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Ask the Experts: Deciphering breastfeeding advice Ask the Experts

Ask the Experts: Deciphering breastfeeding advice

Everyone from my grandma to my hairstylist has something to say about breastfeeding. What’s worth listening to, and what should I tune out?

A: As a labor and delivery nurse and international board-certified lactation consultant, I’ve overheard all sorts of “insights” regarding breastfeeding. Allow me to debunk some of the well-meaning but inaccurate advice you might have received.

“Breastfeeding hurts; you’ll just have to get through it.”
Breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt! That’s actually a sign there is an incorrect latch. Pain during breastfeeding is warning you to fix the problem before it results in skin damage, which creates susceptibility to infection. There may be some nipple tenderness in the early days (possibly due to a rise in certain hormones that aid in milk production), but you shouldn’t curl your toes every time you go to feed your baby. Remember the 30-second rule: If pain during latch-on lasts longer than 30 seconds, break suction properly, and start again.

“You’ll figure it out as you go. There’s no need for prenatal breastfeeding classes.”
I’ve seen so many women come to the hospital who had received this advice and skipped taking a breastfeeding class. After delivery, they were overwhelmed, had a hard time absorbing new information and felt panicked if things didn’t go perfectly from the beginning. Take a breastfeeding class before delivery to gain the tools and confidence you’ll need and to ease the anxiety that comes with the unknown.

“Just ask a nurse or lactation specialist at the hospital.”
While nurses can be good sources of support postdelivery, they also have many other duties to perform. It can be tough for them to dedicate all their attention to helping you latch your baby. Hospital lactation consultants are often available for only certain hours on weekdays. If you deliver in the early morning hours on a Saturday, you may not have access to a hospital-based lactation consultant before discharge. So, read books and join a support group (and take that breastfeeding class!) before delivery. Most areas have private practice lactation consultants whom you can contact in advance who will come to the hospital after delivery. Find one in your area using the ‘Find a Lactation Consultant’ feature at ilca.org.

“At least you tried—just give the baby a bottle.”
Every breastfeeding mom will experience some bumps along the road. It might be during the early days, or it could be four months in. Become educated on potential issues and how to manage them to help avoid early supplementation with formula. In addition to being informed, it’s wise to develop a relationship with a lactation consultant who can serve as a source of support.

“Your mom and sister didn’t produce enough milk, so you probably won’t either.”
The majority of women who wean due to low milk supply have experienced mismanagement of breastfeeding issues, not a physiologic incapability to produce enough for their infants’ needs. The top culprits in early weaning are latch issues, nipple pain and concern about low milk production. Starting to breastfeed in the first hour of life, working to get an optimal latch and feeding your infant every two to three hours (or more) are great starting points for breastfeeding success. Breast milk is made on a supply-and-demand chain, so frequent feeding is key.

Lindsey Shipley, RN, IBCLC, owner of Lactation Link, a private lactation consulting company

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