It seems that everybody has something to say about breastfeeding, whether or not one has actual experience or research on the subject. Whatever, it's fine: parents are used to this sort of thing. Problems arise, however, when people pass off their breastfeeding advice, however misguided, as fact to a new mom trying her hardest to make nursing work for her and her baby. Even the good advice can be overwhelming and confusing and, while advisable in general, not a great fit for an individual. As such, there's a lot of breastfeeding advice I'm so glad I ignored.
Everyone is different. I feel like this could be the motto for life in general, but definitely for parenthood in particular because there are so many ways to totally win at this whole "responsible for another human being" thing. Everyone just needs to find their own particular groove. So, I find the best breastfeeding advice is the kind that takes the following into consideration
- the health of the baby
- the health of the mother (including mental health)
- actual science and research
- the flexibility of knowing that almost nothing is universal from person to person (advice that isn't coming from a place of judgmental know-it-all-ness)
Which is why the following points may be advice that helped other people (in which case, yay! I'm glad you find something that helped you!) but did absolutely nothing for me and might ultimately have kept me from my breastfeeding goals.
"Toughen Up Your Nipples By Scrubbing Them Before The Baby Is Born"
GAH! Why, why would anyone think this is good advice? (It's not.) OK, I won't lie: breastfeeding can hurt, especially in the early days when everyone involved is getting the hang of things, and you may eventually find yourself dealing with all kinds of painful boob issues. However, going to town on your nips with a loofah ahead of time isn't going to get you used to that. Moreover, you could potentially hurt yourself, rendering feeding more difficult when the time comes.
"Get On A Schedule Right Away"
I was told by a few people that an infant should be nursed every three hours; no more, no less. If they're hungry and it hasn't been three hours, too bad: they won't starve. And if it's been three hours and they don't want to eat (even if they're sleeping) you have to feed, otherwise they might get malnourished. I was also told that this would enable me to establish a sustainable routine right away.
Look, I will do a lot of crazy things, but waking a sleeping infant when I don't have to is not one of them. And hey, if feeding a baby on a schedule works for other people, that's great for them, but that's just not how I roll. Nursing on demand works for lots of people, including me.
"Don't Feed Them Whenever They Want. You'll Spoil Them."
You can't spoil an infant. Really. They don't know they have a nose yet, so they're really not in a developmental position to try to manipulate you. Even as they get older, continuing to nurse on demand just works for some families from both bonding and nutritional standpoints. Seriously, no one is being spoiled.
Supplementing isn't for everyone, and many experts will guide nursing moms away from it. Personally, I'm so, so glad I did and credit supplementing as a reason why I reached my nursing goals. Giving just a little bit of formula to my son after each nursing session "topped him off" and enabled him to go a little longer between feedings (you know, so I only had to feed him every hour and a half instead of every 20 minutes), which allowed me to rest, which helped lower my stress and increase my milk supply. Everyone was happy.
"Don't Nurse Past A Certain Amount Of Months. There's No Benefit After That."
If you think about it, this claim is sort of silly. If a substance is good for you, unless you're talking about something with a known toxicity level, it's not going to mystically become not good for you over time. There are a myriad benefits to nursing past infancy. Above and beyond that, breast milk actually changes depending on your child's needs, which is pretty much the coolest science/witchcraft I've ever heard.
"Pump After Every Feeding When You're Starting Out"
I literally (and I'm saying "literally" here in its dictionary definition way) never would have slept if I pumped after every single feeding. My baby nursed every 20 minutes (40 if I was lucky) and pumping takes about 20 minutes or so. I would have had something permanently attached to my nipples at all times. One nurse, the one who kept encouraging me to pump, stopped suggesting it after I burst into tears right in front of her.
"Don't Nurse On Painkillers"
A lot of my friends and family members were deeply concerned that I was taking prescription painkillers after my c-section and while I was nursing. To them I say, "OK, you try having an 8 pound baby cut out of you and then tell me about not taking something to ease the pain." Besides, the truth is that many medications (even some of the "good stuff") is perfectly safe for breastfeeding moms and babies. Of course, you should always talk to your doctor before taking a new medication while you're nursing, but assuming that you can't take anything because you're nursing isn't doing anyone any favors.
"Don't Nurse On Antibiotics"
Just as with painkillers, antibiotics can be safely consumed while nursing. How else do you expect a breastfeeding mom to deal with a particularly rough bout of mastitis? Good vibes and herbal tea? Honey, I don't think so.
"No Drinking While Nursing. Ever."
This misunderstanding makes sense, since people figure, "Well, whatever the nursing parent eats the baby gets," and that's true, but it's not taking into account 1) less than 2 percent of ingested alcohol even reaches the mother's milk and blood and 2) the tiny percent that does enter the milk and blood eventually leaves the milk and blood. So, if a mom has a glass of wine at 8 p.m., by the time she nurses her baby at midnight that alcohol is almost certainly long gone. A good rule of thumb: if you're good to drive, you're good to nurse.
"If You Have Alcohol While You're Nursing, You Have To Pump And Dump"
You do not. Your boobs aren't like two sexy-looking kegs strapped to your chest, just storing all the beer you've put into your body until your baby goes up to the tap. The alcohol you consume eventually leaves your system. The only reason to pump and dump is for your own comfort, otherwise you can just kinda wait it out.
"Once They're Old Enough To Ask They're Too Old To Nurse"
Have you ever seen a pre-verbal baby want to nurse? They are not at all smooth about it. From pulling down their mom's shirt to rooting around for a nipple like an adorable truffle pig, they're very, very obvious about what they want. All of a sudden their ability to say "Milk" or "Milk please" is what is freaking you out? Not the nipple truffling? Oh, and also? The World Health Organization recommends nursing until 2-years-old "or beyond."
"Once They Get Teeth Breastfeeding Will Be Too Painful To Continue"
Sure, this might be an issue for some moms. My own mother, in fact, stopped nursing the day my 9-month-old brother bit her on purpose. But for a great many breastfeeding moms, nursing a little one with a even a full set of chompers is no big deal. After all, most babies know not to bite the hand that feeds them or, in this case, the boob that feeds them.
In conclusion, remember: there's a lot of advice out there; some of it great, some of it terrible, and what might be good advice for one person may not work for someone else. Unfortunately, sifting through the good, bad, and what works for us as individuals is just one more thing a breastfeeding parent needs to do. Good luck!