New mums often find themselves on the receiving end of endless advice, whether it comes unsolicited or from Dr Google. We spoke to five breastfeeding experts and midwives who debunk the most common myths surrounding pregnancy, breastfeeding and the fourth trimester.
16 of the Most Common Pregnancy & Breastfeeding Myths – Debunked!
Pregnancy and breastfeeding are topics often surrounded by debate, misinformation and myths. So, which are old wives tales and which have some truth?
To debunk the most common pregnancy, breastfeeding and fourth trimester myths, we spoke to Anneke, a practicing midwife and co-founder of My Mindful Midwife, which offers online hypnobirthing, antenatal and postnatal courses as well as an app which supports expectant parents through pregnancy and birth, as well as Marley Hall from maternal health brand Lansinoh, Kate Mundell at online women’s health clinic Naytal, co-founder of My Expert Midwife Lesley Gilchrist and the breastfeeding experts at Medela.
Common Breastfeeding Myths Debunked
Myth: ‘Breastfeeding can prevent pregnancy’
Only feeding your baby breast milk at least every four hours can prevent pregnancy because your body stops ovulating, explains Anneke from My Mindful Midwife.
“When you start weaning your baby and introducing other foods, then the body may start ovulating and therefore the birth control stops working,” she adds.
Kate Mundell at online women’s health clinic Naytal says: “As a form of contraception this is about 98% effective. However, what you do not know is when your periods are about to start, as you are fertile approximately two weeks before you start your period, so it is always safer to take extra precautions.”
Myth: ‘Breastfeeding should come naturally’
It’s a myth that breastfeeding comes naturally to all mothers, explains Marley Hall from maternal health brand Lansinoh.
“For some women, yes, breastfeeding does come naturally, and feels like an immediate instinct. For others, this can take a bit of time, especially if there was any type of trauma during the birth. Some women feel an aversion to breastfeeding immediately after giving birth.
“Newborns can also sometimes struggle to latch as a result of a tongue-tie. Ask your midwife questions on latch positioning and technique to make it the most comfortable experience for both mother and baby.”
Both mum and baby are learning what to do and this takes time, adds Anneke. “So, take a deep breath, relax your shoulders and take each feed one at a time,” she says.
Myth: ‘It’s normal for breastfeeding to hurt’
Breastfeeding is different for everyone and can even differ for the same woman with her different children.
Anneke says: “A huge proportion of women find breastfeeding uncomfortable in the first few months. This can be due to incorrect latch, sensitive nipples and breasts not being used to being suckled 8-12 times a day!”
“The most important thing to do is to get lots of support with breastfeeding at the beginning to ensure a good latch and the discomfort will ease as the breasts get used to it.”
Lesley from My Expert Midwife recommends La Leche League, who provide meetings with other breastfeeders via in-person meet ups, online, telephone or text-message support, as well as finding a Baby Cafe, which support breastfeeding mums in the early days – put in your postcode to find the closest to you.
Myth: ‘Breastfeeding makes you lose all the baby weight quickly’
“Breastfeeding can support losing baby weight, but only alongside a healthy diet and exercise,” says Anneke.
Kate adds, “Breastfeeding your baby produces oxytocin which in turn makes your uterus contract; you may feel small period like pains when the baby is feeding as this is stimulating your uterus to contract back down to a pre-pregnancy state.”
Myth: ‘Your milk supply can’t be improved’
“Milk supply can be encouraged by breastfeeding more often and by expressing between feeds (our breasts work on ‘supply and demand’),” explains Anneke.
“Keeping well hydrated and getting some good sleep helps. You can try eating lactogenic friendly foods like fennel/oats/carrots/nuts/salmon/garlic. You can also try herbal supplements of fenugreek. If none of those are helping you can see your GP who may be able to prescribe a medication called domperidone to increase milk supply.”
Myth: ‘You shouldn’t breastfeed if you are ill’
You can definitely breastfeed when you are ill! “Amazingly, our breast milk amazingly contains more antibodies to help fight infection when we are ill,” explains Anneke.
The experts at Medela add: “Part of the benefit of breastfeeding is that because your baby is likely exposed to the same cold or flu that you picked up, it’s easier for your mature immune system to develop the antibodies and leukocytes to fight the cold/flu than his. These antibodies and leukocytes are transferred through your breast milk when you breastfeed.”
“The only exception is if you’re taking a medication that is not safe for breastfeeding mothers (always check with your doctor and pharmacist and make sure they know that you’re breastfeeding).”
Myth: ‘If you have small breasts, you won’t produce enough milk’
Size definitely doesn’t matter, say the breastfeeding experts at Medela. “Breast size is caused by the amount of fatty and fibrous tissue than the amount of milk-producing glands and is hormonally stimulated and increases with the baby’s demand.”
“The baby is in control of the amount of milk produced, and the breast size makes no difference at all. There are many things that can affect the production of milk like stress, tiredness or depression, but the size of your breast size is not a contributing factor.”
Myth: ‘Breastfeeding mothers should always use both breasts at each feeding’
Your breasts “know” how much milk they need to make, depending on the baby’s demands, according to the Medela experts.
“If you go too long without nursing from one breast, it might start to feel full – but you don’t have to worry about whether the baby is drinking from both breasts at every single feeding.”
Common Pregnancy, Labour and the Fourth Trimester Myths Debunked
Myth: ‘If you have a lot of nausea during your pregnancy, you’re more likely to have a girl’
This is a classic old wives’ tale, explains Marley. “There is no research or evidence backing up the theory that if you tend to feel more nauseous or ill during your pregnancy that you are more likely to have a girl.”
Myth: ‘You will immediately bond with your baby’
“Some people will bond with their baby in utero and that then carries on and strengthens after birth. For other people it takes longer and is a process,” says Anneke.
“The love hormone oxytocin helps us want to protect and love our newborn. Skin to skin and breastfeeding really help. There is no time frame as to how long bonding will take and there are many things that can affect bonding with our baby like a traumatic birth experience. Speak to your midwife, health visitor or GP if you are worried.”
Myth: ‘Once you have one caesarean, you need to have them with all your other babies’
This isn’t strictly true, according to Anneke. However, “the vast majority of people who have had a C-section have the choice of going for a vaginal birth or elective repeat caesarean section,” she explains.
“You can still have that choice if you have had 2 or 3 previous caesareans. Your obstetrician will discuss this with you depending if you have any pre-existing conditions/complications.”
Myth: ‘You won’t have bleeding after a C-section’
Everyone bleeds after childbirth regardless of birth type (vaginal or C-section). “The bleeding is coming from the placental site on the womb. As the uterus contracts back down into the pelvis the bleeding decreases and then stops,” explains Anneke.
Myth: ‘Breach babies and twins need to be born via c-section’
This is a common myth that all breached babies or twins need to be delivered via caesarean section. “This is not always the case, for breached babies if the mother wishes to have the baby vaginally it may still be possible,” says Marley.
“For twins this is case dependent on the position of both babies to ensure safe delivery. While c-section might be the route taken, there is also the option of vaginal birth depending on circumstance.”
Myth: ‘Holding a baby too much will cause them to be spoiled’
“This is an absolute myth!” says Marley. “Newborns need to be held and loved and snuggled. If your newborn cries it’s because of a need – the best thing that a mother can do is pick them up and tend to them. This will not in turn spoil them for life!”
Myth: ‘Babies need their cord cutting straight after they are born’
Lesley Gilchrist, co-founder of My Expet Midwife, says: “There are lots of benefits to keeping the cord intact and not cutting it until it has stopped pulsating as up to one third of a baby’s blood still needs to transfer to them during this time. However, despite knowing that this transfer increases iron stores for baby and that cord blood is packed with stem cells which have many benefits, including improving the immune system, not all babies are having delayed cord clamping at birth.
“This is because research takes a long time to be integrated into practice in the NHS and other healthcare settings. If you would like your baby to have delayed cord clamping at birth then make sure the midwife looking after you during this time knows, as well as writing it in your hospital notes or birth plan.”
Myth: ‘My baby will probably have a tongue-tie’
Up to 10% of babies can have some form of tongue-tie en they are born, explains Lesley. “A baby may be diagnosed with a tongue-tie if their frenulum has formed in a way that restricts or changes the movement their tongue has in their mouth. In some babies it may extend towards the tip of the tongue more than normal making it appear almost heart shaped, or it could be thicker and more restricting where it is joined.
“However, many babies who have a tongue-tie will be able to breastfeed without experiencing issues, so the current advice is to monitor feeding before considering separating the tongue-tie. If needed, tongue-tie separations can be performed by a specialist practitioner, during a quick out-patient procedure.”
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