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Breastfeeding: 10 Common Myths EXPOSED

Updated on October 24, 2012

1. Breastfeeding Hurts. Wrong!
Incorrectly latched babies make breastfeeding hurt. Once you and baby have mastered “the latch” breastfeeding will not hurt (in general, once you get past the first few weeks). There may be times like teething, where you need to teach baby not to nip you, and given the nature of comments I am receiving, I am amending to say, some women experience discomfort. However, for most women, once you get past your early weeks, you will be a happily nursing, pain-free dyad. Once you have established a good rhythm though, if breastfeeding suddenly begins to hurt, please see your doctor to see if your baby has thrush which can cause burning for mother but quickly goes away with treatment. Or, if perhaps you have a plugged duct, usually remedied by hot compresses, massage, and nursing the affected area to clear it up. Both of these are temporary and treatable.

Properly Positioning a Baby to Latch

2. Breastfeeding Feels Good, in a Naughty Sort of Way. Wrong!
When you have spent a while away from your baby and your breasts are very, very full, nursing a child can feel good in the way that it feels like a relief to empty them. Think of taking a long journey in a car without a stopping for several hours and your bladder is getting very, very full and finally, a rest stop appears ahead. You pull your car in, park and go running for the bathroom stall and ahhhhhh, relief. It feels “good” to relieve your bladder, right? Well, in that same way it can feel “good” to relieve full breasts. Then there is the emotional “feel good” you get from nursing your child as the oxytocin is released and you hold your baby and bond. Nothing beats that feeling of course!

3. You Must Avoid Certain Foods While Nursing or Baby Will Be Gassy. Wrong!
I have heard this one a million times. Everything from, I can’t eat broccoli or beans or dairy because my baby is getting gassy. Unless you can digest that broccoli and then sprout it through your nipple, I can assure you, the fiber is NOT going to get into your milk and make baby gassy. Yes, your child may be gassy but not from what you are eating! Here’s a little clue… babies are gassy sometimes! It is due to their immature digestive systems. And guess what, if you feed the baby formula, they will be more gassy as it is even harder to digest than breastmilk. Ask yourself, is the formula feeding mom ever questioning whether it was something the cow ate, the one that made the formula , that is making her child fussy? Ummm, no! You shouldn’t either. If is not in your bloodstream, then it will crossover into your milk. Very rarely certain proteins from your food can affect your child. But that is exceedingly rare & would be seen in formula or breastfeeding. You just have a sensitive child in that case. Similarly, you CAN eat honey when breastfeeding. No child under 1 year should eat honey but YOU are not a child. You are fine, your immune system is fine.

4. You Cannot Have a Glass of Wine While Nursing. Wrong!
This one just requires a bit of planning. But hey, you are a mom now, your casual care free days are gone. Time to be responsible so a tiny bit of planning and you can still enjoy some things while this little person is super dependent on you. They won’t always be and then you will miss this time. First, you need to have a bit of pumped milk stored. Formula will work in a pinch, but really pump ahead of time if at all possible. Depending on how old your baby is, and if you only want to have one 5oz glass of wine, you may not even need the pumped milk. Plan to feed your baby (preferably at a point when baby will sleep for a good bit) then once baby goes down, have your wine. Assuming you are of average height and build it and stick to that one glass of 5 oz wine (12oz beer or mixed drink containing only 1.5 oz 80proof alcohol) the drink will be metabolized in about 2 hours. You can buy small sticks that look like pH strips to test your milk to be sure the alcohol content is zero before you nurse. If it isn’t, pump your milk and dump it. Feed your baby (or have someone else do it) the pumped milk you have stored if baby gets hungry during this time. By the next feed you can recheck and you should be fine. If you plan to drink more than 1 drink, please plan accordingly and arrange for your child to remain with a sitter for the evening with adequate amounts of milk. You will need to pump and dump until your milk is registering no alcohol. Please remember to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. FYI – I do not condone this practice but realize people will do what they will and if so, you should at least make responsible and safe choices for your child.

NOT A MYTH - Taking any sort of drugs and breastfeeding do NOT mix - EVER! And no amount of pumping and dumping will help! You will endanger the life of your child if you participate inhale/ingest/inject these substances into yourself.

5. My Baby is Always Hungry, I Am Not Producing Enough Milk. Wrong!
Your baby is always hungry because breastmilk is the perfect food for babies. It is made with proteins made for HUMANS not cows (formula is cow-milk based, just in case you were not aware). When you take a food that is custom designed just for that person, it will digest perfectly and a little more quickly. Which is good because it happens that babies have an immature digestive system when they are born. Formula feeding moms may have longer periods where their babies feel “full” as it takes longer for the formula to digest but they also deal with more issues of constipation and far more spit-up / reflux than exclusively breastfeeding moms. On one hand, it may seem like you do nothing but nurse in the beginning, as baby has a teeny-tiny stomach, but on the other you have a built-in excuse to sit and put your feet up for a good 15-30 minutes on a regular basis. “Sorry honey, I CAN’T do the dishes – I’m NURSING the baby” as your catch up on your favorite DVR’d episodes. Or, my favorite was the laying down nursing position… so, ooops, I happened to “catch a nap” in bed. I learned to love the fact my nursling was “always hungry”. As long as you are getting 6-8 wet and/or poopy diapers a day. You are producing enough. Count the diapers not how much the baby nurses to know if they are getting enough.

6. My Breasts No Longer Feel Big/Full - I Stopped Making Milk. Wrong!
I can see why a woman might take this as a sign that she no longer has milk when for months they feel huge and full then suddenly go back to feeling normal. But all this means is that you and baby have gotten into a good rhythm. As your milk supply is based on baby’s needs, once the supply/demand is established your breasts will learn to regulate milk production. That feeling of fullness will go away unless you are away from your child for an extended period of time. However, it could return during growth spurts as baby amps up feed frequency to increase supply again. Like before, continue to count diapers to be sure your child is getting enough. And now that your baby is a bit older you can also note whether he or she seems to be continuing to grow along THEIR growth curve and hitting major milestones. If so, they are doing just fine and so is your milk.

7. When I Pump, I Get Hardly Anything. I Am Not Making Enough Milk. Wrong!
As humans, we like visual proof of things don’t we? Naturally then, we expect the output from our fancy double-electric pump to equate to what our baby is getting, right? Well, maybe, but probably not. Even super-pumpers, moms who have no trouble relaxing and pumping milk like milk-goddeses from heaven, probably one of the most forceful let-down reflexes out there. Those are the babies that come up sputtering with bewildered stares at their mothers like “Are you trying to drown me?!” Even they produce more milk nursing their infant that at the pump, which seems crazy since they are such super-producers! The point is, your child is much more efficient at removing milk from your breast than any squeaking, unnatural sounding, cold plastic machine ever will be. Your body responds to the suckling of the baby at the nipple and areola, sending signals from thousands of nerve endings to the pituitary gland in your brain to release oxytocin which in turn signals your let-down reflex. The pseudo-stimulation from the machine is nowhere near comparable with that of the soft palate of your nursling. I know I am sounding like a broken record here, but count the diapers! Are you getting 6-8 a day? If yes, your baby is getting enough milk. Consider any extra milk you get from pumping a bonus and stash for when you are not able to be with baby.

8. My Baby Is Looking Around, They Are No Longer Interested In Nursing. Wrong!
Let me guess your baby is somewhere around the 4-5 month range when this starts? This does not mean they no longer want to nurse it just means your milk has fueled their brain into the wonderful milestone where their vision has change dramatically. They can see a much wider range of colors, perceive depth, shapes and sizes of object. They are discovering their hands and toes and all these things are wonderful and exciting to look at. Naturally when they nurse, they may get distracted by all the really exicting things to look at that they never noticed before. Before thinking your child has decided it is time to call it quits, try getting an attention getting and safe to use nursing necklace. They are designed just for this purpose. Give those chubby fingers something to grasp and twist and twirl as they nurse.

9. Breastmilk Loses Nutritional Value After “X” Number of Months. Wrong!
I’d like to use stronger language for this one because this myth is THAT ridiculous. Some people say breastmilk has no nutritional value after 6 months, others say 9 mos, some say a year. All of it is untrue. I’ll use the “6 months” figure to illustrate my point. Think about a nutritious food, any food. I am going to pick spinach as my food. Spinach is full of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, iron, calcium and folate. Now imagine we are feeding our super-food (spinach) to an adult and they love it. They it eat it all the time for 6 months. Now tell me, if that adult continues to eat the spinach beyond 6 months does it no longer have Vitamin A, Vitamin C, iron, calcium and folate? Does its nutritional content vanish or change simply because of how long the person has been consuming it? What about cow’s milk? We continue to give that to children for years and years. Does the nutritional content of that remain the same or decrease the longer they drink it? So why do people believe the nutritional content of human milk would decrease? It makes no sense! Breastmilk is actually custom made for the specific child and their needs. Hit a growth spurt? Need more calcium, fat, vitamins… no problem. All without any special effort on the mother’s part. Breastmilk is AH-MAZING!!

10. You Should Stop Nursing When You Child Can “Ask For It”? Wrong!
This is another myth that is silly and a “rule” we seem to only apply to nursing. Because with any other nutritional food, once the child is old enough to “ask for it” we are excited and proud and applaud them. Aside from that, children learn language at very different ages. My oldest started speaking at 7 months and she is STILL talking, and talking, and talking. My youngest decided to talk closer to a year and then it was a long time before another word followed, his vocabulary at 2.5 years old pales in comparison to that of his sister at the same age. It was a real long time before my son could ask for it, but for my daughter I think it was one of her first words! I’d like to employ some logical comparison again. Let’s imagine you give your toddler some apple slices. Then one day they say “apples”. Do you suddenly yell to your spouse in the other room, “Honey, no more apples for Kayla, she has learned how to ask for them!” Ummm, no! That would be absurd. Likewise, that argument regarding breastfeeding is equally absurd. It is our association with breasts as purely sexual objects versus objects of life-sustaining nourishment that makes us uncomfortable. Once a child can verbalize their needs and wants it moves them from our view as being less like an infant and more like an adult. If this is your viewpoint, then YOU are looking at the mother’s breasts the wrong way as I assure her child definitely is not! Work on correcting the societal conditioning of YOUR thinking and stop taking it out on children. It is interesting to note that America is one of the few cultures that has an issue with toddler nursing.

There you have it! Hope I have dispelled some of the most common myths. Of all the women I have known who have not been successful with breastfeeding or had to stop sooner than they wanted, only one of them had a truly medical reason for not succeeding. As for the rest, they did not “fail” at breastfeeding but our society and their medical providers failed to support them with proper education and resources. They are all amazing moms, just like all loving moms are. At the end of the day it does not matter how you choose to feed your child, breast of formula. You are a good and loving mom as long as your child is being cared for. But if you do choose breast, please surround yourself with a good support system and good information to set yourself up for success!


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    • Meg Moon profile image

      Meg Moon 5 years ago from United Kingdom

      Don't worry you haven't upset me I think your article is great and I think it's a massive shame that women won't BF because they think it will hurt but it can be pretty uncomfortable in the early days. I agree though nursing does not hurt after this initial period.

    • My2GreenBeans profile image

      My2GreenBeans 5 years ago from Tennessee

      I apologize if I have upset anyone. But if have been told by many women that won’t nurse because it “hurts” when I asked how long they tried, I find it out it was a couple times, a couple days or a week or two. In my own personal experience, that of my friends, that of the women in LLL group, and that of those I have spoken with online, aside from the initial adjustment period where mama and baby are learning to latch and any nipple sensitivity issues are overcome, no one reports discomfort when nursing. UNLESS there is an underlying medical issue. I called my firstborn a “piranha” for the first week or two but once we synced up with latching we were fine. With my son, he had tongue thrust issue due to a slightly shorter than average frenulum but he wasn’t quite “tongue tied”. Until he grew a bit, I had to use a nipple shield for the first 3 weeks enable him to latch. And both my children cut their first teeth at 4.5 months! That week where they need to learn to not to bite wasn’t pretty either. But as a “general” nursing shouldn’t hurt. Mothers don’t need to suffer to feed their children. This is my point. If you are, from my experience, something isn’t quite right. Nursing is NOT an innate ability, I should have include that in there as well, both mother and baby need to learn. Moms expect it to be easy, and eventually it is, but the first few weeks to a month can be quite a learning curve.

    • Meg Moon profile image

      Meg Moon 5 years ago from United Kingdom

      Yep I've had ductal thrush with both my boys and that is very painful and much different to the discomfort caused by a strong suck in the beginning but saying BF doesn't hurt at all unless your doing something wrong can be quite disheartening and misleading if a woman is doing everything right.

    • My2GreenBeans profile image

      My2GreenBeans 5 years ago from Tennessee

      I agree that different kids can have different "sucks", my son being stronger than has sister but once I learned to adapt to latch him correctly there were no issues. There is a week or two in the beginning where you are both learning but if it hurts beyond this you really should consult a lactation specialist and rule out other issues like thrush. FYI - my son and I had thrush for more than a month before I figured out it was the cause of my nursing pain because there were no visual symptoms whatsoever.

    • Meg Moon profile image

      Meg Moon 5 years ago from United Kingdom

      I agree with Kristi- I breastfed my first with ease but then my second and third- both boys- have had much stronger sucks and I knew my latch was fine but it still hurt for the first couple of weeks. I think it is probably more accurate to say breastfeeding shouldn't hurt after the first couple of weeks/ it has been established.

    • profile image

      Kristi 5 years ago

      I have to disagree with it not hurting. This is my second breastfed child and this one does hurt. She has a much stronger suck and my nipples are more sensitive this time so, Yes, it can hurt regardless of a proper latch.