I recently had a consultation with someone who has received some very outdated and simply incorrect advice from her health care professionals. Unfortunately what she was told is not uncommon for women to hear and I felt as though it was time for some Milk Meg MYTH BUSTING!!…
MYTH #1 Your baby should be able to go 3 hours between feeds.
REALITY: False! Women who make enough milk to exclusively breastfeed their babies will make about the same amount of milk in a 24 hour period. HOWEVER…every woman has a different storage capacity. This means that what we can hold at any given time will be different from woman to woman. It is because of this reason that some babies might have to feed more often to get the same amount of milk as the next baby. Your best friend might be able to hold 75mls of milk at maximum capacity while your breasts can hold 150mls at maximum capacity! This is not about breast SIZE but rather the glandular tissue (where the milk is made and stored) in your breasts. Breast size has to do with fatty tissue, not glandular tissue.
Research through ultrasound has shown that there is a huge variation between women’s breasts in not only the structure and amount of glandular tissue (where milk is made and stored) but that the amount a woman can make is based on the infant’s appetite . What does this mean? How frequently they breastfeed! Breastmilk production depends on different things working within your breasts: prolactin, oxytocin, feedback inhibitor of lactation and of course the frequency in which your baby removes the milk. Whether or not your baby can go up to 3 hours is NOT in ANY WAY an indication as to whether or not they’re getting enough milk…it’s basic biology and science that shows us this.
There is also the very important point that has nothing at all to do with hunger which is that babies breastfeed for MANY different reasons. Babies breastfeed for thirst, hunger, boredom, pain relief, comfort…the list goes on! These needs to not happen on a schedule, including the need for food. If your baby is tired and would like to breastfeed to sleep, it doesn’t matter if they just fed 45 minutes ago! They will look for another breastfeed to help them relax and fall asleep. Research shows that there are actually components in our milk that helps our baby fall asleep . So while the science of how our breasts make milk helps us to understand the physiological side of breastfeeding, it’s important to recognise that mothering THROUGH breastfeeding means that it meets their every need, at any given moment of the day. Schedules don’t apply here! For more on why the “feed, play, sleep” routine makes no sense for a breastfed baby, CLICK HERE!
MYTH #2 Your baby has to feed from both sides at every feed.
REALITY: No. This is completely false. Some babies will feed from both sides, some will not. There is no black and white when it comes to this! After your baby has finished one side and has come off, offer the second side. If your baby does not want it then that’s OK! Refer to what I’ve written above regarding the amount we can hold and how that is different between woman. Also, what our baby needs at any given time will change! One feed your baby might want one breast, the next they might want both! How do you know your baby has “drained” the breast? Usually a baby will have a feed, gradually fall asleep and then come off the breast. You can then burp your baby, change their nappy and then offer the second side. IT’S OK IF YOUR BABY DOESN’T WANT THE SECOND SIDE! Not a problem.
The only exception to this is if your baby is not gaining weight as expected and needs to have more breastmilk throughout the day. in this case I’d suggest “switch nursing” where you go back and forth between each breast (at least 3-4 times each side) during a feed. This helps kick start your supply and is a great way to give it a boost. More stimulation, more milk is removed, more milk for your baby, more milk continues to be made! Have questions about switch nursing or increasing your supply? I have a whole category of blog posts on that topic just click HERE, or I’m available for individualised help and support HERE.
MYTH #3: Your baby should be breastfeeding for at least 20 minutes at every feed.
REALITY: Not true. Babies will breastfeed anywhere from about 5 minutes to 45 minutes. How long your baby breastfeeds for does not matter. This is not only due to storage capacity but also what is going on for your baby at that time. They might be going through a growth spurt, a be in pain or be cold! Your baby could be teething, on the verge of meeting a developmental milestone…all of these will cause your baby to do something…ASK FOR A BREASTFEED! And this breastfeed could last anywhere from a few minutes to almost an hour. Sometimes your baby might cluster feed, on and off the breast very frequently. You can read HERE to find out when this is normal, or not.
There is only one exception to this rule and that is if your baby is taking a LONG TIME to breastfeed at every feed. So your baby is on the breast for 1 hour or 1 1/2 hours every time. This is a big red flag that your baby is not removing the milk effectively and efficiently. If you’re never sure when your baby is “done” breastfeeding and you feel as though your baby takes a really long time to finish a feed then I do recommend seeking some help from an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC).
MYTH #4: You need to make sure your baby has “emptied” your breasts.
REALITY: Breasts are never empty. You will literally never be able to do this…it’s physically not possible. They will be as I like to say, “well drained”…but there will always be about 1/3 of your full capacity of milk left in your breasts even right after a breastfeed or pumping session. Your breasts are in a continual cycle of making milk as your baby is removing milk, doing the whole “supply and demand” cycle. One study found that an infant will remove 63%-74% of the available milk from the breast during a breastfeeding session . Since your baby does not remove all of the milk and your body is in a continual state of making more milk, you can never be truly “empty”. As long as you are following your baby’s lead and feeding on demand rather then a schedule, you can be sure you are meeting your baby’s needs. There is a checklist that you can go through to make sure you baby is receiving enough milk. CLICK HERE FOR THAT INFORMATION!
*BONUS MYTH!* Your baby (or toddler) should be sleeping through the night right now.
REALITY: It is the biological norm for breastfed children to continue to wake to breastfeed throughout the night, especially if you are bed-sharing. Why is this? Mammals by definition meet their growing child’s needs for comfort and nutrition by breastfeeding. Continuing to follow your babies cues that they would like to breastfeed overnight, ensures that your breastmilk supply is protected and is simply mothering through breastfeeding. Research shows that babies take up to 20% of their milk volume at night . This is a huge percentage and shows just how important night-feeding is to keeping up your supply. Unfortunately most of the sleep training books and articles online do not mention this. I have written extensively about breastfeeding and sleep. There are also MANY reasons other than hunger that you baby ask for a breastfeed overnight. Breastfeeding meets every need your baby will have and this applies to night-time feeds as well! You can check out all of my sleep articles HERE for more information on what to expect with sleep as your baby grows and how to manage sleep deprivation.
The main take home point here? Follow the lead of your baby (they will tell you if what you are doing is working for them or not!) and TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS. If someone gives you advice that doesn’t sound right then it’s probably NOT RIGHT! Ask to see the evidence for them to be able to back up what they are saying.