Breastfeeding Myths

By Krista Gray, IBCLC. Last updated July 4, 2017.

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dsc1Breastfeeding myths abound.  Here is a list of the most common along with the real facts:

Myth #1: Breastfeeding is easy.

Truth: Breastfeeding is natural but it is not always easy! Having experienced help to get your breastfeeding relationship off to a good start is very important. And finding support from other breastfeeding moms is a wonderful help and encouragement. If you are experiencing any pain or anxiety about breastfeeding, or if you just want to prepare for breastfeeding while pregnant, find a local IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) as well as try to plug into a local La Leche League (or other) breastfeeding support group.

Myth #2: Doctors and nurses know a lot about breastfeeding and are helpful resources.

Truth: Most doctors and nurses do not receive training in school about breastfeeding. Even if they do, it is quite limited.  Some may sincerely want to help you, but unless they have specific (additional) lactation training they are no more qualified than anyone else to assist you with breastfeeding. In addition to this, many are influenced by formula companies who fund research, encourage the use of their growth charts, and give free formula and coupons for doctors, nurses, and hospitals to give to unsuspecting moms. For qualified lactation support, seek out an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) as well as a La Leche League group for mom-to-mom breastfeeding support.  Also, find a hospital or birthing center that has BFHI (Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative) status for the birth of your baby.  Staff at these locations are trained in practices that support and encourage breastfeeding.

Myth #3: If it’s hot outside, your baby needs water in addition to breast milk.

Truth: All your exclusively breastfed baby needs is breast milk. Breast milk is over 85% water. Your baby may need to nurse more frequently because he is hot and thirsty (just as you are!) but all he needs is your milk. In fact, milk is unique and specific to each mammalian species and breast milk is the perfect food for human babies!

Myth #4: Nursing on demand spoils your baby.

Truth: Inside your womb your baby was able to eat 24/7. Now that he’s out, he no longer has that luxury. But he does know when he’s hungry and if you follow his cues and feed him on demand you will have a baby that is happier and content because he is having his needs satisfied. Your baby is not being manipulative if he cries or lets you know he is hungry.  This isn’t spoiling, it is simply taking care of your baby’s needs.

Myth #5: There are no health benefits to non-nutritive sucking.

Truth: There are many health benefits to non-nurtritive sucking! Not only are breasts the original baby soother they are good for so much more than just active milk transfer. Breasts are a healthy pacifier, comforter, cuddle, and breastfeeding helps develop a normal face and jaw palate.

Myth #6: Breastfeeding moms have no idea if their baby is getting enough milk.

Truth: There are many signs your baby is feeding well and ways a mom can tell if her breastfed baby is getting enough milk. First, she should hear active sucking/gulping during breastfeeds. Her baby should nurse until he comes off the breast satisfied, or wanting the other side. After nursing he should be content (or asleep) for at least a few minutes before wanting to nurse again. He should show normal developmental signs, good skin tone, contentment, and grow out of his clothes appropriately. And, most importantly, what goes in must come out! If a baby is drinking sufficient breast milk he will have enough wet and dirty diapers.

Myth #7: Putting babies on a feeding schedule is best for them to develop a routine and learn proper sleep schedule.

Truth: A baby knows when he is hungry and it is best if mom follows her baby’s cues. All women are different as are all babies. A woman’s breast capacity varies not only from mom to mom, but between her own breasts. And the amount each baby takes in is different – each feed can even vary (just as we might be hungrier or eat more and then later want less to eat – there is no difference with babies and breast milk). Finally, your baby has not read the latest scheduling book about what he’s “supposed” to do. It is best to nurse on demand to establish your milk supply and grow your baby. Most babies nurse every 1-2 hours and this is normal. It is important to nurse at night and seeking to schedule his breastfeeding and sleep patterns could severely diminish a mother’s milk supply too.

Myth #8: I can’t nurse if I’m sick or taking an antibiotic.

Truth: You absolutely can! Your body is so amazing that if you are sick or have come into contact with bacteria, your body is making antibodies to put in your milk to protect your baby from these very same things! In addition, there are very few medications that are contraindicated for nursing. Almost every antibiotic or medicine you are prescribed from your doctor is compatible with nursing. There are many factors that affect how a medication can enter breast milk as well as how a baby’s body will be affected by a medication.  In general, most antibiotics, antidepressants, topical creams, and pills for acute and chronic illnesses are fine. Examples of drugs to be concerned with are some used to treat cancer and radiopharmaceuticals.

Myth #9: It’s normal for breastfeeding to hurt.

Truth: Breastfeeding should never hurt. If you are in pain, please seek qualified lactation support to find out why and help solve the problem. When you are beginning breastfeeding and the milk first comes in you might feel a tinge, or tingle, or “pain” just for a second while the milk lets down, but breastfeeding should not hurt. The vast majority of the time breastfeeding pain can be solved with altering positioning and latch of the baby to the breast.

Myth #10: Its too painful to nurse if I’ve had a c-section.

Truth: There are many ways to nurse a newborn after having a c-section. While you are in the hospital, ask to see a lactation consultant and have her help you find a position that is comfortable for you to nurse in. Many women have found nursing their babies while lying on their side to be effective so there is no pain/pressure on the incision.

Myth #11: I have to worry too much about my nutrition in order to nurse.

Truth: While some things you eat do affect your breast milk, your body will make good, healthy milk for your baby on just about any diet you eat. In fact, unless a mom is severely malnourished to the point of dying her milk will be healthier than any artificially manufactured formula.

Myth#12: Mothers with small breasts produce less milk.

Truth: Breast size does not equal breast capacity. Glandular tissue is necessary for milk, not fat tissue. Even women with small amounts of glandular tissue can make plenty of milk for their baby throughout a 24-hour period. Some moms will just need to feed more often than others. But, even if the mom has plenty of milk, some babies need to be fed more often than others so even large milk capacity in breasts doesn’t mean a mom will nurse less often. Just follow your babies cues and feed on demand and your breasts will be able to adequately and exclusively nourish your baby.

Myth #13: There’s not enough milk to nurse twins.

Truth: You have two breasts and two babies – there is plenty of milk! Your body makes milk according to how much is needed. With two babies nursing, your body gets the message to make more milk and will do so. If you will give attention in the early days to establishing a strong milk supply, and don’t supplement your babies, you will have plenty of milk to nurse twins.

Myth #14: Colostrum isn’t really milk so it doesn’t matter if I nurse much before my milk comes in.

Truth: Colostrum is breast milk and it is amazing and so important for your baby. No one has been able to replicate it, and if they could they would be able to charge a fortune. For the first 48 hours after birth, babies are not yet very hungry, but they need immunological protection from all the new things they are encountering outside their mother’s womb. Colostrum provides this protection. Additionally, lots of skin-to-skin and nursing in the first couple of days helps to establish a strong milk supply and allow mother’s milk to come in more quickly.

Myth #15: If I nurse my baby at night he’ll never learn good sleep habits.

Truth: All babies learn to sleep eventually. And they grow up so fast you will one day look back on the first couple of years of your baby’s life and wonder where it went. Nursing at night is important, too, because prolactin levels are higher. Prolactin is the hormone responsible for milk production so nursing at night helps you to establish your milk supplyBreastfeeding and sleep is a hot topic in our western culture these days, but babies are designed to need to nurse frequently in the early days – both night and day.  Sleeping through the night will come when they are bigger/older.

Myth #16: Moms who don’t nurse get more sleep.

Truth: Actually, the exact opposite is true. The latest research shows that nursing moms get more sleep than bottle-fed babies. How can this be? Well, first of all, even if you aren’t giving the bottle yourself, if your baby is eating your body needs to get the message and you should be pumping. If you choose to sleep during the feed and not pump your supply could begin to suffer. Additionally, your body will probably be uncomfortably full and you may be awake with engorgement. Or, if you hear your baby cry or stir your maternal instincts will kick in and you may wake up. Bottle feeding requires a more active state of alertness on your part as well. You have to get up, mix the formula, and give the bottle to your baby. Then the bottles need to be cleaned and sterilized. Contrast this with the semi-awake state you can be in to help your baby latch onto your breast and then you fall back asleep while your baby nurses. Not only does the research show that moms who breastfeed get an average of 40 minutes more sleep each night, but the quality of sleep is also better. Yet another reason to nurse your baby!

Myth #17: Formula is a perfectly safe/good alternative.

Truth: Formula is a man-made, synthetic concoction that is made by assimilating cow’s milk, goat’s milk, and/or soybeans, synthetic vitamins, and other factory-processed ingredients, heated to high temperatures, and canned for unwitting families to purchase for their precious baby. Breast milk is the norm, and it cannot be replicated. In fact, every alternative is so far from the norm that it is linked with lower IQs, sicker children, increased rates of cancer, asthma, allergies, diabetes, gastro-intestinal disorders, and more. Formula is not only not a good alternative, it is actually quite dangerous. Did you know that the World Health Organization states that formula is only the fourth best feeding option for babies? Breast milk at the breast, breast milk in a cup/bottle/etc., and donor breast milk are all considered better feeding options.

Myth #18: You only have milk every 2-3 hours.

Truth: You always have milk! It’s the law of supply and demand – the more the baby drinks the more your body will make. In fact, empty breasts make more milk. Therefore, the more you nurse, the more you have! Your body is so unique and in tune with milk-making that when your baby goes through a growth-spurt and needs additional milk it will get this message as your baby nurses more and increase the amount of milk it makes!

Myth #19: Breastfeeding keeps your baby weight around longer.

Truth: Breastfeeding helps moms to lose their baby weight quicker. Every time a new mom nurses, her uterus contracts and returns to its original size faster. On average, breastfeeding moms have returned to their pre-pregnancy weight by 6-9 months postpartum – just through nursing! Nursing allows moms to eat more and burn more calories, all while sitting and nursing her precious baby.

Myth #20: After the first year there’s no real benefit to continued nursing.

Truth: The World Health Organization states that babies should be exclusively breastfed for about the first six months and then complimentary foods introduced alongside breast milk. Breastfeeding should continue for up to two years or beyond! There are always health benefits that baby will get from breast milk. In fact, as your toddler grows and explores more and more of his world around him, breast milk is even more important to help protect him from the organisms he is exposed to in his environment.

Myth #21: Breastfed babies are picky eaters.

Truth: Breast milk changes flavor with mom’s diet so breastfed babies are actually exposed to a wide variety of flavors and tastes. Breastfeeding helps to prepare babies for the tastes of different and varied foods they will be exposed to in the future.  Breastfeeding allows babies to have various flavors and smells in their food every single day, preparing them for a wide variety of foods when solids are introduced!

Myth #22: Breastfed babies have many cavities from nighttime nursing.

Truth: Breastfeeding and bottle feeding require completely different tongue and palate movements. A breast nipple goes back farther in the baby’s mouth so milk does not sit around the teeth but is moved directly to the back of the mouth to be swallowed. In contrast, bottle-feeding is linked with increased cavities (no matter what is in the bottle) as the teat from the bottle does not go far into the baby’s mouth and the liquid can sit around the teeth overnight. Tongue tie and lip tie are also associated with cavities.  Breastfeeding is NOT associated with cavities.

Myth #23: Formula-fed babies are just as healthy as breastfed babies.

Truth: Breast milk gives your baby immunities. It contains immunoglobulins which allow a mother’s milk to specifically protect against whatever bacteria her baby is exposed to. In fact, not only are breastfed babies sick less and healthier overall while they are fed on breast milk, they are healthier over the course of their entire lives! Let’s put it another way, formula fed babies are sick more often and more severely than breastfed babies.

Myth #24: Formula-fed babies have the same IQs as breastfed babies.

Truth: Breastfed babies have higher IQs than formula-fed babies, 10 points higher on average per person! But, since breast milk is the norm, it is more accurate to say that formula-fed babies have lower IQs than breastfed counterparts.1 2 3 There are many other health benefits for babies as well!

Myth #25: Once my baby gets teeth he should be weaned.

Truth: Teeth have no bearing on breastfeeding. The sucking a baby does at the breast is not affected by his teeth and should not cause the mother any pain either. When a baby is latched and actively nursing the nipple is in the back of his mouth and his tongue is extended beyond his bottom teeth.  If there is any “damage” done by teeth while breastfeeding it would be to the underside of a baby’s tongue.  Teething and biting at the breast can sometimes occur during comfort feeding but there are many things a mom can do to make sure this doesn’t happen.  Breastfeeding should continue as long as is mutually beneficial for mom and baby. World-wide, weaning typically occurs between 2 1/2 – 7 years of age.

Myth #26: Supplementing with just one bottle while in the hospital does not hurt breastfeeding.

Truth: Whether a baby is supplemented with formula, water, herbal tea, glucose water, donor milk, or her milk is “fortified” all have an impact on the long-term breastfeeding relationship between mother and baby. There are many reasons given for this: mom needing sleep/recovery time, prevention of hypoglycemia or jaundice in baby, or because mom’s milk “hasn’t come in yet.” (Though none of these reasons are good indications for supplementing breast milk.) Actual research shows that supplemented babies are significantly less likely to be exclusively breastfed after hospital discharge; breastfeeding duration is shortened 4-fold; and, moms remember which brand of formula was used and most will then use that brand seeing it as an endorsement by the medical establishment.

Myth #27: Tongue tie is an uncommon condition and not worth worrying about.

Truth: If mom is experiencing any pain while nursing or if baby is having trouble latching and/or slow weight gain then your baby should be evaluated for tongue-tie and lip tie. With a trained practitioner, tongue tie is easy to diagnose, simple to resolve, and has immediate, positive results with no side effects. The younger your baby is when tongue-tie is diagnosed and resolved the easier it will be to continue breastfeeding. Early treatment, before your baby has learned – and become comfortable with a poor latch – means a lot less reteaching later.

Myth #28: Birthing practices do not affect breastfeeding.

Truth: Birthing practices have a huge impact on breastfeeding. Stress is strongly linked with delayed milk onset. 4 Cesarean sections and instrumental vaginal births typically delay skin-to-skin initiation and the first breastfeed, both of which have a high impact on breastfeeding duration. 5 Pain medications given to the mother affect the baby causing drowsiness and inability to suck well. 6 Some of these pain medications continue to impact the newborn for up to a month after birth!

Myth #29: Determination is no match for breastfeeding obstacles.

Truth: Maternal determination is a huge factor in overcoming breastfeeding obstacles and helping mothers meet their breastfeeding goals. Even in cases of emergency cesarean sections and other unplanned birthing interventions, premature births, multiples, etc. research shows over and over that maternal commitment goes a long way in overcoming strikes against mom or baby in breastfeeding and allowing the breastfeeding relationship to succeed. 7

Myth #30: Bigger babies are hungrier and need to be supplemented or start solids earlier.

Truth: A baby’s size does not impact when to start solids. In fact, from one to six months of age babies consume roughly the same amount of milk each day. Both the World Health Organization and American Pediatric Association state that babies should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life, with complimentary foods introduced alongside breastfeeding thereafter. Large or small, all a baby needs for the first six months is breast milk.

Myth #31: Babies can be allergic to their own mother’s milk.

Truth:  There has never been a single documented case of a baby allergic to his mother’s milk.  Mothers and babies share 50% of their genetic makeup; no antibody response to a mother’s breast milk has ever been reported. 8 Babies CAN be allergic to various foods a mother eats that can pass through her milk. Allergies occur in approximately 6% of children but breastfeeding when a baby has allergies not only can continue but can help lessen allergens and severe reactions.

Myth #32: A mother must wean her baby when she is acutely ill.

Truth: Whether a mother is sick with the common cold, influenza, food poisoning, or other illness – even if it requires antibiotics or other medications – is NOT an indication for weaning.  Breast milk is absolutely unique and amazing with its antibodies that are made specific to any germs or bacteria a mother comes into contact with.  Therefore, if a mother has the flu, her milk already has antibodies to protect her baby from this specific illness!  Food poisoning cannot pass through breast milk, nor can any other acute illness.  When mother is ill, it is best to drink plenty of liquids, practice good hygiene, and continue to breastfeed your baby as normal.

Myth #33: Maternal vaccines are contraindicated while breastfeeding.

Truth:  While maternal immunizations when a mother is breastfeeding are not ideal, every vaccine is considered safe with the exception of smallpox.  There are many well-documented health consequences associated with formula, even for a short duration.  Therefore, when a vaccine is necessary in a breastfeeding mother it should not be a cause of breastfeeding concern or reason for supplementation and/or early weaning.

Myth #34: A baby who is lactose intolerant should not drink breast milk.

Truth: While breast milk has the highest lactose amount of any mammalian milk, babies are not lactose intolerant.  Lactase – the enzyme that digests lactose – is produced in abundance in all babies regardless of ethnicity until at least the age of 2 1/2 and beyond.  As we age, the body can begin to have an insufficient amount of lactase, which is why it is common to hear of older children and adults who are lactose intolerant.  But primary lactose intolerance is so rare that the majority of medical practitioners will never see it in their lifetimes.  On the other hand, some babies will develop secondary lactase deficiency after using antibiotics, gastrointestinal illness, food allergies, and feeding mismanagement.  In these cases, breast milk (and proper lactation support) will bring the quickest healing to a baby.

Myth #35: A breastfeeding mother is extremely fertile 6 weeks after birth.
Truth: Exclusively breastfeeding mothers who nurse their babies on demand both day and night have a very effective form of birth control for six months following birth! The Lactational Amenorrhea Method is even more effective than the progestin-only birth control pill and various barrier methods.  Plus, it has the added bonus of not causing a hormonal disruption to your body or milk supply like many other birth control options.

Myth #36: Breastfeeding is an individual decision with no impact on society.
Truth: While it is up to each mother to decide if she is going to breastfeed her baby, choosing to not breastfeed does have tremendous societal implications. In the US alone, human milk as part of the Gross Domestic Product is valued at more than $110 billion/annually, but two thirds of this amount is lost because moms are forced to wean their babies prematurely. 9  Millions upon millions of dollars would be saved each year on healthcare costs as well.

Myth #37: It is too challenging for dads to bond with their breastfed babies.
Truth: There are MANY ways to interact with a new baby! Dads can hold their babies in skin-to-skin time, carry their babies in a sling, give baths, change diapers, burp them after feeds, practice baby massage, rock baby, sing to baby, and so much more. Breastfeeding is only one part of a baby’s life.  In fact, dads also play a vital role in this by supporting and encouraging breastfeeding, helping with positioning at the breast, etc.  Babies who are breastfed can and do have an amazing bond with their dads!

Myth #38: Exclusively breastfed babies need supplemental vitamins.
Truth: Breast milk has everything a baby needs for the first six months of life, with the possible exception of Vitamin D.  Some pediatricians may falsely encourage breastfed babies to have a multivitamin supplement since formula is “fortified with vitamins.” However, breast milk has the perfect balance of vitamins and minerals, the amounts it has are incredibly bio available for baby, and taking supplements actually inhibits the absorption of nutrients in breast milk.  Vitamin D is synthesized in the body by direct exposure to sunlight.  If baby is not receiving adequate amounts of sunshine each week, this is one vitamin supplement a breastfed baby would need.

Myth #39: Breastfeeding in public is too embarrassing.
Truth: Sadly, there are many in our society who want breastfeeding mothers to believe this lie.  The reality is that breastfeeding is natural and normal; babies need to eat all the time; and mothers and babies can and should go out together. If someone has a problem with breastfeeding in public then it should be their problem – not yours! A breastfeeding mother is just doing the most normal thing she can – feeding her baby.  It is important to normalize breastfeeding in everyone’s eyes…and the more people see it the more normal it will be.  There are many tips for breastfeeding mothers to nurse in public too.  A breastfeeding mother doesn’t need to be embarrassed for giving her baby the milk he was created to drink.

Myth #40: Nursing while pregnant is dangerous for my unborn baby.
Truth:  Research concludes there is not an increased risk of preterm labor while breastfeeding and the amount of oxytocin released while breastfeeding does not cause cervical effacement or dilation  While discussing breastfeeding during pregnancy with your health care provider is prudent, worldwide it is quite common for mothers to continue breastfeeding an older child after conception.

Show 9 footnotes

  1. Iacovou, M. & Sevilla-Sanz, A. (2010) The Effect of Breastfeeding on Children’s Cognitive Development. https://www.iser.essex.ac.uk/publications/working-papers/iser/2010-40.pdf
  2. Uauy, R. & Andraca, I. (1993) Human milk and breastfeeding for optimal mental development. http://archive.unu.edu/unupress/food2/UID04E/UID04E0J.HTM
  3. Anderson, J, et al. (1999) Breastfeeding and cognitive development: a meta-analysis. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 70:4 pp. 525-535.
  4. http://jn.nutrition.org/content/131/11/3012S.full
  5. http://www.internationalbreastfeedingjournal.com/content/5/1/7
  6. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1702531/
  7. http://www.nursingcenter.com/prodev/ce_article.asp?tid=1225224
  8. Mannel, R. et al. (2013) Core Curriculum for Lactation Consultant Practice, 3rd ed. Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning, p. 400.
  9. Smith, JP. (2013) “Lost Milk?” Counting the Economic Value of Breast Milk in Gross Domestic Product. Journal of Human Lactation. 12 July 2013.
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