Although the benefits of breastfeeding are well known, some myths persist. Among these misconceptions are that breastfeeding causes sagging breasts, is painful and causes weight gain.
"I meet women all the time who chose not to breastfeed all because of false rumors," says Janice Gourgues, a nurse at East Jefferson General Hospital's (EJGH) Woman and Child Services department. "Breastfeeding education is so important for expecting mothers. It is important to learn how to breastfeed correctly to fully reap its many benefits."
Gourgues has been a board-certified lactation consultant for more than 20 years and teaches a breastfeeding class, ABC's of Breastfeeding, where she tries to clear up misinformation about breastfeeding myths. Gourgues says the biggest myth is that breastfeeding causes breasts to sag — but pregnancy is the culprit. The hormone relaxin, released at the end of pregnancy to aid in delivery, causes muscles and ligaments to relax, including the breasts' supporting ligaments.
Many new moms are concerned that breastfeeding may prohibit them from taking medications. However, very few medications are contraindicated during breastfeeding. Women who have heart problems, depression, high blood pressure and allergies can take medications for these problems and still nurse a baby. As always, women should consult their physicians and pediatricians to make sure specific medications are safe for them and their infant.
Another common misconception is that breastfeeding women must restrict their diets. Women who breastfeed are encouraged to continue the same well-balanced, nutritious diet they consumed during pregnancy. Foods are not restricted unless there is a family history of allergies or intolerance. However, an allergy to cow's milk is very common among infants. If babies show symptoms of sensitivity (spitting up, gas pain, wheezing, rashes), moms should limit their intake of cow's milk. Otherwise, women can eat what they want within moderation, being especially careful when it comes to foods containing caffeine. More than three to four servings a day could cause the baby to be irritable and suffer from gas.
Breastfeeding exclusively in the early months of nursing provides protection against ovulation and pregnancy. While the infant is nursing frequently (every one to three hours around the clock with no long stretches of sleep and no solid foods), the breastfeeding hormones prevent or suppress ovulation. This is called the lactational amenorrhea method, or LAM. Breastfeeding is not a deterrant to sexual activity, though some women experience vaginal dryness as a result of certain breastfeeding hormones. There are over-the-counter remedies help with this issue.
If done correctly, breastfeeding is not painful. The mom will experience some tenderness the first week or so until her nipples are conditioned to nursing, but cracking, blistering and pain are not part of breastfeeding.
"Learning the proper way to latch and position the baby on the breast, along with knowledge regarding feeding frequency and adequacy, can help to avoid problems and ensure the breastfeeding experience is ... positive and rewarding for both mom and baby," Gourgues says.
A 2009 study published by the Journal of American Dietetic Association shows that breastfeeding helps new moms shed weight gained during pregnancy. Women who breastfeed burn an average of 500 calories a day producing milk. Breastfeeding mothers lose more weight after pregnancy than bottle-feeding moms, even if the bottle-feeding group consumes fewer calories. Mothers who breastfeed exclusively have a decrease in body fat, hip fat and lower thigh circumferences compared to bottle-feeding moms.
Even in unseen ways, breastfeeding helps new moms regain their pre-pregnant form more quickly. The hormone oxytocin, released during breastfeeding, helps the uterus return to the size and shape it was prior to pregnancy. Moms who breastfeed report regaining their pre-baby figures much more quickly than bottle-feeding moms.
"Women need to know that breastfeeding is the optimal nutrition for their baby, and although natural, it is a process that must be learned by both mother and infant," Gourgues says.