2 Truths and a Lie About Breastfeeding

Let’s play a game. You’ve probably played it before. I’m going to tell you three things—two will be true, and one is a lie, all about breastfeeding. Can you tell which is which?

  1. Breastfeeding can be painful.
  2. If you drink alcohol, you need to pump and dump before feeding again.
  3. Breastfeeding reduces the chances of a subsequent pregnancy.

My first time filling a bottle of breastmilk

If you’re scratching your head looking at these three, don’t worry, I’m being a little sneaky. There’s a little true and a little not quite true with each of these. Let’s break it down:

  1. Breastfeeding can be painful

Some people will tell you that breastfeeding should never hurt, and if it does, there’s a problem. Others will say that breastfeeding is extremely painful, especially at the start. The truth is somewhere in the middle.

Not all moms experience pain with breastfeeding, but many do. Here’s the thing—nipples are sensitive. A tiny person sucking on your nipples for hours a day can cause pain and tenderness. Over time, your nipples will “toughen up” and it shouldn’t be painful anymore.

Sometimes pain with breastfeeding can be the sign of a poor latch though. It can be hard to tell the difference, so it’s always a good idea to check in with a lactation consultant if it does hurt, especially if the pain doesn’t lessen.

Pain can also indicate a clogged duct or infection. Check in with a doctor if you have redness, swelling or fever along with pain in your breasts.

On a last note, teeth can be an issue down the road. Breastfeeding a baby with teeth doesn’t mean it will hurt, but some kids may bite. Mine did. One time we were cuddling on the couch nursing, when he unlatched, looked me in the eye, and while continuing to make strong eye contact, bit my nip. Don’t let anyone ever tell you babies can’t be assholes.

Bottom line: Truth

  1. If you drink alcohol, you need to pump and dump before feeding again.

This comes from the idea that when you drink alcohol, it enters your breast milk and you will need to pump the tainted milk and toss it before you can nurse your child again. It’s true that you probably shouldn’t nurse while actively drinking or drunk because you can transmit alcohol through breast milk, but you don’t necessarily need to pump and dump.

As you drink, alcohol enters your bloodstream giving you a blood alcohol content (BAC). Your BAC is about the same as your breast milk’s alcohol content. So let’s say your BAC is .08% and you’re legally intoxicated, your milk would also have about .08% alcohol (for reference, some estimates say commercial orange juice has about .08% alcohol). When you’re done drinking, your BAC slowly decreases as your liver filters the alcohol out of your blood. The same is true for your milk. Your body does not store alcohol in breast milk. That means that if you wait long enough, the alcohol will filter out of your milk and you can feed again without pumping and dumping.

How long you need to wait to feed after drinking is based on a lot of factors, including how much you drank and your size. For me, I found that for each drink, I needed about two hours to clear my milk. So if I had two glasses of wine with dinner I needed to wait four hours to feed. Everyone is different though, and there are handy breast milk testing strips that will let you know if your milk is still boozy.

Of course waiting a few hours to feed can get uncomfortable as your breasts get engorged with milk. If you find that your breasts feel painfully full, by all means, go ahead and pump and dump.

Bottom line: Lie

  1. Breastfeeding reduces the chances of a subsequent pregnancy

I’m convinced that for every woman who believes it is impossible to get pregnant while breastfeeding, there is a person who exists in this world conceived during that very period. Look at my Irish twin uncles, born a year apart to the day. Breastfeeding certainly didn’t do my grandmother any favors.

It is true that you can get pregnant while breastfeeding, especially as your baby gets older, but it is less likely at the start. According to the World Health Organization, exclusive breastfeeding is 98% effective as birth control for the first six months after birth. There’s always that 2% chance of pregnancy though, and the efficacy of breastfeeding as birth control goes down the farther you get from birth. Know that even if you’re not getting a period while breastfeeding, you could ovulate and therefore get pregnant at any time.

Bottom line: Truth

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