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Common Myths and Realities About Early Breastfeeding

MYTH: You're so lucky your new baby already sleeps through the night! Think of all the extra rest you're getting.

FACT: Contrary to popular belief, a breastfed newborn who sleeps through the night (longer than a single five-hour stretch) is not a blessing. With rare exception, such an infant is unlikely to gain sufficient weight or to stimulate an adequate milk supply in the mother. Nighttime feedings are a natural, normal part of early breastfeeding. Round-the-clock feedings are necessary to bring in and preserve an abundant milk supply. Newborns need to receive nighttime nutrition, and the breasts need to be emptied regularly, including at night. If your new baby sleeps longer than five hours at night, you should try to arouse him and entice him to nurse.

MYTH: Don't worry about using formula supplements now and then to keep nursing from tying you down. An occa-sional bottle will give you a break, and it won't interfere with breastfeeding.

FACT: Supplemental bottles can interfere with the success of breastfeeding by upsetting the delicate law of supply and demand. Simply stated, the law goes like this: "The more milk the baby takes, the more milk the mother makes." If a baby drinks a bottle of formula instead of taking breast milk, the mother's breasts will not get the normal amount of stimulation and emptying. Her supply probably will decline in proportion to the supplement she gives, making her dependent on the continued use of formula. What starts out as a "convenience" bottle can result in a great inconvenience-the undermining of successful breastfeeding. If you want to offer an occasional bottle after three to four weeks, use expressed breast milk whenever possible.

MYTH: Don't give formula or use a bottle at any cost. Nipple confusion can occur with even a single bottle-feeding, and giving any supplement will ruin your chances to succeed at breastfeeding.

FACT: This is the type of dogmatic advice that has placed some babies in jeopardy. Certainly, offering unnecessary formula or giving bottles as a matter of convenience should be discouraged. These practices are known to threaten the success of breastfeeding. But it is a gross oversimplification to insist that no breastfed baby should be given formula or a bottle. The inescapable truth is that some breastfed babies are unable to obtain sufficient milk by nursing to meet their fluid or nutrient requirements. Although uncommon, some breastfed babies have lost an excessive amount of weight and become dangerously dehydrated or malnourished. Our first priority always must be the baby's well-being. A healthy, well-nourished baby is more likely to breastfeed effectively than an undernourished baby in a debilitated state. Formula and bottles are not anathema when they are used to restore a baby to good health. If supplements truly are required, you can be sure that you also need to obtain consultation to improve breastfeeding. A rental-grade electric pump will likely be needed to increase your milk supply. Numerous other breastfeeding aids are available to help solve breastfeeding problems.

MYTH: Don't worry about your baby's slow weight gain. Everyone knows bottle-fed infants grow much faster than breastfed babies do.

FACT: When breastfeeding is off to a good start, young infants obtain plenty of milk and gain weight rapidly-about an ounce each day during the early months of life. Young breastfed infants typically grow above the average on national growth curves. Only after the first three months do breastfed babies taper in their rate of growth compared to bottle-fed infants. If a young breastfed infant is not gaining weight well, it is very likely that the baby is not obtaining sufficient milk by nursing. Not only is the baby at risk for being undernourished and chronically hungry, but the mother's milk supply can be jeopardized. Early intervention to improve breastfeeding will help the baby gain weight more rapidly and increase the mother's milk supply.

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From Dr. Mom's Guide to Breastfeeding by Marianne R. Neifert. Copyright © 1998 by Marianne R. Neifert. Used by arrangement with Plume, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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