10 Breastfeeding Myths Debunked

Judy Dutton | Feb 23, 2015 Baby
10 Breastfeeding Myths Debunked
Image: Oleg Malyshev/shutterstock

mom breastfeeding
Oleg Malyshev/shutterstock

Even today, breastfeeding is a practice cloaked in mysteries and misconceptions. Why? We can't say, but for those who have heard any of these breastfeeding wives' tales and believe them, they know how these stories can wreak havoc with nursing plans -- so it's high time to set the record straight. We found some breastfeeding myths that it's time to debunk. Because these myths are doing none of us any favor, and it's time for them to go. 

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The topic of breastfeeding can bring out some strong opinions from people. Women have gotten some strange messages about the dos and don'ts of breastfeeding, but what is the real story? We decided to tackle some of the worst -- and weirdest -- misconceptions about breastfeeding, from spicy foods causing nursing babies gas, to the old wives' tale that breastfeeding makes breast sag, and to the absolutely worst misconception -- that if one doesn't breastfeed, she is a bad mother. Read on for some of the wildest breastfeeding myths women still believe, followed by a refreshing reality check.

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Trust us, moms can save themselves tons of agony by knowing the truth. So take a look at our list and spread the knowledge!

breastfeeding myths debunked

  • Myth: Breastfeeding Just Happens "Naturally"


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    Fact: Breastfeeding may be "natural," but that doesn't mean it just happens on its own or that you and your baby "just know" how to do it. "There is a steep learning curve to breastfeeding," says childbirth educator Deena Blumenfeld. "And while all babies are born with the innate ability to do the 'breast crawl' and latch on to the nipple on their own, giving birth in a hospital can interrupt the time mom and baby need to get that going."

    So if you're ever feeling lost, don't assume you're a dummy, and know there are plenty of places to go for guidance, including lactation consultants and free local support groups like La Leche League.

  • Myth: Breast Milk Is On Tap As Soon As You Give Birth


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    Fact: Once moms give birth, their milk should be flowing, right? Not exactly. First, all that comes out is a trickle of sticky gold fluid called colostrum.

    "You might not notice it, and you might feel like your baby isn't getting anything," says Eva Bourke, a lactation consultant at Stamford Hospital. But colostrum is packed with nutrients and antibodies (they don't call it "liquid gold" for nothing) and besides, baby's stomach at this point is super tiny: at 1 day old, a baby only needs about a teaspoon of colostrum per feeding! The regular "milk" usually takes around two to three days after birth to come in.

  • Myth: You Have To Pump to Get Enough Milk


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    Myth: Think about it: women have been breastfeeding successfully long before breast pumps were invented. So as long as your baby is healthy and able to breastfeed often and on demand, pumping is probably not necessary.

    "Provided your baby wasn't born premature or other other issues interfering with his ability to suck with normal vacuum pressures, you don't need to express milk," says lactation consultant Irene Zoppi. "Your infant is the 'ideal pump'. Feeding a healthy baby when he wants will drive your milk supply to exactly the right levels."

  • Myth: A Mom Must Drink Milk to Make Milk


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    Fact: While there's no harm in drinking cow's milk, it's by no means necessary, says lactation consultant Cindy Leclerc. Sure, it has plenty of the nutrients you need to make breast milk, but so do lots of other foods, so don't feel any pressure to down a pint to make a pint.

    And even if your diet is lacking, your body will continue to produce top-notch breast milk by mining the hoardes of calcium in your bones, for instance. So if anything, eating a balanced, healthy diet is a must for you -- but not so much for your milk.

    More from The Stir: 11 Breastfeeding Photos That Perfectly Capture the Bond Between Baby & Mom

  • Myth: It's Normal for Nursing to Hurt


    Image via Iakov Filimonov/shutterstock

    Fact: Heard horror stories about bloody nipples, and how that's just a rite of passage for nursing moms? Nope.

    "While it is common for women's nipples to be tender in the early days of breastfeeding, this tenderness should last for only a few seconds after baby latches," says Leclerc. "You should not feel pinching or pain that makes you curl your toes." If your nipples hurt throughout the feeding, that's a sign your baby has a poor latch, and you should seek help -- not just grit your teeth and bear it!

  • Myth: Spicy Foods Will Give a Nursing Baby Gas


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    Fact: You gulped down some chicken vindaloo... and now it seems like your baby is paying the price with an attack of gassiness. That's the last time you indulge! Well, not so fast.

    "When baby is fussy, the easiest thing to blame it on is the mother's diet," says Leclerc. "But the foods a mother eats do not give her baby gas." Spicy foods will, however, flavor a mother's milk, thereby giving baby an early introduction to new flavors that make him a more open-minded eater down the road. In fact, according to Bourke, all the foods you were once asked to eliminate during pregnancy are back in the clear, so bring on the sushi and soft cheeses, and keep those jalepeños coming!

  • Myth: You Can't Get Pregnant While Breastfeeding


    Image via Iakov Filimonov/shutterstock

    Fact: While breastfeeding can stop ovulation (and your periods), this is not birth control you want to bank on. "Breastfeeding is not a foolproof method of birth control," says Leclerc.

    That said, "If a mother is breastfeeding exclusively, night and day, with no bottle or soother use, the return of her first period can be delayed for six months," says LeClerc. So odds may be slim, but if you're not ready for another baby yet, be sure to find a more fullproof method!

  • Myth: You Have to 'Pump and Dump' After Alcohol


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    Fact: "If a mom likes to have a glass of wine with dinner -- one only, and less than three or four ounces -- if she breastfeeds just before dinner she can then have that one glass with the meal," says Bourke. This will give the body the time needed to process the alcohol and remove it from her system before needing to breastfeed the baby again in about two hours.

    But even if you're heading out for a couple or more drinks, that doesn't mean the alcohol stays "trapped" in your breast milk indefinitely unless you pump it out. "The amount of alcohol in breast milk mirrors a women's blood alcohol level," says Leclerc. "So as her blood level lowers, so will the amount in her milk." So as long as you've pumped some milk beforehand to feed the baby to give you time to sober up, all is likely to be OK.

  • Myth: Breastfeeding Makes Your Breasts Sag


    Image via Alexander Gospodinov/shutterstock

    Fact: Not in the long run, says lactation consultant Suzanne Foley. "When you're nursing, your breasts will be plumper, so once you stop your breasts will deflate and may look saggy for a while," she explains. But over time, our bodies gradually adjust to varying sizes -- that's why people who lose lots of weight look great rather than all wrinkly. Granted your breasts may not look exactly the same once your childrearing years are over, but you can't blame breastfeeding entirely. Gravity gets us all in the end!

  • Myth: If You Don't Nurse You're a Lazy/Bad Mom


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    Fact: There can be many reasons a mother may be unable to breastfeed her baby, many of which are out of her control. For instance, women with underlying medical conditions may not be able to produce enough milk; meanwhile certain babies like premies may not be able to nurse. Or else maybe you can breastfeed, but just don't want to. Don't give in to a guilt trip! As long as you're bonding with your baby that's what matters.

    More from The Stir: The Ultimate Guide to Breastfeeding


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