Patient Care

Breastfeeding: Common Questions, Tips and Misconceptions

Aug. 31, 2022

What do about diet, medication, pain and more when breastfeeding?

Michele Burtner, CNM, MS, MPH, IBCLC, Associate Medical Director of Breastfeeding & Lactation Services and Medical Director of Breastfeeding & Lactation Medicine Outpatient Clinic at URMC, has answered a few questions regarding common myths centered on breastfeeding as well as offer tips to make the experience smoother:

1. Addressing Common myths surrounding breastfeeding

There are many misconceptions you may hear about breastfeeding. Here are a few typical ones:

Breastfeeding hurts - It is true there can be some discomfort in the first few days of learning to breastfeed. However, getting help to latch infant correctly can reduce this discomfort and ultimately help avoid sore/damaged nipples. If any pain persists, parents should seek help from a lactation expert.

There are certain foods to avoid while breastfeeding - Lactating parents should eat a well-balanced diet, just like the rest of us.  Remember: infants are exposed to all types of food mother eats while she is pregnant! If parents feel their baby reacts to a certain food, they should talk to a lactation consultant, or their pediatrician.

The Mother can't take any medication if she is breastfeeding - or she must stop breastfeeding if she does take medications.  There are very few circumstances in which breastmilk cannot be provided to infant. Always tell your health care provider and the baby's provider what medication you are taking, as safety can be verified by the health care team. Many medications are considered safe, can be timed or dose adjusted, or an alternative can be found in some cases. It is rarely necessary to stop breastfeeding. 

A mother should not continue breastfeeding if she is sick - Most often, it is safe to continue breastfeeding if the mother is sick. She needs to get herself treated and let her providers know she is breastfeeding, as well as getting rest, staying hydrated and well fed. Most often, there are antibodies made that help fight the illness which can be passed on to the infant.

If mother needs to return to work, she needs to wean her baby -  Many mothers continue breastfeeding when they return to work. It can provide challenges, but with the right support and breast pump, it is very doable. In addition, breastfeeding does not have to be all or none, so if mother chooses to supplement her baby, she can still breastfeed as much or as little as desired.

These are just a few of many myths that exist!  It is helpful for parents to take a prenatal breastfeeding class while they are pregnant to learn more about the process and what to expect. 

2. What are some of the benefits of breastfeeding?

There are many benefits of breastfeeding, for both the lactating parent and infant!

  • Breastfeeding can help protect babies against some short- and long-term illnesses and diseases. Breastfed babies have a lower risk of asthma, obesity, type 1 diabetes, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
  • Breastfed babies are also less likely to have ear infections and stomach bugs.
  • In addition, maternal antibodies are passed into the breastmilk which help their developing immune system and help protect them from illness. ( A really cool fact is that the mother's milk changes as the baby grows, in order to meet the baby's nutritional needs!

The Maternal health benefits of breastfeeding are: reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease (which includes high blood pressure). Also, recovery from childbirth can be quicker and with less risk of heavy postpartum bleeding.  There is of course, typically an emotional benefit and bonding for mother and infant as well.

3. Are there any recent trends surrounding breastfeeding?​

One trend that has emerged is the use of breast pumps, and development of so many types of pumps. In reality, few people need to pump if they are breastfeeding their baby. Certainly those who will return to work and those with milk production issues may need to pump. However, an oversupply can also be created if the parent pumps much more than their baby needs, which can create other issues. We recommend checking in with a lactation consultant if there are questions about whether a breast pump is needed, or any questions about a particular pump.

Another big trend is of course, social media. People seek information and even advice via social media. This could be helpful if advice is from lactation trained people, but there can also be misinformation out there. There are many local support groups and lactation consultants if families have questions or need support. 

4. When a breastfeeding mom has COVID what is your recommendation?

Current evidence suggests that breast milk is not likely to spread the virus to babies. If you have COVID, wash your hands before breastfeeding, and always wear a mask within 6 feet of your infant. Get lots of rest and take good care of yourself. Follow CDC recommendations regarding isolation from others. 

5. Is there a timeline for when you should end breastfeeding

​The World Health Organization (WHO), and as of last month, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend infants are exclusively fed breastmilk for the first 6 months of life, then continued breastfeeding along with introducing appropriate complementary foods for up to 2 years of age or longer.