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Experts break down common breastfeeding questions

Written By: Simone Sonnier, UT Physicians | Updated: August 12, 2021
mother breastfeeding her child

August is National Breastfeeding Month, a time to highlight the beautiful bonding experience between a mother and child.

Although the act is beautiful and a natural bonding moment for mother and child, breastfeeding can still be complicated. In honor of National Breastfeeding Month, two UT Physicians experts answer common questions and dispel popular misconceptions for new or expecting moms.

If I’ve had COVID-19 or have been fully vaccinated, will those antibodies be passed on to my baby through my breast milk?

Research is not yet conclusive on how long COVID-19 antibodies are present in a person’s breast milk.

Pamela D. Berens, MD
Pamela D. Berens, MD

“If you’ve contracted the natural disease, there may be some natural protection. But, we’re unsure for how long that would last,” said Pamela D. Berens, MD, obstetrician with UT Physicians and fellow of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine.

For optimal antibody coverage, Berens recommends expecting or breastfeeding mothers to sign up for the COVID-19 vaccine.

“The best thing you can do to protect your baby is to get vaccinated,” she said.

Is it OK to breastfeed while you’re sick? What if you have COVID-19?

Breastfeeding while sick, even with COVID-19, is important. Berens recommends wearing a mask and washing your hands before breastfeeding or pumping. If you have COVID-19, if possible, consider having a family member who does not have COVID-19 care for the baby and feed the baby expressed breast milk.

“If you have a respiratory illness, breathing on your baby is what would be harmful and potentially expose your baby to the infection, not your breast milk,” she said.

For additional guidance on caring for your baby if you have COVID-19, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s page.

Is it true breastfeeding will help my baby be smarter or healthier?

Babies exclusively breastfed are reported to have fewer cases of upper respiratory illnesses, ear infections, and diarrhea. In addition, breast milk can also lower a child’s risk of developing asthma or allergies.

While we know that breastfeeding does have a positive influence on a child’s overall health, it may or may not affect their intellectual abilities. Proteins that support brain development are present in breast milk, but studies are unsure how well infants absorb it.

However, Berens said, while breast milk is best for most mothers and babies, there are rare situations where breastfeeding isn’t possible or isn’t recommended due to health concerns or medications. Breastfeeding is not right for every mother. Formula is also a healthy option for infants.

Is it normal for breastfeeding to hurt?

Donna Markos
Donna Markos, IBCLC

“It’s not uncommon for breastfeeding to feel uncomfortable in the first few days as mother and baby are learning to latch properly,” said Donna Markos, lactation consultant with UT Physicians.

It may take up to two weeks for your breasts and nipples to grow accustomed to the act of breastfeeding.

If you experience sore, cracked, and bleeding nipples, it could mean that your baby is not learning to latch well. Markos suggests seeking out the care of a lactation consultant for additional guidance and support.

Will certain foods, drinks, or products increase my supply?

Your milk supply is mainly determined by how well and how frequently milk is removed from the breast through either feeding or pumping.

“There is anecdotal evidence that some herbal supplements can help, but there is currently no research that shows a consistent, predictable increase in supply,” said Markos.

If I consume alcohol, should I throw out my current supply?

The alcohol concentration in breast milk is the same as in a person’s bloodstream.

The term “pump and dump” became a popular means of getting rid of potentially unsafe milk after a mother had an alcoholic beverage. However, Berens says this may be unnecessary and a waste of perfectly fine milk.

“The rule of thumb after a mother has been drinking is if they are sober, then their milk is more than likely safe for consumption. If they still feel under the influence, then they should not feed their baby their milk,” she said.

Can I breastfeed with implants?

Breast implants should not interfere with your ability to breastfeed your child. However, depending on the incision site, an individual may have damaged nerves and milk ducts around the areola.

“If your breast implant incision site is under your arm, under your breast, or through your belly button, you shouldn’t encounter any issues feeding your baby related to the implants,” said Berens, professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth.

To schedule an appointment with one of our women’s health experts, call 832-325-7131 or visit their page.

As the clinical practice of McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, UT Physicians has locations across the Greater Houston area to serve the community. To schedule an appointment, call 888-4UT-DOCS.