Irish mum speaks to breastfeeding experts who discuss the misconceptions
If people did go and actually educate themselves about breastfeeding and breastfeeding past infancy, they would learn that 448mls of breast milk contains:
- 29% of energy requirements
- 43% of protein requirements
- 36% of calcium requirements
- 75% of vitamin A requirements
- 76% of folate requirements
- 94% of B12 requirements
- 60% of vitamin C requirements
Dr Newman: This is not true. There are a very few women who truly cannot produce all the milk the baby needs, but that doesn't mean they cannot breastfeed. They can supplement the baby at the breast with a lactation aid. In the vast majority of cases, mothers could have produced enough milk, but poor advice and poor 'help' undermined their breastfeeding.
Clare Boyle: Breastfeeding is actually meant to be a pleasure and joy to do and pain is not normal. Think of it from a biological point of view; would our foremothers continued with breastfeeding if was painful and difficult to do continue? No, they would have given up and we, as a species, wouldn't be here! When a baby is latched on correctly there should be nothing more than a gentle tugging sensation and then the hormones we produce with breastfeeding - oxytocin, prolactin and endorphins - all help the mum bond and fall in love with her baby making it a pleasure and joy to do.
Dr Newman: There is almost no drug that requires a mother to interrupt breastfeeding. The real question is which is safer for the baby: Breastfeeding with tiny amounts of drug in the milk (and it is almost always tiny) or formula? Clearly, in the majority of cases it is safer for the baby to breastfeed.
Clare Boyle: I routinely help mums at around the six-month stage to co-ordinate breastfeeding and work requirements. It takes a little organisation and planning but in the vast majority of cases, it can be done quite straightforwardly and it is lovely for both of you to connect through breastfeeding after being separated for the day.
Dr Newman: The amount of alcohol that gets into the milk is tiny. If you have 0.05 per cent alcohol in your blood, your milk will contain 0.05 per cent alcohol. A baby could drink this all day and all night and not be harmed.
Clare Boyle: Any baby with a disability can benefit hugely from breastfeeding. The act of breastfeeding can help with neurological development and can help the baby mature and reach their full potential.
Dr Newman: The majority of premature babies are not tiny, but born at 32 or more weeks gestation. If the mother gets the help she needs for such a baby, there is no reason the baby cannot breastfeed exclusively. For the very small premature babies, they can get to exclusive breastfeeding, again with good help, which unfortunately is rarely available in countries outside of Scandinavia.
Clare Boyle: Breastfeeding is a learned skill, for most women it takes about two to four weeks to get the hang of it. Feeling a bit overwhelmed and stressed about it in the early days is completely normal. Once a mum has mastered breastfeeding, it just gets easier and easier. It is important to remember that you will be feeding your child for many years to come and with breastfeeding it will never ever be so easy to feed your child the best food there is. There is no shopping, no sterilising, no mixing, and no cleaning up. Just pop baby on anywhere, anytime.
Dr Newman: Not according to thousands of studies. In fact, breast milk is so different from formula; you cannot consider them even similar, except that both are white. Breast milk contains dozens of immune factors, not just antibodies, growth factors that help the brain, the gut, the immune system, the hematological system to develop stem cells, none of which are present in formula. Human beings are very adaptable, that's why many babies do OK on formula. But they don't, as a group, do as well as breastfed babies.
Dr Newman: This is the formula company line. Every 'information' brochure I have seen that comes from a formula company mentions giving 'dad a chance to feed the baby'. They know that bottles interfere with breastfeeding and that one bottle often becomes two bottles and then three and then the mother can't keep up with pumping and so they end up giving formula and then eventually the baby stops breastfeeding. But who said that feeding the baby is the only way a father can bond with his baby? Most mothers would be extremely grateful if the father helped out in other ways. Walking, talking, holding the baby, changing the baby's diaper, singing to the baby, bathing the baby.
Furthermore, one reason that breastfeeding a toddler is consider unnecessary is that people look only at the nutritional aspects of breast milk. Sure, if a child is a wide variety of foods in ample amounts, does he need the protein from breast milk? No. But breast milk is more than just protein, fat and carbohydrate. Breast milk is also immunity, and that continues as long as the child is breastfeeding. We have good evidence that children in daycare, for example, who are breastfed are much less frequently affected by the epidemics of infectious diseases that sweep through daycare and if the breastfed infant or child does get sick, s/he is usually much less severely ill than their mates who are not breastfed. In addition, breast milk contains growth factors that stimulate the development of the brain, the gut, the immune system itself. Indeed, every system of the body.
And finally, breastfeeding is much more than breast milk. Breastfeeding is a relationship, a close, intimate relationship between two people who are usually in love with each other. We should all have been so lucky as to have had such a relationship.