Exposing the Truth Behind 6 Breastfeeding Myths

As a new mother, you will get LOTS of advice. Everyone from your hairdresser to the woman behind you in the checkout line will have some nugget of wisdom for you. Unfortunately, not all of their advice will be good advice.

There are many persistent breastfeeding myths passed from woman to woman. They have the potential to trip you up and make breastfeeding difficult. To give you a head start on dodging bad advice, we’ve prepared a list of 6 of the most stubborn breastfeeding myths.

Myth #1: You need to prepare your nipples for breastfeeding.

Have you been told you need to “toughen up” your nipples to get them ready for breastfeeding? Ouch! Pregnant women used to be advised to rub their nipples with a rough towel. Thankfully, this is old news. It was found to damage nipple tissue, causing more harm than good.

You don’t have to do any nipple preparation. Your body will do the work for you. During pregnancy, your nipples will become larger and more erect. This will help your baby to latch. They also turn a darker color, visually guiding your baby to the target.

The best way to avoid sore nipples is to latch baby deeply onto the breast. Babies breastfeed; they should not ‘nipple feed’. Feel the roof of your mouth with your tongue. Can you feel the spot where it changes from hard to a softer membranous part? That’s how far back your nipple should go in baby’s mouth. When deep in baby’s mouth, there will not be pressure on the nipple.

 

Myth #2: Breastfeeding will make your breasts sag.

Breastfeeding does NOT make your breasts sag. The real culprit is pregnancy.

While you are pregnant, the milk making tissue in your breast multiplies, preparing your body for breastfeeding. Your breast size will increase by a cup size or two. After the birth of your baby, your hormones signal your body to produce milk. The breast changes and the onset of milk making will happen automatically, whether you plan to breastfeed or not.

The extra weight of your breasts and the onset of milk making stretches the ligaments that support your breasts. Over time, this leads to sagging. The more pregnancies you have, the more the potential for sagging.

So, don’t let the fear of sagging stop you from breastfeeding.

 

Myth #3: Many women don’t produce enough breast milk.

Thankfully for the human race, this is a myth. Most women can produce more than enough breast milk for their baby.

It is very common, however, for women to worry if they have enough milk. In fact, it is the top reason women stop breastfeeding (or begin to give bottles of formula unnecessarily). Even mothers of beautiful chubby breastfed babies wonder about their milk supply. Checking baby’s weight is a great way to tell if you have enough milk. If your baby is receiving only breast milk and is gaining well, there is no milk supply problem!

It is rare (about 1 – 2% of women) but some expectant moms don’t develop enough milk making tissue during pregnancy. These mothers will produce some breast milk but not a full supply.

More commonly, a low milk supply is due to things that have interfered with breastfeeding. Milk production is governed by supply and demand. To keep making lots of milk, milk must be removed from the breast often. Using bottles, a pacifier or scheduling feeds can result in less milk being removed from the breast. Over time, this reduces milk supply. (There are ways to increase milk supply). Often it is a matter of identifying and correcting the reason for the low supply.)

 

Myth #4: A breastfeeding mother must avoid spicy food and other foods that can make baby gassy.

When a baby is fussy, the easiest thing to blame is the mother’s diet. This may seem logical but it is not founded in research. The food a mother eats will not give her baby gas. We used to suggest that breastfeeding women avoid certain foods, such as cabbage, broccoli or beans. If you think about it, it makes no sense. These are staple foods in other countries, consumed by breastfeeding mothers every day.

We do know that spicy foods can flavor a mother’s milk. Rather than be a problem, this is thought to be a benefit. Babies are given an early introduction to different tastes. (Formula, on the other hand, always tastes the same.)

Babies can have gas for many different reasons but if gas is the only symptom, it not likely to be caused by the mother’s diet. There have been rare cases where baby has gas plus other symptoms such as rash or vomiting and a food was found to be the culprit. If you think this could be the case for your baby, talk to your healthcare provider before depriving yourself unnecessarily.

 

Myth #5: Moms should not breastfeed when they are sick.

The best way to protect your baby when you are sick is to continue to breastfeed. When your body is exposed to a germ, it reacts by making antibodies to the germ. These protective antibodies are passed to your baby through your breast milk. If your baby does become ill, the antibodies help the illness to be less severe.

Continue with the precautions you would normally take to prevent the spread of germs. Wash your hands well. Avoid coughing or sneezing on your baby. Try breastfeeding lying down to maximize your rest.

If you need medications for your illness, let your healthcare provider know you are breastfeeding. Very few medications are off limits for nursing moms but some are safer than others.

Exception: In developed countries, moms infected with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) or HTLV-1 (a virus that infects human white blood cells) are advised not to breastfeed.

 

Myth #6: Breastfeeding is easy for everyone

Breastfeeding is natural but don’t be surprised if you find it takes some time and effort to get started. You and your baby will be recovering from birth and need time to get to know each other. Some birth interventions can interfere with baby’s natural feeding instincts.

Before baby arrives, take time to learn the basics of breastfeeding. Knowing what to expect will help you to be relaxed and to avoid the most common breastfeeding problems. Start by learning some of the basics here.

It may be challenging at first but hang in there! Once breastfeeding is established, you will find it is the simplest way to feed your baby (and, it’s natural and organic to boot!)

You are now armed and ready for the onslaught of advice! You’ll avoid inflicting pain with a rough towel. You won’t be fooled by threats of saggy breasts or a bland diet. You’ll be able to breastfeed through challenges, knowing you are doing the best for your baby.

 

Other posts you may find helpful:

Breastfeeding in the First Week: 4 Things You Will Be Glad You Knew

Breastfeeding for Beginners (weeks 1-6)

 

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5 Comments

  • I 100% agree with Stephanie – I know WAY MORE than 1-2% of women with low supply – many of whom (like myself) tried like HELL to make it work and who did not give up on breastfeeding but are supplementing. That number has to be wrong. In my experience it is closer to 1/3 to 1/2 of women. And ditto to Stephanie. Its ok to go with formula. But it also weighed me down to the point of not even enjoying the gorgeous healthy amazing baby I was holding in my arms. Breast is best is fine, but my question is: what is it doing to postpartum depression. I know the answer to that, and it is not a positive one.

  • I think the “supply and demand” advice is helpful for new mothers; to produce more milk, you have to nurse (or pump) more. However, pacifiers do not decrease milk supply! In fact, there’s some evidence that they can help babies learn how to suck, in addition to being protective against SIDS. I exclusively breastfed three kids–two of them twins!–and all three used a pacifier. Of course, you do have to feed your babies when they’re hungry, and on some days that will be quite often, especially in the beginning. But you don’t have to make yourself a human pacifier and be a La Leche League martyr. Pacifiers can be a great tool to help babies self soothe, and in my experience, a hungry baby will not be satisfied by a pacifier.

  • I would have to disagree with #3. I have a low supply that led to my daughter being on the border of failure to thrive in her first couple of months. I did everything to increase my supply and nothing worked. It was most likely a result of a post-partum hemorrhage, which no one tells you about. Many breastfeeding mom who I’ve spoken with don’t produce enough. It is definitely more of an issue than is acknowledged.

  • And if you go through all of this, or none of this, or whatever your journey, if you need to stop breastfeeding and go with formula that’s ok too. I’ll say it again. It’s ok to go to formula. The guilt I felt about moving to formula was so enormous it weighed me down and occupied all of my thoughts. But my baby is fine, happy and healthy on formula… and so is his mom.

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