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Your Guide to Breastfeeding Myths in the Newborn Period

Close up of newborn feet and legs

After having been in this business for decades, I hear the same old myths. I won’t say I’ve heard them all, but certainly, I’ve heard some doozies! Today, I’ll stick to what jumps out in my mind as the most common breastfeeding myths in the newborn period.

1. A newborn is …

This is where the confusion starts!

Some people think a newborn is a newborn for a few hours. Or maybe during the hospital period. Or maybe until the first doctor visit. Wrong.

By definition, a newborn (known in the medical world as a “neonate”) is a newborn for the first 28 days. So, that’s what I’m talking about here. (Round it off to “first month” if you wish.)

2. The newborn will latch on right away

Uh, not necessarily.

This is usually followed by that the rationale that since it’s “instinctive” for little puppies to latch, then little humans should, too.

Not a fair comparison.

Little puppies are born from unmedicated mothers in a quiet, secluded area without all sorts of surgical interventions, movement restriction, and so forth.

Little humans don’t have those advantages, so their ability to use their instincts could be significantly impaired.

It may seem logical to believe this “instinctive” line of thinking, but it’s just another one of those myths in the newborn period.

3. Sore nipples are (fill in the blank).

Sore nipples are always the result of poor latch. False. Often yes. Always? No.

Sore nipples should be “rested.” False.

Sore nipples are normal. A loud, loud FALSE for that one! But, before you use a cream or salve to seek relief, take some considerations into account.

4. You won’t be able to breastfeed if you …

I’ve heard dozens of myths in the newborn period. I can’t begin to list them all. And I admit that these examples could be true in some situations. But they are untrue in many or most situations.

Like me, maybe you’ve heard that you can’t breastfeed if you …

And those are just the few of the myths I can think of off the top of my head!

5. You have to be full and leaking to “have milk.”

Many women think that breasts must be full and leaking in order to prove that that they “have milk.” That’s just not true. It’s yet another one of those myths in the newborn period.

Some women who have milk find that their breasts leak a lot. Others find they hardly leak at all.

6. It’s okay if the newborn doesn’t have a stool.

No, no, no, and more NO!

After the first month of life, it’s okay if the baby skips a day or two or more days before having a stool. They could go several days, actually.

During the first month of life, however, having fewer than three stools per day, according to my own mentor, the great Dr. Ruth Lawrence says (and wrote in her book), this is a marker for failure to thrive.

My podcast guest and author of Looking Out for Number Two, pediatric gastroenterologist Dr. Bryan Vartabedian says that in the first month, newborns need to have at least four stools per day.

I’ve explained this more elsewhere.

7. You’ll spoil your kid if you feed on cue

Look, newborns are smart, but they aren’t that smart! They simply do not have the cognitive ability to manipulate a parent into doing or not doing something.

In his classic book, Childhood and Society, Erik Erikson talks about the first stage of development as “trust versus mistrust.” If the parent doesn’t respond promptly to the baby’s needs, the baby learns to mistrust adults.

8. Newborns have undeveloped special senses

People usually figure, “Oh well, the baby won’t know the difference.”

Oh yes, he will!

I’ve already talked about the power of touch and skin-to-skin contact.

  • Taste: Humans are born with about 10,000 taste buds. That gradually decreases to about 1/3 of that number.
  • Hearing: Research shows that newborns will consistently turn towards their mother’s voice rather than a stranger’s voice.
  • Smell: There are a whole flock of studies out there to show that in fact, newborns have a very acute sense of smell. Given a choice, they prefer the smell of any mother’s milk (not just their own mother’s milk) to that of formula.
  • Sight is blurry, but functional. Many sources say that newborns can focus best on objects about 8-12 inches away. Just think … the distance between the breast and the mother’s eyes is about 8-12 inches!

9. Your newborn is allergic to your milk

Not possible. Before you buy this or other myths in the newborn period, just stop and think for a minute.

Babies have been breastfeeding for thousands of years. If babies were allergic to their mother’s milk, the species would have died out by now.

It’s possible that the baby is allergic to something in the mother’s milk. Very often, that’s cow’s milk protein. Or it could be an intolerance, rather than an allergy. Elsewhere, I’ve explained the differences between an allergy and an intolerance.

10. About 5% of mothers can’t lactate

Talk about a “fact” that has been distorted, exaggerated or misinterpreted! When it comes to myths in the newborn period, — or any other time — this one takes the prize!

Inspired by Betty Crase, I headed off to the library to see if this pesky 5% number has any basis in a real study. 

It did. Sort of.

Deem’s 1958 article quoted Spence’s 1938 study saying that 5% of women don’t have enough milk. So, I decided to chase down Spence’s study.

Wait’ll I tell ya what I found.

Spence’s study said that if cows can produce enough milk, then at least 95% of women should be able to do so.

In a determined attempt to find sources that prove untruths, half-truths, and just plain fiction, I have spent many hours in the library’s dusty dungeons, dragging out multiple ancient articles. No study substantiates this 5% number. I am 100% confident that if such a study existed, I would have found it by now.

I’ve been doing my podcast for nearly 7 years. Every week, I promise to “Bust the myths and clarify the facts.” And, the show is not just about myths in the newborn period. It’s about all sorts of myths! If you want to hear more, join me there every week!

It’s hard to believe that there are so many myths, but indeed, there are!

What myths in the newborn period have you heard? Share your comments below!

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