26 Breastfeeding Myths and Realities
courtesy of Leslie Kincaid Burby
Myth #1: Breastfeeding ruins the shape of your
Reality: This is
simply not true. As soon as a woman becomes pregnant permanent changes occur in her breasts. Even if she doesn't
carry to term, or chooses to abort, her breasts will never be the same as they were before she became pregnant.
Whether or not she then goes on to breastfeed will not affect her future breast shape one way or another.
Heredity plays a large role in this matter, as does excessive weight gain or loss. It is helpful to maintain the
tone of the muscles that support your breasts, and avoid large and sudden weight gains or losses,
pregnancy-related or otherwise.
Myth #2: Small-breasted women won't have enough
Reality: The size
of your breasts, either large or small, has nothing to do with the amount of milk they will produce. Almost all
women who are getting plenty of liquid, adequate rest and relaxation, and lots of physical contact with their
babies will produce enough milk. In fact, many women who believe they are not producing enough milk are
mistaken. It is surprising how much milk a tiny baby can consume in a short amount of time. The number of wet
and soiled diapers being produced every day is a fairly accurate indicator of how much milk the baby is getting.
6-8 wet cloth diapers (5-6 soaked disposables), and at least 2-5 bowel movements per day indicate that your baby
is getting plenty of milk. Once the newborn stage is over, the number of bowel movements may decrease.
If your baby seems lethargic, seems to have poor skin tone or is not wetting and soiling an
adequate number of diapers, this is cause for concern. If you believe you are having trouble with your milk
supply, contact a lactation consultant, or a supportive physician. It is always better to be safe than
Remember, the more the baby nurses, the more milk your breasts
will be stimulated to produce. If you begin "supplementing" your supply with artificial milk, your breasts
will not receive adequate stimulation and your milk supply will
Myth #3: Breastfeeding influences a baby's future sexual
Not true. The misconception that breastfeeding could in some way determine
whether a child will grow up to be heterosexual or homosexual is tied to the mistaken idea that breastfeeding is
in itself a sort of sexual activity. It is not. Breastfeeding is a nutritional and nurturing act that helps
children grow up to be healthier and more self-confident, whatever their sexual preference turns out to
Myth #4: Today's artificial breast milk is just as good as
the real thing.
Reality: Even though modern formulas are considerably better than some of the old
fashioned ones, they can never replicate mother's milk. In the first place, human milk contains live cells and
human hormones that are impossible to obtain from the milk of another species. Furthermore, formula companies
admit that they don't yet know all of the ingredients in human breast milk. Every few months these companies
come up with something different to try to add in. If you choose to breastfeed you can be confident that all the
necessary nutrients, immunities, hormones and as yet undiscovered beneficial elements will be present in the
right amounts. On the other
hand, research shows significant risk in the use of artificial milk.
Myth #5: Breastfeeding takes more time than
statement is usually made in reference to night-time feedings. If a mother sleeps with or next to her baby,
night-time feedings are much easier than they are for bottle feeders. All you have to do is open your nightgown
and roll over.
Even if the
breastfeeding mother does not sleep with her baby, it is certainly less time-consuming to go pick up the
child and offer the breast, than to get up, go the kitchen, open a can of formula (or mix up a batch from
powder), turn on the stove to boil water to heat the formula, put the formula into a bottle, warm the bottle
in the hot water, wait several minutes, then finally return to the crying child, pick up the child and offer
Of course, at this point it is tempting for an exhausted mother or father to prop up the
bottle and leave the baby alone to finish it. This is an extremely
dangerous thing to do as the baby can easily choke on the liquid, or spit up and choke on that. Also, it leads
to baby bottle caused tooth decay.
It is true that you may
have to feed a bit more frequently if you breastfeed because breast milk is more easily digested than formula
milk. Of course that easy digestibility translates into less time dealing with colic, diarrhoea and other
digestive ailments. Also, breastfed babies are far less likely to
contract colds, ear infections, and asthma. Formula feeding mothers
need to factor in extra time for trips to the store to buy supplies, as well as possible extra trips to the
doctor's office. (See Pro MoM’s ‘’101 reasons to breast feed your child’’, #58).
It is also a fact that in the early months, unless you express breast milk, you will be the
only person able to provide nutrition to your baby. Formula milk feeding mothers can have other caregivers
give some or most of the feedings. However, breastfeeding offers a new mother an amazing chance to bond with
her child, as well as all the health benefits that formula and bottles cannot provide. It may be helpful to
remember that your baby will only be completely dependent on you for a very short amount of time in the
course of your relationship together. Nursing can give you a chance for a much needed relaxation break, and
time to re-connect with your baby. Try to enjoy these special moments.
Myth #6: You can't get pregnant if you're
Reality: True and
false! Breastfeeding is only an effective form of birth
control (98%) during the first
6 months, and is only effective during this period if the baby is receiving nothing but breast milk on
demand. No supplements, no solids, no water, and no pacifiers! The chance of pregnancy increases greatly when
the baby begins sleeping through the night, starts eating solids, and/or when the mother resumes her
menstrual cycle. If you truly do not wish to become pregnant again yet, it is wise to use an additional
method of birth control.
Myth #7: You must wean if you get
Reality: There is
no particular reason why a woman who is enjoying breastfeeding one child should wean that child when she learns
that she is expecting another, unless she has a history of preterm labour. Some women continue to breastfeed
throughout a pregnancy and then go on to "tandem" feed. This phrase refers to the practice of breastfeeding more than one child
simultaneously. Some children do wean themselves once their mother becomes pregnant, possibly because her milk
supply drops, or they detect a change in the taste of the milk which does not please them. Some women choose to
wean because they find breastfeeding during pregnancy too physically or emotionally fatiguing. Other women
describe enjoying the relaxation breaks that an ongoing breastfeeding process requires of them, and feel it
contributes to the enjoyment of their new pregnancy. See La Leche League's information on breastfeeding during
Myth #8: You
can't breastfeed after a caesarean section
Reality: It is
entirely possible to breastfeed after a c-section. Many women describe really enjoying being able to perform
this natural act after going through a very medically oriented birth. It is important to nurse in way that does
not put pressure on the incision sight. The "football hold" position is particularly helpful, as is a good nursing pillow. Ask the
hospital staff for help, and consider calling a lactation consultant or your local La Leche League if you're
Your milk will "come in" immediately after you give birth.
Reality: First of
all, the substance produced by your breasts immediately after a birth is called colostrum. It is yellowish and
stickier than mature milk, and full of nutrients and immunities for the newborn baby. However, amounts of
colostrum vary from mother to mother, and you may not produce very much. This is normal.
After colostrum the breast then begins to produce transitional milk,
which is whitish-yellow, and more abundant. Gradually, over the next week or two, the transitional milk
begins to change to thin, bluish-white mature milk. Your milk production is directly linked to how often and
how effectively your baby is suckling. If your transitional milk does not come in after 30 - 40 hours it is a
good idea to contact a lactation consultant or La Leche League, especially if the hospital staff is advising
you to give formula or water.
Myth #10: Your mate will find you less attractive if you
Reality: It is
possible that your mate may have some trouble adjusting to thinking of your breasts as sources of nourishment as
well as of sexual stimulation. On the other hand, many partners find that a woman who is fulfilling this new
part of her womanly potential is particularly exciting. The idea of the bountiful breast filled with the milk of
life can be very powerful. If your mate does feel uncomfortable with this, however, it may be helpful to join a
support group with other couples so that he/she may become more familiar with these new images, and begin to
understand that they are normal and healthy.
Myth #11: Breastfeeding is
Reality: Many women
experience no pain or difficulty at all when they start breastfeeding. For some, the first week or two may
include some slight discomfort and pain. However, excruciating, or ongoing pain is not normal.
Usually, it is caused by incorrect positioning or latch-on technique, and can be cleared up
with one or two visits from a lactation consultant. This pain can often be avoided if the mother does some
reading, and/or attends a class about breastfeeding, and/or attends a class about breastfeeding before giving
Visiting several La Leche League meetings while you are still pregnant is also a wonderful
way to observe successfully breastfeeding mothers, as well as to network with other new parents.
La Leche League has a peer counseling
program in which you can receive help from other experienced mothers in the early days of your nursing
Do request any assistance you can from trained hospital staff while you are still in
recovery. Sometimes these services are not volunteered, and you will not receive them unless you request
them. Also, Ask about the availability of a lactation consultant before you make your choice as to which
hospital or birthing center you are planning to use.
Myth #12: You can be arrested for breastfeeding in
the United States, you
cannot be arrested for
breastfeeding your child any place a woman would normally be. Such places include beaches, pools, restaurants
(at the table), park benches, and parking lots, among others. You cannot be forced to remove yourself to a
bathroom, closet, or vehicle. If anyone tries to tell you otherwise, you should feel free to refuse to comply,
and inform them of your
rights. Obviously, places like the
men's bathrooms are off limits, since it's not a place women are supposed to be. Who would want to breastfeed
Myth #13: You can't breastfeed if your plan to go back to
work or school.
Reality: If you're
planning to return to work or school, there are several different ways to approach the situation without weaning
your child. First of all, it may be possible to schedule your work with a lunch break during which you may
return home, or go to your child's daycares centre to nurse. Alternatively, your caregiver might bring the child
to your work place.
If these situations are not possible to arrange, there are now wonderful and relatively
inexpensive pumps (compare them with the price of buying formula) available to the public. Or, you may prefer
to rent a pump. In some cases, insurance
companies will even cover the cost of a pump rental or purchase because it will save them money in the long
run to have healthier babies on their plans.
Using a good quality electric pump it is possible to pump 8-10 ounces of milk in 15
minutes. Battery pumps are also available, and they can be used in a vehicle or in a restroom. It may take
longer for newer mothers, and you should plan to pump at least every 4 hours. Beware of cheap low-grade
machines, some of which are manufactured by formula companies. They can cause soreness, and probably will not
pump sufficient quantities of milk. Remember that pumping is a learned art, and may take time to get
perfected. If you do not receive the amount of milk you anticipated, try again, or try a different pump. (See
ProMoM's "Breastfeeding and Returning to
Work" and La Leche League's information on working and breastfeeding.)
If none of these possibilities work for you, you might consider nursing when you are at
home and having a caregiver provide a bottle of artificial milk when you are at work. This method should be
approached very carefully, however, to avoid depleting the mother's milk supply and endangering the health of
Myth #14: Night nursing causes dental
the worries about babies getting cavities through night-time milk consumption arise from the practice of leaving
babies to sleep with bottles of formula MILK or juice. When this is done harmful bacteria have unlimited access
to these sugary mediums and will thrive in the baby's mouth. The acids excreted by the bacteria cause tooth
decay. Such decay has been seen occasionally in breastfed babies if these children happen to fall into a small
category of people with easily decayed teeth. For most children night nursing will not be a problem.
One advantage that the human nipple provides over an artificial one is that it delivers the
milk further toward the back of the mouth, past the teeth. Artificial nipples deliver the milk into the front
and middle of the mouth where it can cause decay. Also, the human nipple does not continue to drip milk when
it is not being sucked. In contrast, bottles will drip milk all night if left in the bed with the baby.
Reminder: no baby should ever be left alone with a propped up bottle!
If you notice anything strange looking happening to your child's teeth consult a
breastfeeding supportive dentist for help. There are many articles on this subject available
through La Leche League.
Breastfeeding will ruin your sex-life.
people fear that the intimacy that a mother maintains with her child through breastfeeding will displace her
needs for intimacy with her partner. This is partially due to our society's viewing of the female breast as a
sex organ, rather than a source of nutrition. There is no reason that a breast can't perform both functions. In
fact, whether a woman chooses to breastfeed or not, she may find her libido considerably diminished for weeks or
months following a birth. It is unrealistic and unfair to expect any new mother, breastfeeding or not, who is
recovering from a birth, who is either nursing or bottle-feeding around the clock, getting up at night to
diaper, rock and sooth the baby, cooking, cleaning, chauffeuring, etc. to have much interest in sex! If she has
an extra half hour in the evening she will probably choose to use it to sleep! Any tasks that her mate can
assist her with will contribute to the deepening of their relationship. If a breastfeeding mother' partner is
respectful of the importance of the breastfeeding relationship, and able to assist with things such as diaper
changes and night-time parenting duties, the new mother's sexuality will gradually
Myth #16: You have to have a
good diet or your milk won't nourish the baby properly.
Reality: Surprisingly, new studies have shown this to be untrue. Even women who are getting
poor nutrition can usually produce adequate quality milk. However, they may not be able to produce as much of
milk as women who are eating well. Needless to say, it's best to eat right during pregnancy and while you're
breastfeeding. Occasional lapses, however, are nothing to worry about.
Myth #17: Breastfeeding makes you
Reality: Breastfeeding will certainly not prevent you from getting back to your pre-pregnancy
weight. In fact, breastfeeding uses an extra 300 to 500 calories every day. It's up to the mother how many of
those calories she chooses to obtain through eating additional food or through burning off her available body
fat. It is wise to lose weight gained during pregnancy gradually whether or not you choose to breastfeed. It may
take some women longer than others, and it is important to remember that your body has been through a lot, and
is still working hard to provide nourishment for your baby. You should not be losing more than a half a pound to
a pound per week or you may affect your milk supply. This is a time to be kind to
Myth #18: Breastfeeding deprives your mate and other
friends and family of their chance to bond with the baby.
Reality: There are
lots of ways to bond with a new born. Soothing, rocking, diapering, and burping the new baby are only a few of
these activities. Anyone can participate in them without depriving the child of its optimal nutrition and
nurturing. One wonderful book on this subject is Becoming A
Father, by Dr. William Sears,
Myth #19: Breastfed newborns need vitamin and mineral
Reality: Not true.
No vitamin or mineral supplements should be given to breastfed babies until at least six months. New studies are
currently being conducted as to whether or not such supplements should be given after six months. Historically,
before such supplements were invented, many breastfed babies survived and thrived for the duration of
breastfeeding, which could last to three years or older. This is not to say that supplementation is not a good
idea after a certain age. It is simply not yet clear what that age is. At least until your baby is 6 months old,
you can be assured that your breast milk will provide for all of her nutritional
Myth #20: You can't take any medication while you're
there are a few medications that should absolutely not be used during the breastfeeding portion of a woman's
life, most can be taken safely. It is important that your doctor checks actual research rather than simply
relying on the standard instructions that are issued with the prescription. Most prescription drugs instructions
automatically caution against being taken by pregnant or breastfeeding mothers. This warning is issued to
prevent liability, and is often overly cautious. It's also a good idea to ask your doctor about non-prescription
drugs. Some of them are not appropriate for nursing or pregnant women. The Nursing Mother's
Companion, by Kathleen Huggins
contains a general reference section on which medications are compatible with breastfeeding. A more up-to-date
resource is Medications In Mother's
Milk, by Dr. Tom Hale,
Myth #21: Breastfeeding ties you
Reality: It is true
that breastfed babies are dependent upon their mothers for their nutrition. This does not mean that a
breastfeeding mother must remain housebound and attached to her baby 24 hours a day. After you have recovered
from the birth, it is not only possible but usually a lot of fun to take your baby with you on errands, visits
to friends, walks in the park and other outings. Now that it has been clearly established that women have a
right to breastfeed in all public spaces, and with the advent of excellent breast pumps, the possibilities for
nursing mothers to fully participate in activities outside the home are almost unlimited. It is also nice not to
have the added burden of caring around all that formula paraphernalia. If you choose to express some of your
milk ahead of time you can easily spend time apart from your baby without relying on artificial
Obviously, taking your baby with you on outings will probably mean you'll be nursing him or
her in front of others, and maybe in public. Some women "feel funny" about nursing in front of strangers, or
even friends and family members, probably because the sight of a nursing mother is not something they
themselves are used to seeing. As countless mothers will attest, however, it's rare that anyone will stare or
say something to you while you're breastfeeding; more likely they'll just look the other way, or not even
notice that you're nursing! Breastfeeding in public can be very discreet, especially if you wear clothes that
are specially designed for nursing mothers. In general, the more natural your attitude the less you'll notice
the reaction of others. If you are hesitant about breastfeeding in public, just remember - it's what breasts
are made for, and, like so many other things, the more you do it the easier it will
Myth #22: After a year, breast milk loses all it's
Reality: I have a
good friend whose mother tormented her by insisting that if she continued to breastfeed her 9 month old daughter
she would starve the baby. This belief is a total myth, as is evidenced by the recently released guidelines of
the American Academy of Paediatricians, which recommend breastfeeding for at least one year. While many people are now
aware that breast milk is the perfect, complete source of nutrition for babies under 6 months of age, not
everyone is aware that breast milk continues to provide perfect nutrition as long as the mother continues to
breastfeed. Breast milk tailors itself to the needs of a child from birth until weaning. There is no need to
worry that at some point the milk will become worthless. It will always contain valuable nutrients, hormones,
and immunities. It will always be easier to digest than the milk of another species. As you gradually add new
foods to your child's diet, you can be assured that your child is getting excellent nutrition, even on those
days when she may choose not to eat much solid food at all.
Myth #23: Serious athletes can't
Reality: A professional
ballet dancer once explained to me that she had to stop nursing after one month because she'd wanted to start
taking dance classes again. She believed that she would be unable to do jumps, and that her milk would "go sour"
from the exercise. In fact, both of these ideas are myths. While it may be uncomfortable to run, dance, or perform
strenuous physical activity with very full breasts, it is certainly possible to nurse or pump prior to engaging in
such activities. Exercise does not "sour" your milk. Immediately following a vigorous exercise session the lactic
acid content in you milk may increase and slightly alter the taste of your milk. However, within an hour or two the
lactic acid passes out of the milk again, leaving it tasting just fine. Also, some researches suggest showering off
after a workout to get rid of salty tasting sweat. And remember, it's wise to start back to a previously
established exercise regimen gradually, whether the new mother is breastfeeding or
Myth #24: Adoptive mothers can't
surprising as this may seem, you do not have to give birth to a child to produce milk. Many adoptive mothers
have successfully developed their ability to produce milk through pumping, putting the baby to their breast and
allowing it to suckle, and use of a supplementary feeding system designed to give the baby artificial milk until
the mother can begin to produce her own. In some cases only a little milk will be obtained. In others, the
majority of the baby's nutrition can be provided from the adoptive mother's body. The La Leche League site has many interesting articles on this issue.
Myth #25: After menopause you can't
Reality: Interestingly, women can continue to produce milk after they are no longer fertile,
and have been known to do so into their 80's! There is no change in the quality of the milk, and many wet nurses
have continued to practice their profession well past menopause.
Myth #26: Breastfeeding clothes and pumps end up costing as
much as formula.
Reality: First of
all, you don't need any special clothes or paraphernalia to breastfeed successfully. Yes, if you plan to pump you should buy or rent a good, reputable model. Yes,
you'll need storage bags and bottles, although you'd need even more to formula feed. Yes, it's nice to have a
few specially designed nursing tops, bras and a nursing pillow. Re-usable nursing pads are also helpful, and
disposable nursing pads are nice the first few weeks.
However, even with these items taken into consideration, they do not come close to the
expense of formula. Plus, there are all the added medical expenses you may have to deal with if you formula
feed. Also, when you breastfeed you can re-use most of the items you purchase for one child with the next.
With formula, it's just as expensive every time.
It is also possible to purchase sewing patterns and make your own nursing clothes and baby
sling if you want to, or create your own pads out of cotton diapers. A t-shirt with a convenient slit cut in
the middle can provide extra coverage under any pull-up or button down blouse. Nursing bras are great, but
for many women a front closing cotton bra works just as well. Use your imagination!