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"My Milk Dried up" and other breastfeeding myths

Posted by Barbara Glare on

It's a scenario that's being played out around Christmas barbeques all over Australia, and is set to reach a peak of frenzy on Christmas day when friends and family gather together.

The pregnant woman is hanging around the table with the girls sipping her mineral water while the other mums sip thier campers and sav blanc and the blokes collect around the barbie.  Finally some-one pops the question  "So, are you going to breastfeed"  We all know the answer to this question.  We've learned it by osmosis during the course of our lives.  "I will if I can"  the reply comes.  And depending on how she feels may be followed up with the caveat, "But, I'll give formula if I have to". Good.  Correct answer.  Hesitantly she asks the other mums "So, did YOU breastfeed?"  The mums still breastfeeding their two year olds will be mysteriously quiet, probably getting up to help with the salads and hoping the bribes they have offered their child not to breastfeed at the Christmas party hold.  For the others, the horror stories abound.  The cracked and bleeding nipples, the babies that never slept and then.....some-one drops into the conversation "So, in the end my milk just dried up"

The pregnant women stares longingly at the Sav blanc she is prohibited from having.  Will my milk dry up?  OMG is that even a thing?  But the seeds of doubt have been sown right there - between a sip of mineral water and a cornchip.  And they will grow and be nurtured through her pregnancy and the early days of breastfeeding.  While few of us doubt the functioning of their bodily organs we've been trained to see breasts as decorative, not functionals.  We haven't seen many mothers breastfeed up close (or even around town)  It's an activity shrouded in secrecy and pain.  If it's "normal" and "works" why does facebook go into meltdown an the sight of a breast with a baby attached to it?  Why are mothers on my online pregnancy group asking about buying bottles and formula "Just in Case"?

But let me tell you a little secret..... Your milk will not *just dry up*.  It doesn't work like that.  Milk supply is one of those systems that are robust and almost always work.  Most women can provide enough milk for their baby, and for as long as you breastfeed you will make more milk.  So, what's going on here?  How is this myth so prolific?

Let me translate it for you.  "My milk dried up" is code for something like "I was exhausted and confused.  My nipples were cracked and bleeding, my baby was premature or jaundiced.  And slept too much.  Or never slept at all.  And nurses were constantly weighing my baby and seemed concerned about the outcome.  Friends and family questioned whether I had enough milk.  And encouraged me to give formula so my partner could "bond"  and god, it was like a pressure cooker in my head and I stopped breastfeeding.  And stopping hurt more than I realised it would"  

That's a lot to discuss with friends and aquaintances at the Christmas BBQ.  Everyone's there to have a good time, not a D&M about your breastfeeding problems.  You put your baby on the bottle right?  Problem solved.  Move along.  So the shorthand is used.  And the discussion moves on.  Except that it lodges in the psyche of the pregnant mother.

Breastfeeding is important.  It's something most people want to do and can do.  And it's a system that works.  Most problems can be fixed simply.  Cracked nipples and pain ought not be part of the deal.  (though I acknowledge that for some people it has been)  

Here are some simple things you can do to make sure you milk "doesn't dry up"

1.  Join the Australian Breastfeeding Association.  It's like the defensive driving course for breastfeeding.  And offers "roadside assistance" (AKA as the breastfeeding helpline and access to trained counsellors) Make sure you do one of their Breastfeeding Classes.

2.  Feed early, feed often.  Babies need to feed at least 8-12 times in 24 hours.  Most of us simply don't comprehend that.  The other pervasive myth getting around is that babies might feed 4hrly - nah, that's not the way it works and is a sure recipe for low milk supply.

3.  See a Lactation Consultant if your gut tells you it's not going well.  It's so worth.  Lactation Consultants know how the system works.  They know how it can fall off the rails.  And they know how to fix it.  Seek help at the first sign of trouble - now is no time to *wait and see how it works out*

 


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4 comments

  • Hi, “my baby was preemie” is not an excuse, it’s a reason. I’m sorry you misunderstood. The point I was making was exactly as you said. When breastfeeding doesn’t work out it it’s really, really painful. Mothers have been through so much, and have tried so hard. Most mums in that situation don’t want to rehash the pain at the family bbq, so phrases like “My milk dried up” are often used. That doesn’t actually mean their milk dried up. As a lactation consultant and a mum, I know how hard it is. Never would I suggest that your problems are mythical

    Barbara Glare on
  • I agree with both comments. These articles are always unhelpful. A part of the anti feminism that keeps mothers from feeling empowered. Let’s just keep out of the how’s and the why’s babies are nourished.

    Jane on
  • I’m with Nicki on this one.. as a mother of a 5 week old premmie I found this quite offensive too..

    Victoria on
  • As the mum of a micro premmie baby, I find it really upsetting that this article insinuated that having a premmie is used as an excuse not to BF. I expressed every 2-3 hours, 24 hrs a day for four months so I could give my baby breast milk. And when he could finally latch, my artificially sustained milk supply just wasn’t enough. It wasn’t through lack of trying. I went through lactation consultants, crying, brewers yeast, oats, lactation tea, everything and everything. My body just didn’t respond to the supply / demand. I’m not alone. A lot of mums of premmie have such a traumatic birth experience, they can’t produce milk. One of my NICU friends was in a coma for a week after her son was born. She almost died and there was no milk. To say that “my baby was premmie” is used as an excuse not to breastfeed is downright offensive. We go through so much stress hoping our babies don’t die. We don’t need the extra stress of articles declaring our very real breastfeeding struggles as mythical.

    Nicki on

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