Breastfeeding myths can change the course of your individual journey, whether you’re a new mom or a seasoned pro.
Here, our experts debunk the most common breastfeeding tales and reveal their surprising truths.
Myth #1: Breastfeeding will come naturally.
“Breastfeeding is natural and normal, but it doesn’t mean it’s easy,” said Krista Gray, an international board-certified lactation consultant and founder of Nursing Nurture Lactation Services in Anderson, S.C.
Even if it’s challenging for you, it doesn’t mean it’s not worth it or you won’t be able to do it. The key is to get support from a local breastfeeding support group or a lactation consultant.
Myth #2: Newborns are too tired to eat.
Forget the advice “never wake a sleeping baby.” Many women think that it’s normal for babies to sleep hours on end the first few days after birth. It’s true that babies born without an epidural will be alert for 2 to 3 hours and then go into an “8 hour sleep.” After that, however, they need to eat. Whether you had an epidural or not, your baby must eat every 1 to 3 hours or have 8 to 12 feedings within a 24-hour period.
Myth #3: Your milk supply is low.
If it seems like your baby always wants to eat, it doesn’t mean you’re not producing enough.
“It’s not just about the milk; the touch and being close to the mother are also very important,” Gray said.
Unlike bottle feeding when you know how much your baby ate, the best indicator that your baby is getting enough are weight gain, dirty diapers, developmental milestones, a content “milk drunk” look after a session, and your mother’s instincts.
Myth #4: Breastfeeding will hurt.
You might have been told breastfeeding is painful especially in the early days, but the reality is that pain is never normal.
“A mother should never be cringing, shaking or have cracked or bleeding nipples,” Gray said.
If you’re a new breastfeeding mom, you might initially feel a tingling sensation, but if breastfeeding is painful, chances are your latch or tongue-tie are to blame. So instead of trying to figure it out on your own, get help from a lactation consultant.
Myth #5: A bottle or pacifier can create nipple confusion.
It’s not that your baby will get confused per se, but he may develop a preference, especially for the bottle which makes it much easier to get milk. Introducing a bottle or pacifier within the first 4 to 6 weeks, or before breastfeeding is well established, can affect breastfeeding. You could be missing early hunger cues, which will create too much time between feedings and over time, not enough feedings. As a result, your milk supply could dwindle.
Myth #6: Your baby should be on a schedule.
Forget the baby books and the unsolicited advice. Sure, your baby may follow an eat-play-sleep pattern and a strict feeding schedule, but the truth is that every baby is different.
“Breast milk digests very quickly and a baby, especially a newborn, eats all the time. That’s the way it was designed,” Gray said.
Sometimes babies are hungry while other times they crave non-nutritive sucking.
“They’re getting some milk but they’re also getting cuddled, warmth and love,” she said.
Myth #7: Heat heals engorgement.
Women are told time and time again: if you’ve got an infection, swelling or your breasts are the size of watermelons, get in a hot shower or apply a warm washcloth.
Yet just like you would never apply heat to a swollen ankle, the same goes for breasts.
“To put heat on a breast creates more blood flow to the area and actually increases the milk,” said Sara Chana Silverstein, an international board-certified lactation consultant, master herbalist and creator of the Savvy Breastfeeding app. “Ice reduces inflamed tissue around the ducts so breasts can drain properly.”
Myth #8: Foods will give your baby gas.
Many moms will stay away from broccoli, beans or peppers but “there is no evidence to support that those gas producing molecules pass through breast milk,” said Helen Anderson, a registered nurse and certified lactation educator for Fairhaven Health, a provider of products for fertility, pregnancy and nursing.
The taste of certain foods however, can pass through breast milk which might explain why your baby seems irritable or may not be interested in nursing.
“The baby has a very sensitive palette so they can detect those small changes,” she said.
Myth #9: How much you pump is how much you produce.
“A baby can always get more milk than a pump can, ” Gray said.
What’s more, some women can pump a freezer full of milk, while others can only pump a few ounces and still have a strong milk supply. Letdown can be a trained response, so try to pump in the same place, at the same times, and ideally with your baby nearby.
Myth #9: You’ll shed the pounds.
Studies show that breastfeeding moms lose more weight than if they hadn’t breastfed in the first place. And although most moms will lose the baby weight, it’s a not a hard and fast rule. If you’re exclusively breastfeeding and you’re having trouble losing weight, talk to your physician or a nutritionist.
Myth #10: Breastfeeding is birth control.
In many ancient cultures, breastfeeding was used to space out babies. Although it can suppress ovulation in some women, if you know anyone who has had a surprise, it’s not always a sure thing. The progesterone-only mini pill is deemed safe during pregnancy but because it can affect milk supply, it’s a good idea to use a barrier form of birth control instead, Anderson said.
Myth #11: Breastfeeding will make your breasts sag.
If your friends lament that their cup size is now smaller or their breasts started to sag after they stopped breastfeeding, take heed. There is no evidence that breastfeeding itself can do that.
“The real effect on breast tissue is actually pregnancy and the build up to breast milk,” Anderson said.
Myth #12: You can’t breastfeed if you had surgery.
If you’ve had a breast reduction, reconstruction, breast implants or breast surgery, there is a good chance you can still breast feed. Depending on the type of surgery you had, the milk-producing glands or pathway from the milk ducts to the nipple may be ok, so check with your physician, Anderson said.
Myth #13: You can’t drink when you’re breastfeeding.
Forget the “pump and dump” method. It’s not even effective because the amount of alcohol in your breast milk is the same amount that’s in your blood stream. So if you want one glass of wine, feed your baby and then enjoy. The same goes for medications— most are fine to take while breastfeeding, Gray said.
Julie Revelant is a health journalist and a consultant who provides content marketing and copywriting services for the healthcare industry. She's also a mom of two. Learn more about Julie at revelantwriting.com.