Photo by Crickett Photography
From the moment I put my first baby to the breast, the advice started. Nurses, doctors, lactation consultants, relatives, friends, strangers, instructional books, discussions on the Internet, support groups, my dissatisfied baby; they all had something important for me to make sure I followed! I didn’t know it right away, but some information was helpful and would be essential to continuing my breastfeeding relationship with my baby. And other advice, strict rules, warnings, and “helpful” suggestions, if attempted, could have resulted in more challenges and possibly the end of breastfeeding for me. I feel fortunate that I was able to wade through all of the contradicting resources and find the information that was helpful for me.
It’s frustrating, but sometimes the professionals who you would think you should trust the most can be the most harmful by providing incorrect information. To initially manage the influx of advice, it can be helpful to consider everyone, no matter the credentials, as a resource you are consulting, not the final expert!
I asked some breastfeeding women to share examples of questionable or harmful suggestions they received from different sources so I could present a more clear picture of the confusing, contradictory, and inappropriate advice women are being told by their healthcare providers and loved ones:
“Yes, I can prescribe that, but I would just stop breastfeeding,” suggested by an OB.
Statements from different pediatricians:
“In our practice, we don’t clip a tongue-tie until breastfeeding fails.” In this case, breastfeeding was on the verge of failing.
“Breastfeeding just ‘isn’t in the cards’ for some people.”
“Just get over it and rip those scabs off.”
“He’s not gaining weight because he’s probably anemic from not giving him an iron supplement.” This baby had an undiagnosed tongue-tie.
“He can’t be allergic to foods other than soy and dairy.”
“Dairy sensitivity is ‘just a fad.'”
“Some babies are sensitive to dairy but nothing else.”
“If he’s not latching correctly, you just need to not let him nurse to show him who’s boss!”
“Give him solids at five months to improve his weight gain.”
“Many moms like to take a weekend at a hotel and leave baby with family.” This was suggested for a one-week-old.
“You should supplement your baby with formula instead of your pumped breast milk.”
“Your baby is nursing way too long. You should stop and give him a pacifier.”
“A six-month-old baby cannot live on breast milk alone. You are starving her by not giving her solids or formula.”
“The benefits of breastfeeding past a couple of months are debatable.”
“Give your baby cereal to sleep through the night.”
“Since your 2.5 month is in the 98th percentile for weight, you can let her cry at night because she obviously doesn’t need night feedings anymore.”
“Babies need to get used to formula anyway, so you may as well start now.”
Statements from lactation consultants and nurses:
“He’s so big; there is no way you can make enough milk to feed him.”
“Your NICU baby will never be able to nurse and you could never keep up pumping, so why bother?” This baby did breastfeed, and this mom had thousands of ounces in extra milk to donate to other babies while feeding her own baby.
“Your baby was just born. There’s no way she’s hungry already.”
“Tongue tie is just a trend.”
“Use sugar water to get him to latch.”
“Your baby won’t latch? She’s being lazy and stubborn, so you just need to be more stubborn than her and force her to latch. She will stop crying eventually and get it.”
“Breastmilk won’t help jaundice. Give the baby formula in a bottle, 60mls, every two hours to flush it out.” This baby was two days old.
“I don’t see a problem with the latch. Just keep using hydrogels.”
“You’re doing it wrong, and when you’re open to help, let me know.” Breastfeeding was actually going well.
“Yeah, it will probably hurt for the first few weeks until you get used to it.” This baby had an undiagnosed tongue-tie.
“Don’t let him use you as a pacifier.”
“I’m sure your latch is fine.” The LC wasn’t watching the baby nurse!
Statements from other professionals, family, friends, and strangers:
“It would be so much easier if you would just give her a bottle.”
“If her latch is bad, why don’t you just give her formula?”
“Give your six-week-old cereal to help him sleep better.”
“Give him water when he wakes up at night to help him start sleeping.”
“You are overfeeding and that’s why your daughter is spitting and has gas. You should nurse her less.” Actually the mom had overactive let-down and oversupply.
“She nurses too much. You’re spoiling her.”
“You have to feed on both sides every time.”
“Make sure you hold your breast down with your finger so she doesn’t suffocate.” This led to mastitis.
“Just switch to formula so your life is easier.”
“Use a toothbrush to scrub nipples and toughen them up before the baby comes.”
“Stop nursing her while you have the flu so your baby doesn’t get sick.”
“I have a lip-tie and I’m fine.”
“You can’t lactate during pregnancy. Either your milk will dry up or you will have a miscarriage.”
“You should wean at a year because, well, that’s what you do with bottles!”
“Didn’t you just breastfeed her? Well she probably needs a bottle then.”
These statements aren’t shared to discourage you from seeking help. In some cases, you may not be sure why the advice is unhelpful and may need to research to find out more about certain breastfeeding challenges. However, being knowledgable that credentials or experience do not always equal expert knowledge about breastfeeding can help you discern where to find your information.
Where do you find the accurate and appropriate breastfeeding information? If possible, start your research during pregnancy. Find a local La Leche League, Breastfeeding USA, or other breastfeeding-focused group. Go to the meetings, socialize with the women, and find out which professionals in your area are truly helpful. If you’re unable to find recommended local help for your questions, consider checking with well-trusted websites. Some good examples include http://www.llli.org, https://breastfeedingusa.org, and http://kellymom.com. Join online breastfeeding support groups to gain broad feedback about your questions. If you choose to follow advice, do your own research before making a change. This is when you’ve hopefully already found a recommended IBCLC or other professional you can trust to help you with finding evidence-based research.
Another step toward a successful breastfeeding relationship is to listen to yourself. Are you trying to make a change because you are truly worried or because other people are telling you to be worried? On the other side, are you ignoring a possible problem because you honestly feel everything is fine or because others are reassuring you all is well? Listen to yourself and listen to professionals who speak to your instinct. Follow up your decisions by checking on evidence-based research, and you can feel confident you are taking the right steps!
I want to add a disclaimer for women, who for any reason, are not breastfeeding their babies. Wether you made the decision to not breastfeed, you were unable to find adequate support, you have a unique health status that affects breastfeeding, or if all of your hard work to make breastfeeding happen did not result in a nursing baby, you are an absolutely awesome mom who loves her baby! While this post is about helping mothers find success in breastfeeding, it is not meant to imply any negativity toward those who do not breastfeed. All moms and all mothering styles need support and respect!