Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Myths about breastfeeding

I've run across SO many websites dedicated to dispelling the "myths" surrounding breastfeeding, but it seems like so many of them are afraid to say anything unpleasant about breastfeeding for fear it will convince you not to try it.  Now I'm all for breastfeeding, heck it's been really difficult for me and I'm still working to make it better, but I think it's worth sharing that it's not all puppies and rainbows.  I would encourage every mother to breast feed as much as she is able.  There are lots of health benefits involved for all parties, and even if you can't stick with it for one reason or another, every bit that you can do helps both you and your baby.  But if you only hear the good things about breastfeeding, never informing yourself about the ups and downs involved then how can you prepare yourself for what you'll need to do to give breast feeding a concerted effort.  So without further ado here are some myths I see all over the internet that I wish someone had dispelled for me.

Myth: Breast feeding doesn't hurt if you do it right.
Ha!  My nipples have ranged from slightly sore to downright painful for the last two and a half months.  From the week my baby was born I would cringe just to have my towel brush against my nipples when I got out of the shower.  Ever tried to dry your face without your towel touching your nipples?  Maybe if you're more flat chested than me, but I can't seem to manage it.  Now things might be better for you if you're used to having someone suck on your nipples five hours a day, yes that's 10 feedings a day at 15 minutes per breast which is the MINIMUM my lactation consultant recommended to get started, so it just stands to reason that women who haven't breast fed before are going to be sore.  It doesn't help that she sometimes kicks one boob while feeding from the other.

Now there are lots of things that can help, starting with getting your baby to latch properly.  The lanolin cream really does help, and they make these really fantastic gel nipple pads that are cooling and soothing and really fantastic!  The pain gets better with time, well, it comes and goes really.  You'll get a schedule going and be fine for a couple weeks (sore but fine) and then your baby will go through a growth spurt and be ravenously hungry and rub your nipples raw again.  Keep in mind, I haven't had anything like bad nursing problems, no cracked and bleeding nipples like I've read about.  But you'll want to have a few thick bras that  are really protective (and hide the lines from the gel pads mentioned above), and don't be afraid to take a little Ibuprofen now and then.

Myth: The pounds just melt off.
I'm sure they do for some folks, but don't count on it.  I lost weight pretty fast for the first few weeks home from the hospital and then stalled out with about ten pounds to go to my pre-pregnancy weight.  I was talking to a retired GYN nurse who works at my daughter's daycare and she says that's about par for the course.  She said it's because breastfeeding tends to cause fluid retention (makes sense, if you're providing fluid to your baby then your body would want to have plenty of fluid on hand) so most women stall out somewhere around 5-10 lbs above their pre-pregnancy weight.  Of course you can then watch what you eat and probably slowly lose more, but you want to be careful about that when your breastfeeding because you don't want your body to think you're starving.  You also don't want to loose weight to fast because that can release toxins into the breast milk.  Either one can hurt breast milk quality or quantity, so don't plan on slimming down quickly.

Myth: Breastfeeding is free.
Nope, there's still no such thing as a free lunch.  Yes, breastfeeding is more cost effective than formula, but it's still far from free.  Here's a breakdown of what you can expect to spend on breastfeeding:
  • Lanolin - I go through a tube every month and a half or so, and the tubes run about $8 at my local Kroger.  It might be more cost effective to buy them online or in larger sizes, but I haven't checked.
  • "Soothies" Gel Nipple covers - You may not need them all the time, but they're great help for the worst soreness, and you can put them in the fridge for even more effective soothing.  They run about $10 a pair and I forget where I got this last set.
  • Sleep Bras and Nursing Bras - No, they're not the same thing.  You'll want extra protection for your boobs, so even if you don't normally need support while you sleep you'll probably want to get a couple of sleep bras (I got Medela sleep bras, $15-20 on, and wore them 24/7 for my maternity leave).  You'll also want some nursing bras, preferably something without under-wire for the first little while.  I got one actual nursing bra, and then found that my really old stretched out Victoria's Secret bras could be pulled down for nursing pretty conveniently.  Unfortunately, they don't make them like they used to, and you couldn't do this with their memory foam bras, and Victoria's Secret now appears to be addicted to memory foam.  You can get nursing bras that unhook from the top to fold down, or with stretchy bra cups that just pull to the side or down.  I found the second to be more convenient, but they're less supportive than the ones that unhook, so you'll have to figure out what works best for you.
  • Vitamin D drops and other baby supplements - Our pediatrician recommended that unless our baby eats 32 oz or more of formula a day we should give her vitamin D drops daily.  My husband's been the one to buy these, so I don't know how much they are, but I'm sure they're not terribly expensive.  I've heard of other folks needing other vitamin and mineral supplements as well, but we've never needed more, possibly because we're feeding both breast milk and formula.
  • Bottles - Unless you're never planning on leaving your baby with anyone else, or for that matter never planning to need to feed her in her car seat on the way somewhere, you'll need to get some bottles.  How many will vary according to how long you'll ever be away or how often you want to wash dishes, but my lactation consultant strongly recommended using the wide nipple bottles because they're more like a breast which can reduce nipple confusion.  However I haven't seen any wide neck bottles in consignment like I have standard size bottles, so you may find these to be more expensive than if you were exclusively bottle feeding.
  • Breast Pump - Wile I've heard some people have great success with hand expression, the few times I've tried it I got much less than pumping and it took a very long time.  Breast pumps can ranbe from about $50 for the cheapest hand pump I've seen, to around $1000 for a hospital grade pump.  That's to buy.  You can also rent for about $50 a month, and there are accessories to buy to go with that.  I got a decent electric pump for $300 and it works pretty well, though some folks swear the hospital grade pump works better.  I kind-of wish I'd tried it to see if it worked any better, but at this point it seems like a waste.
  • Lactation Consultant - I'm sure this is optional for most folks, but I found our lactation consultant extremely helpful and have been very glad to have someone to go to when I have questions.  I'm sure there's a wide range of cost here, but four our board certified (IBCLC) consultant it was a little under $200 for her to come to our house for three hours, and then she was available to help us by phone and email thereafter.
  • Lactation support foods, herbal supplements  and medicines - You may not need these at all, and some of the foods probably shouldn't be counted.  After all, you have to eat breakfast anyway, and it doesn't cost any more to eat oatmeal (which supports lactation) than any other breakfast.  Still, there are a few things I got specifically to help with lactation including: hulled barley (for making barley water, $10 for a pound on but much cheaper if you buy in bulk), More Milk or More Milk plus (an herbal supplement to increase breast milk production, about $20 for a 2-3 week supply, more cost effective if you buy in larger amounts), and I also got a prescription galactogogue that was $100 for a three month supply.
  • Specialized nursing pillows if you want one - I just used bed pillows, but some folks swear by their Boppys.
  • Your time - It takes longer to breast feed than bottle feed, and takes more work from your baby to get the milk out.  The slower flow is actually one of the benefits of breast feeding since it prevents overeating which in turn can reduce spit-up.  It also makes a baby more aware of when she's full.  I mean, it's the difference between scarfing your food and having a leisurely meal, you have more time to detect satiation.  This can lead to better eating habits in your child's life moving forward, but it also takes more time at each feeding.  My baby can take a bottle in 10 minutes or so, but at the breast takes 40 minutes to an hour per feeding.  That's probably on the long end of things, but if you believe your time is worth something then you'll want to tally that cost.  Remember the adage "Time is money."  I also recently read that breast feeding mothers have reduced earnings over the first five years of their child's life than bottle feeding mothers.  It's possible that's because they're more likely to be stay at home moms or work reduced hours, but it's still worth keeping in mind.
Sure, your actual costs may not add up to the projected $600-1800 cost of formula for the first year.  Many of the costs of breastfeeding are optional, and my largest expenditures have been covered by FSA.  Bottle feeding may also have additional costs due to more child illness and doctor visits; here's a study that says that the extra medical costs to never breast fed babies average $331 to 475 (  But I'm so tired of hearing about this "free" feeding method.  I wanted you to know what to expect.  

I still think breast feeding is totally worth it.  There are lots of good reasons to at least give it a good try.  If nothing else, it can be an amazing mother/baby bonding experience.  But if we can take the rose colored glasses off and prepare ourselves for the reality of breast feeding then we're much more likely to be successful when we hit the bumps in the road.

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