11 Breastfeeding Myths That Won’t Go Away

Is it true that if you choose to breastfeed, you'll get less sleep? Is breastfeeding a good choice for contraception? Read on to learn more about the many myths surrounding breastfeeding—and how they can affect you.

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Although breastfeeding rates continue to rise in the U.S., experts agree that most women don’t nurse for as long as recommended. In 2011, 79 percent of newborns started to breastfeed, but at 6 months only 49 percent were still breastfeeding, and at 12 months, only 27 percent. The reasons that women stop breastfeeding so quickly are plenty, including frustration with getting the baby to latch on, fear that the baby isn’t getting enough nutrition, and the mother’s own exhaustion. Lack of support plays a huge role in the cessation of nursing too. New moms often rely on the advice of well-meaning family and friends, which often is inaccurate or just not true. Are you thinking about breastfeeding? Are you just starting out and are nervous about the advice that you’re getting? Let us help you! Here are the biggest myths about breastfeeding your baby.

1. Breastfeeding is easy.

Statistics show that three days after beginning to breastfeed, 92 percent of new mothers say they had trouble with it. Yes, breastfeeding is natural, and yes, your body was made for it. But that doesn’t make breastfeeding easy. Trouble with milk production and maintenance, latching on, sore nipples, baby fussiness, and worries about baby getting enough milk are among the top concerns of new moms. And nothing adds to a struggling mom’s frustration more than a family member asking, “How come you can’t breastfeed?” or “Why don’t you just give her formula?” The truth is, the experience of breastfeeding is different for different women. It comes easily to some and harder to others. Additionally, the breastfeeding experience is often unique with each child. During the first couple of weeks, it’s can be really helpful to have a lactation consultant or trained nurse to offer guidance, support, and useful tips for breastfeeding.

2. You can prep your breasts.

“Toughening up” your nipples, like once was recommended, does nothing more than leave you with sore nipples before you even start to breastfeed. Unfortunately, the only thing that you can do to prep for breastfeeding is buy a great pump, read up on latching positions, and figure out where you’ll pump at work if you need to. Other than that, the rest is up to your baby—and your baby’s temperament. As the old saying goes, “Mom plans and baby laughs.”

3. If you have small breasts you won’t be able to breastfeed.

Nonsense! The amount of milk that’s produced by a mother’s breast isn’t determined by the size of her breasts. The mother’s breast tissue that’s needed for breastfeeding increases in response to pregnancy. The milk ducts are located in this tissue, not the fatty tissue that gives un-pregnant breasts their size.

4. If you drink water and eat properly, your milk will come in.

Or this variation: “If you don’t drink enough water, your milk won’t come in.” Proper nutrition and hydration are critical for the health not only of lactating moms but of everyone else as well. It’s true that if you don’t drink enough water your milk will be affected, but proper hydration doesn’t ensure that your milk will be plentiful. And neither does a proper diet. There is so much more that goes into milk production that can’t be chalked up to just proper nutrition.

5. Breastfed babies feed more often.

The truth is: They do and they don’t. Internal feeding times are established by the baby and can range from every two to three hours to every hour if they’re hungry or quickly growing. You should discuss with your doctor or lactation consultant whether it would be better to have a feeding schedule or to feed on demand.

6. You won’t get pregnant if you breastfeed.

Think you don’t need birth control if you’re breastfeeding? This time you’re right! But only partially. Doctors agree that breastfeeding can be an effective form of birth control only if your baby is 6 months or under, you’re breastfeeding exclusively, your baby is nursing at least every four to six hours, and you haven’t gotten your period yet. This is called the lactation amenorrhea method, and although it’s pretty effective, it’s not foolproof. Studies show that 1 in 100 women who do all of the aforementioned still get pregnant. If any one of these components isn’t practiced perfectly, your chances of getting pregnant increase. As a side note, experts also caution that if you allow your baby to use a pacifier, it can cause him or her to suck less often or less intensely, which can affect your hormone production and the efficacy of this birth control method.

7. Your baby will never take a bottle from you.

Never’s a really long time, and the reality is that there is no set rule when it comes to babies and moving back and forth between the breast and the bottle. Experts say that whether a baby prefers a bottle to a nipple, or vice versa, has to do with milk flow rather than the dreaded “nipple confusion.” And some babies are pretty finicky. They may prefer a bottle from one person at a certain time but not at others. Just because a baby gets introduced to a bottle early on doesn’t mean that she’ll prefer bottle over breast. If a baby is guided the right way, she may have no problems switching between breast and bottle. Experts do suggest, though, that you wait until your baby has mastered breastfeeding (usually at about 6 weeks) before you offer a bottle.

8. Only birth mothers can breastfeed.

Even if your child is not your biological one, you can still absolutely breastfeed her. If you’ve previously breastfed a child, most of the time you can just start by pumping. If you haven’t ever breastfed, your doctor can give you hormones, along with a pumping schedule, that can coerce your body into nursing.

9. It’s going to hurt.

If it’s painful to breastfeed, that’s a sign that there’s something wrong. For the first couple of weeks of breastfeeding, it may feel a little different as you get used to the sensation, but pain during breastfeeding shouldn’t be your normal. You should never be cringing before you breastfeed, and your nipples should never be cracked or bleeding. If it hurts to nurse your baby, an improper latch is most likely to blame. Contact a lactation consultant to help you and your baby nurse correctly.

10. If your milk hasn’t arrived, there’s no need to breastfeed.

For the first few days after your baby’s birth and before your milk comes in, your body produces a nutrient-rich fluid called colostrum that contains immune system boosters and other things the baby needs. This “practice milk” is so important for the baby because of its protective properties. The flow of colostrum is also a little slower than regular milk and can help to teach your baby how to nurse properly.

11. You’ll get less sleep if you breastfeed.

It’s true that some formula-fed babies go longer between feedings because formula takes longer to digest, but that doesn’t mean that moms who breastfeed are logging fewer hours of sleep. There’s a lot more that goes into the sleep patterns of babies, including their size, digestion rate, and temperament. Breastfeeding moms have the additional benefit of not having to get formula and warm it up, and they also experience a boost of oxytocin every time they nurse, which may help them fall back to sleep faster.