I've been a lactation consultant for over 20 years, so I've heard some pretty outlandish questions from stressed out nursing mothers. But out of them all, there are three encounters I'll never forget:
1. “I've been shaking my breast before every feeding to mix the foremilk and hindmilk just like the lactation consultant told me!”
To think moms (and other lactation professionals) believe the lactating breast are simply Tupperware containers! The milk ducts in the breast of a lactating mom are like highways, not storage containers. Milk cannot release from the ducts unless an area of our brain is triggered causing the hormone oxytocin to be released into the bloodstream triggering a muscle contraction in the surrounding breast tissue then causing the milk to actually flow. This release is called the milk ejection reflex (MER), AKA letdown.
There are three to five letdowns in a typical feeding session. Moms cannot always feel them, but you can always see them by the change in swallows and visually when pumping. Each of these “letdowns” begins as foremilk, the more watery spraying thirst-quenching milk, and ends with the hindmilk, the creamiest of the milk which comes out at a slower dripping rate. So often moms and medical professionals believe the clock determines the change in milk types. They tell moms for example if they are only breastfeeding for 10 minutes they are only offering foremilk and after X amount of minutes is when the hindmilk begins. Our bodies are so much more sophisticated than clocks!
TIP: Want to avoid a foremilk-hindmilk imbalance? Then feed or pump more often because the longer the milk “sits” inside the breast, the more watery it becomes. This protective mechanism is to quench the initial thirst of a baby who hasn’t been fed in a while.
2. “Just three days to get the colostrum,” said the mother, when I asked her how long she planned to breastfeed.
One of my standard questions when first meeting with a lactation patient is to ask her what her goal is for breastfeeding before baby arrived and not at the present moment since stress and sleep deprivation make you think differently. My most common answers to this question vary from, "I want to breastfeed six months" to "up to three years." The mom who said only three days, had just delivered her third-term baby and shocked me with her answer that first postpartum day.
Breastmilk is human milk! Its species specific, made specifically for our type of mammal. Human milk is always homemade, never processed and is alive. One teaspoon has 3 billion living cells whether it’s made one week past delivering or two years after the early liquid gold colostrum stage. It NEVER loses its value and continues to offer mom and baby health benefits which extend into adulthood and later years long after it has been stopped.
3. “Should I pump and dump? I had hot wings for lunch.”
I think this comment is by far my craziest in all my 20 years as a nurse! There's this misconception which makes everyone think our digestive tract no longer starts at the mouth and ends at the anus after we give birth. People think the digestive tract of a lactating woman starts at her mouth and ends at her nipple! This mouth-esophagus-nipple rumor, bypasses the intestines where food actually gets absorbed into our bloodstream. We have to stop making lactating moms restrict what they eat, especially when it’s her favorite foods. Moms who feel restricted often feel negative feelings about their breastfeeding experience, resulting in early weaning.
The truth about foods and breastfeeding is that the food has to cause a significant change in your blood to affect your baby. Spicy foods for example, which are often tomato-based, can cause your blood and milk to be more acidic (and more flavorful which is a plus,) but can still be consumed while breastfeeding. The baby’s gut is maturing rapidly everyday as it prepares for solids so absolute “never eats” rarely exist in breastfeeding.
Nurse Wendy Colson RN, IBCLC , RLC has over 20 years’ experience in maternal-child health with an emphasis on human lactation. She works as a lactation consultant in the hospital and in private practice in sunny San Diego. She is also the CEO and founder of Boobie Bar, which includes her patent-pending proprietary herbal lactation blend in just ONE bar replacing excessive herbal pills and teas.