A Labor of Love: Breastfeeding Facts and Fiction

By Faith Daniel

Breastfeeding is a labor of love that provides numerous health benefits for both mother and baby.

For babies, breast milk protects against allergies, diseases like diabetes and cancer, and infections, and promotes better digestion than formula.

For mothers, studies have shown that mothers who breastfed had a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and certain cancers like breast cancer and better weight management.

Yet, despite the many benefits to breastfeeding, in 2013 only 32 percent of babies born in New York City were exclusively breastfed during the first five days of life. Many mothers experience barriers to initiating and continuing to breastfeed due to social norms, cultural practices, employment, lack of support, marketing of infant formula and hospital policies and practices.

SBH Health System has embarked on the mission to improve exclusive breastfeeding rates and create a supportive environment that encourages it. In 2020, SBH became a designated Baby-Friendly-hospital and has committed to providing evidence-based care, education free from commercial interests and create an environment to provide mothers with the confidence and skills necessary to initiate and continue breastfeeding their babies. In 2019, SBH renovated its lactation room to provide a private and safe space for breastfeeding patients, visitors, and employees to utilize. Additionally, the SBH WIC department provides culturally competent breastfeeding support and education to its participants throughout their breastfeeding journeys. Most notably is the breastfeeding peer counseling program. The program recruits moms within the community who have successfully breastfed and provide them with training to work with prenatal and breastfeeding moms. They also manage the SBH WIC “Milk Line,” which is a 24/7 hotline where mothers can reach a breastfeeding peer counselor whenever they need support or assistance.

Magda Ramos, SBH WIC Breastfeeding Coordinator, was recently a guest on SBH Bronx Health Talk, debunking some common myths about breastfeeding. Following is an excerpt from the podcast.

Q. Let’s debunk some of the common myths about breastfeeding. For starters: Breastfeeding is painful.

A. Breastfeeding in and of itself should not hurt if the baby is positioned well. The idea is to make sure the baby is tummy to tummy with mom. You want to make sure you have that good view where you can see that the baby is latching on correctly. At first you may feel some pulling and tugging but that’s just normal and that’s just for a few moments when the baby starts breastfeeding, but it should get comfortable again.

Q. You have to wash your nipples before breastfeeding.

A. No, washing your nipples before breastfeeding is not necessary. When babies are born they already are very familiar with their own mother’s smells and sounds so the nipples produce the substance that the babies smell and they have a good bacteria that helps build the baby’s own healthy immune system. So in other words, no you don’t have to wash because one of the things that happens is that it makes the skin really dry so when the baby latches on it can create sore nipples.

Q. Breastfeeding makes breasts saggy.

A. It’s mostly fiction. The changes occur the moment you’re pregnant. Breastfeeding does not make breasts saggy or change in shape. It’s the pregnancy.

Q. It is safe to get nipple piercings while breastfeeding.

A. I had a mom that we went to see at the mom and baby unit a couple of years ago and she had gotten a piercing in her nipple and it had been over a year and her piercing still had fluid that would come out when she wanted to breastfeed. We got the okay from the doctors and everything but with that being said I would wait until after you’re done with breastfeeding and then maybe you can get that piercing. For moms that already have a piercing, just remove the jewelry because that would be considered a choking hazard if left in.

Q. You can’t get pregnant while breastfeeding.

A. I just had a mom yesterday and she was fully breastfeeding, and she’s enrolling as a prenatal again. I mean it is less likely to happen if you’re fully breastfeeding within the first six months. If you’re not getting your period and you’re fully breastfeeding you’re not giving any formula, then it’s less likely to happen, but if you don’t want to get pregnant then you should have a backup in terms of birth.

Q. Breast size and shape determines how much milk one can produce.

A. The capacity for a woman’s breast to make milk is determined by the breast tissue, not by the size of the breast. So breast size is determined by fat which has no bearing on milk production and someone with small breasts can produce as much milk as someone with larger breasts and just because your breasts are larger doesn’t mean that you’re going to produce more milk either.

Q. It is safe to drink while breastfeeding.

A. Let’s say Friday night you’re going to go out. Then prepare and start pumping and store milk. I’d recommend probably one drink, to at least wait the two hours. I know some people talk about pumping and dumping but just because you do that, it does not remove the alcohol from the milk. What you want to do is wait at least two hours before you breastfeed or pump again and that’s with one drink. The more alcohol the more time has to pass for the alcohol to come out of the milk.

Q. What you eat and drink will affect the quality of your breastmilk.

A. Most babies are not troubled by what we eat. They’re not troubled by the gassy or spicy foods or caffeine. Everything in moderation is fine unless your baby’s behavior is telling you otherwise. If you find that you eat a certain food and every time you eat that food the baby gets fussy or gassy then you would avoid that food for a couple of days to determine if that was the cause. For the most part, babies are usually not troubled by the foods that we eat. If the baby has a milk protein allergy then there are cases where moms have to stop eating all dairies if they want to continue breastfeeding, but you should always try to maintain a healthy diet.

Q. Nursing is better than pumping.

A. Again it’s not that it is better, it’s just the connection you have with the baby. Let’s take for example when mom and baby separate, we recommend that mommy either has pictures or something that the baby has worn to
create all of those close feelings.

Q. People with breast implants can’t breastfeed.

A. It’s on a person-by-person basis. It all depends on the way the surgery was done. Usually when they do augmentation, the incision is made on the bottom part of the breast. If the cut is made in the crease under your breast and the implant is placed behind the pectoral muscle which lies below the breast tissue, that should not affect you. Any other procedure that’s done where it affects the breast tissue then that can affect milk production. If it reduces the milk production you may have to see a breastfeeding counselor to help you with the process to determine if your breast milk is going to be enough. You may have to supplement with formula, so it’s on a case by case basis.

Q. Nipple confusion doesn’t exist.

A. I believe there is some type of nipple confusion because when you feed with the bottle the milk comes out right away. When you’re breastfeeding, it doesn’t happen that way.