or not.

Myth #3: My baby doesn’t gain weight on breastmilk, so I need to switch to formula

“If a baby is not gaining weight well when they’re breastfeeding, there’s a problem that needs addressing,” states Ingrid.

“Whether it’s the woman’s supply or how the baby is feeding. So that’s something that needs addressing and it can be addressed in most cases.”

Before automatically reaching for formula, a heath professional should assist mothers by investigating the cause. It’s very possible that a successful breastfeeding relationship can continue and baby can start to gain weight.

The Australian Breastfeeding Association states there are many possible reasons for lack of weight gain. Several include:

  • baby is unwell. The ABA suggests ”this can range from a cold to a urinary tract infection”.
  • baby has been vomiting or posseting frequently.
  • baby needs to feed more often, or longer.
  • the baby’s attachment needs to be checked- tongue-tie, nipple shields and poor latching can play a part.

Further information on baby weight gains can be found here.

At the end of the day, it is important to keep in mind we are all different, and our babies are, too. We can talk about issues generally, but as Ingrid says, “There are so many variables, there’s no blanket rules. It’s pretty much each individual and each individual baby.”

Disclaimer: This article is for educational and informational purposes only. This information is not intended to replace medical advice.

Local breastfeeding support contacts

Feature image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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Michelle Swadling

Michelle worked in radio before moving to Canberra several years ago. She loves the opportunities the city offers, whilst still having that “country town feel”. Michelle’s life is a whirlwind of full time work, studying and raising two active little boys with her husband.

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  • Katherine

    Breastfeeding is the best and worst. Everyone’s experience is different. I struggled through the first weeks (/months …) breastfeeding both my kids. So. Much. Pain. That nipple was never going to fit in such tiny mouths! In my case, perseverance paid off and breastfeeding became a walk in the park. To breastfeed or not is completely up to you. Sure, breast might be best, but formula is pretty great stuff. Do what you need to do.

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