ProMoM Inc. - Promoting the awareness and acceptance of breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding Myths and Realities
By Leslie Kincaid Burby for ProMoM


Myth #1: Breastfeeding ruins the shape of your breasts

    Reality: This is simply not true. As soon as a woman becomes pregnant permanent changes occur in her breasts. Even if she doesn't carry to term, or chooses to abort, her breasts will never be the same as they were before she became pregnant. Whether or not she then goes on to breastfeed will not effect her future breast shape one way or another. Heredity plays a large role in this matter, as does excessive weight gain or loss. It is helpful to maintain the tone of the muscles that support your breasts, and avoid large and sudden weight gains or losses, pregnancy-related or otherwise.

Myth #2: Small-breasted women won't have enough milk

    Reality: The size of your breasts, either large or small, has nothing to do with the amount of milk they will produce. Almost all women who are getting plenty of liquid, adequate rest and relaxation, and lots of physical contact with their babies will produce enough milk. In fact, many women who believe they are not producing enough milk are mistaken. It is surprising how much milk a tiny baby can consume in a short amount of time. The number of wet and soiled diapers being produced every day is a fairly accurate indicator of how much milk the baby is getting. 6-8 wet cloth diapers (5-6 soaked disposables), and at least 2-5 bowel movements per day indicate that your baby is getting plenty of milk. Once the newborn stage is over, the number of bowel movements may decrease.

    If your baby seems lethargic, seems to have poor skin tone or is not wetting and soiling an adequate number of diapers, this is cause for concern. If you believe you are having trouble with your milk supply, contact a lactation consultant, or a supportive physician. It is always better to be safe than sorry.

    Remember, the more the baby nurses, the more milk your breasts will be stimulated to produce. If you begin "supplementing" your supply with artificial milk, your breasts will not receive adequate stimulation and your milk supply will decrease.

Myth #3: Breastfeeding influences a baby's future sexual orientation.

    Reality: Not true. The misconception that breastfeeding could in some way determine whether a child will grow up to be heterosexual or homosexual is tied to the mistaken idea that breastfeeding is in itself a sort of sexual activity. It is not. Breastfeeding is a nutritional and nurturing act that helps children grow up to be healthier and more self-confident, whatever their sexual preference turns out to be.

Myth #4: Today's artificial breast milk is just as good as the real thing.

    Reality: Even though modern formulas are considerably better than some of the old fashioned ones, they can never replicate mother's milk. In the first place, human milk contains live cells and human hormones that are impossible to obtain from the milk of another species. Furthermore, formula companies admit that they don't yet know all of the ingredients in human breast milk. Every few months these companies come up with something different to try to add in. If you choose to breastfeed you can be confident that all the necessary nutrients, immunities, hormones and as yet undiscovered beneficial elements will be present in the right amounts. On the other hand, research shows significant risk in the use of artificial milk.

Myth #5: Breastfeeding takes more time than bottle-feeding.

    Reality: This statement is usually made in reference to nighttime feedings. If a mother sleeps with or next to her baby, nighttime feedings are much easier than they are for bottle feeders. All you have to do is open your nightgown and roll over. Even if the breastfeeding mother does not sleep with her baby, it is certainly less time-consuming to go pick up the child and offer the breast, than to get up, go the kitchen, open a can of formula (or mix up a batch from powder), turn on the stove to boil water to heat the formula, put the formula into a bottle, warm the bottle in the hot water, wait several minutes, then finally return to the crying child, pick up the child and offer the bottle. Of course, at this point it is tempting for an exhausted mother or father to prop up the bottle and leave the baby alone to finish it. This is an extremely dangerous thing to do as the baby can easily choke on the liquid, or spit up and choke on that. Also, it leads to baby bottle caused tooth decay.

    It is true that you may have to feed a bit more frequently if you breastfeed because breastmilk is more easily digested than formula. Of course that easy digestibility translates into less time dealing with colic, diarrhea and other digestive ailments. Also, breastfed babies are far less likely to contract colds, ear infections, and asthma. Formula feeding mothers need to factor in extra time for trips to the store to buy supplies, as well as possible extra trips to the doctor's office. (See ProMoM's "101 Reasons To Breastfeed Your Child", #58).

    It is also a fact that in the early months, unless you express breastmilk, you will be the only person able to provide nutrition to your baby. Formula feeding mothers can have other caregivers give some or most of the feedings. However, breastfeeding offers a new mother an amazing chance to bond with her child, as well as all the health benefits that formula and bottles cannot provide. It may be helpful to remember that your baby will only be completely dependent on you for a very short amount of time in the course of your relationship together. Nursing can give you a chance for a much needed relaxation break, and time to re-connect with your baby. Try to savor these special moments.

Myth #6: You can't get pregnant if you're breastfeeding.

    Reality: True and false! Breastfeeding is only an effective form of birth control (98%) during the first 6 months, and is only effective during this period if the baby is receiving nothing but breast milk on demand. No supplements, no solids, no water, and no pacifiers! The chance of pregnancy increases greatly when the baby begins sleeping through the night, starts eating solids, and/or when the mother resumes her menstrual cycle. If you truly do not wish to become pregnant again yet, it is wise to use an additional method of birth control.

Myth #7: You must wean if you get pregnant.

    Reality: There is no particular reason why a woman who is enjoying breastfeeding one child should wean that child when she learns that she is expecting another, unless she has a history of preterm labor. Some women continue to breastfeed throughout a pregnancy and then go on to "tandem" feed. This phrase refers to the practice of breastfeeding more than one child simultaneously. Some children do wean themselves once their mother becomes pregnant, possibly because her milk supply drops, or they detect a change in the taste of the milk which does not please them. Some women choose to wean because they find breastfeeding during pregnancy too physically or emotionally fatiguing. Other women describe enjoying the relaxation breaks that an ongoing breastfeeding process requires of them, and feel it contributes to the enjoyment of their new pregnancy. See La Leche League's information on breastfeeding during pregnancy.

Myth #8: You can't breastfeed after a caesarian section birth.

    Reality: It is entirely possible to breastfeed after a c-section. Many women describe really enjoying being able to perform this natural act after going through a very medically oriented birth. It is important to nurse in way that does not put pressure on the incision sight. The "football hold" position is particularly helpful, as is a good nursing pillow. Ask the hospital staff for help, and consider calling a lactation consultant or your local La Leche League if you're having difficulty.

Myth #9: Your milk will "come in" immediately after you give birth.

    Reality: First of all, the substance produced by your breasts immediately after a birth is called colostrum. It is yellowish and stickier than mature milk, and full of nutrients and immunities for the newborn baby. However, amounts of colostrum vary from mother to mother, and you may not produce very much. This is normal.

    After colostrum the breast then begins to produce transitional milk, which is whitish-yellow, and more abundant. Gradually, over the next week or two, the transitional milk begins to change to a thin, bluish-white mature milk. Your milk production is directly linked to how often and how effectively your baby is suckling. If your transitional milk does not come in after 30 - 40 hours it is a good idea to contact a lactation consultant or La Leche League, especially if the hospital staff is advising you to give formula or water.

Myth #10: Your mate will find you less attractive if you breastfeed.

    Reality: It is possible that your mate may have some trouble adjusting to thinking of your breasts as sources of nourishment as well as of sexual stimulation. On the other hand, many partners find that a woman who is fulfilling this new part of her womanly potential is particularly exciting. The idea of the bountiful breast filled with the milk of life can be very powerful. If your mate does feel uncomfortable with this, however, it may be helpful to join a support group with other couples so that he/she may become more familiar with these new images, and begin to understand that they are normal and healthy.

Myth #11: Breastfeeding is painful

    Reality: Many women experience no pain or difficulty at all when they start breastfeeding. For some, the first week or two may include some slight discomfort and pain. However, excruciating, or ongoing pain is not normal.

    Usually, it is caused by incorrect positioning or latch-on technique, and can be cleared up with one or two visits from a lactation consultant. This pain can often be avoided if the mother does some reading, and/or attends a class about breastfeeding, and/or attends a class about breastfeeding before giving birth.

    Visiting several La Leche League meetings while you are still pregnant is also a wonderful way to observe successfully breastfeeding mothers, as well as to network with other new parents. La Leche League has a peer counseling program in which you can receive help from other experienced mothers in the early days of your nursing relationship.

    Do request any assistance you can from trained hospital staff while you are still in recovery. Sometimes these services are not volunteered, and you will not receive them unless you request them. Also, Ask about the availability of a lactation consultant before you make your choice as to which hospital or birthing center you are planning to use.

Myth #12: You can be arrested for breastfeeding in public.

    Reality: In the United States, you cannot be arrested for breastfeeding your child any place a woman would normally be. Such places include beaches, pools, restaurants (at the table), park benches, and parking lots, among others. You cannot be forced to remove yourself to a bathroom, closet, or vehicle. If anyone tries to tell you otherwise, you should feel free to refuse to comply, and inform them of your rights. Obviously, places like the men's bathrooms are off limits, since it's not a place women are supposed to be. Who would want to breastfeed there anyway?

Myth #13: You can't breastfeed if your plan to go back to work or school.

    Reality: If you're planning to return to work or school, there are several different ways to approach the situation without weaning your child. First of all, it may be possible to schedule your work with a lunch break during which you may return home, or go to your child's daycare center to nurse. Alternatively, your caregiver might bring the child to your work place.

    If these situations are not possible to arrange, there are now wonderful and relatively inexpensive pumps (compare them with the price of buying formula) available to the public. Or, you may prefer to rent a pump. In some cases, insurance companies will even cover the cost of a pump rental or purchase because it will save them money in the long run to have healthier babies on their plans.

    Using a good quality electric pump it is possible to pump 8-10 ounces of milk in 15 minutes. Battery pumps are also available, and they can be used in a vehicle or in a restroom. It may take longer for newer mothers, and you should plan to pump at least every 4 hours. Beware of cheap low-grade machines, some of which are manufactured by formula companies. They can cause soreness, and probably will not pump sufficient quantities of milk. Remember that pumping is a learned art, and may take time to get perfected. If you do not receive the amount of milk you anticipated, try again, or try a different pump. (See ProMoM's "Breastfeeding and Returning to Work" and La Leche League's information on working and breastfeeding.)

    If none of these possibilities work for you, you might consider nursing when you are at home and having a caregiver provide a bottle of artificial milk when you are at work. This method should be approached very carefully, however, to avoid depleting the mother's milk supply and endangering the health of the infant.

Myth #14: Night nursing causes dental problems.

    Reality: Generally, the worries about babies getting cavities through nighttime milk consumption arise from the practice of leaving babies to sleep with bottles of formula or juice. When this is done harmful bacteria have unlimited access to these sugary mediums and will thrive in the baby's mouth. The acids excreted by the bacteria cause tooth decay. Such decay has been seen occasionally in breastfed babies if these children happen to fall into a small category of people with easily decayed teeth. For most children night nursing will not be a problem.

    One advantage that the human nipple provides over an artificial one is that it delivers the milk further toward the back of the mouth, past the teeth. Artificial nipples deliver the milk into the front and middle of the mouth where it can cause decay. Also, the human nipple does not continue to drip milk when it is not being sucked. In contrast, bottles will drip milk all night if left in the bed with the baby. Reminder: no baby should ever be left alone with a propped up bottle!

    If you notice anything strange looking happening to your child's teeth consult a breastfeeding supportive dentist for help. There are many articles on this subject available through La Leche League.

Myth #15: Breastfeeding will ruin your sex-life.

    Reality: Some people fear that the intimacy that a mother maintains with her child through breastfeeding will displace her needs for intimacy with her partner. This is partially due to our society's viewing of the female breast as a sex organ, rather than a source of nutrition. There is no reason that a breast can't perform both functions. In fact, whether a woman chooses to breastfeed or not, she may find her libido considerably diminished for weeks or months following a birth. It is unrealistic and unfair to expect any new mother, breastfeeding or not, who is recovering from a birth, who is either nursing or bottle-feeding around the clock, getting up at night to diaper, rock and sooth the baby, cooking, cleaning, chauffeuring, etc. to have much interest in sex! If she has an extra half hour in the evening she will probably choose to use it to sleep! Any tasks that her mate can assist her with will contribute to the deepening of their relationship. If a breastfeeding mother' partner is respectful of the importance of the breastfeeding relationship, and able to assist with things such as diaper changes and nighttime parenting duties, the new mother's sexuality will gradually resurface.

Myth #16: You have to have a good diet or your milk won't nourish the baby properly.

    Reality: Surprisingly, new studies have shown this to be untrue. Even women who are getting poor nutrition can usually produce adequate quality milk. However, they may not be able to produce as much of milk as women who are eating well. Needless to say, it's best to eat right during pregnancy and while you're breastfeeding. Occasional lapses, however, are nothing to worry about.

Myth #17: Breastfeeding makes you fat.

    Reality: Breastfeeding will certainly not prevent you from getting back to your pre-pregnancy weight. In fact, breastfeeding uses an extra 300 to 500 calories every day. It's up to the mother how many of those calories she chooses to obtain through eating additional food or through burning off her available body fat. It is wise to lose weight gained during pregnancy gradually whether or not you choose to breastfeed. It may take some women longer than others, and it is important to remember that your body has been through a lot, and is still working hard to provide nourishment for your baby. You should not be losing more than a half a pound to a pound per week or you may affect your milk supply. This is a time to be kind to yourself!

Myth #18: Breastfeeding deprives your mate and other friends and family of their chance to bond with the baby.

    Reality: There are lots of ways to bond with a new born. Soothing, rocking, diapering, and burping the new baby are only a few of these activities. Anyone can participate in them without depriving the child of it's optimal nutrition and nurturing. One wonderful book on this subject is Becoming A Father, by Dr. William Sears, MD.

Myth #19: Breastfed newborns need vitamin and mineral supplements.

    Reality: Not true. No vitamin or mineral supplements should be given to breastfed babies until at least six months. New studies are currently being conducted as to whether or not such supplements should be given after six months. Historically, before such supplements were invented, many breastfed babies survived and thrived for the duration of breastfeeding, which could last to three years or older. This is not to say that supplementation is not a good idea after a certain age. It is simply not yet clear what that age is. At least until your baby is 6 months old, you can be assured that your breastmilk will provide for all of her nutritional needs.

Myth #20: You can't take any medication while you're breastfeeding.

    Reality: While there are a few medications that should absolutely not be used during the breastfeeding portion of a woman's life, most can be taken safely. It is important that your doctor checks actual research rather than simply relying on the standard instructions that are issued with the prescription. Most prescription drugs instructions automatically caution against being taken by pregnant or breastfeeding mothers. This warning is issued to prevent liability, and is often overly cautious. It's also a good idea to ask your doctor about non-prescription drugs. Some of them are not appropriate for nursing or pregnant women. The Nursing Mother's Companion, by Kathleen Huggins contains a general reference section on which medications are compatible with breastfeeding. A more up-to-date resource is Medications In Mother's Milk, by Dr. Tom Hale, PhD.

Myth #21: Breastfeeding ties you down.

    Reality: It is true that breastfed babies are dependent upon their mothers for their nutrition. This does not mean that a breastfeeding mother must remain housebound and attached to her baby 24 hours a day. After you have recovered from the birth, it is not only possible but usually a lot of fun to take your baby with you on errands, visits to friends, walks in the park and other outings. Now that it has been clearly established that women have a right to breastfeed in all public spaces, and with the advent of excellent breast pumps, the possibilities for nursing mothers to fully participate in activities outside the home are almost unlimited. It is also nice not to have the added burden of caring around all that formula paraphernalia. If you choose to express some of your milk ahead of time you can easily spend time apart from your baby without relying on artificial substitutes.

    Obviously, taking your baby with you on outings will probably mean you'll be nursing him or her in front of others, and maybe in public. Some women "feel funny" about nursing in front of strangers, or even friends and family members, probably because the sight of a nursing mother is not something they themselves are used to seeing. As countless mothers will attest, however, it's rare that anyone will stare or say something to you while you're breastfeeding; more likely they'll just look the other way, or not even notice that you're nursing! Breastfeeding in public can be very discreet, especially if you wear clothes that are specially designed for nursing mothers. In general, the more natural your attitude the less you'll notice the reaction of others. If you are hesitant about breastfeeding in public, just remember - it's what breasts are made for, and, like so many other things, the more you do it the easier it will be.

Myth #22: After a year, breastmilk loses all it's nutritional value.

    Reality: I have a good friend whose mother tormented her by insisting that if she continued to breastfeed her 9 month old daughter she would starve the baby. This belief is a total myth, as is evidenced by the recently released guidelines of the American Academy of Pediatricians, which recommend breastfeeding for at least one year. While many people are now aware that breastmilk is the perfect, complete source of nutrition for babies under 6 months of age, not everyone is aware that breastmilk continues to provide perfect nutrition as long as the mother continues to breastfeed. Breastmilk tailors itself to the needs of a child from birth until weaning. There is no need to worry that at some point the milk will become worthless. It will always contain valuable nutrients, hormones, and immunities. It will always be easier to digest than the milk of another species. As you gradually add new foods to your child's diet, you can be assured that your child is getting excellent nutrition, even on those days when she may choose not to eat much solid food at all.

Myth #23: Serious athletes can't breastfeed.

    Reality: A professional ballet dancer once explained to me that she had to stop nursing after one month because she'd wanted to start taking dance classes again. She believed that she would be unable to do jumps, and that her milk would "go sour" from the exercise. In fact, both of these ideas are myths. While it may be uncomfortable to run, dance, or perform strenuous physical activity with very full breasts, it is certainly possible to nurse or pump prior to engaging in such activities. Exercise does not "sour" your milk. Immediately following a vigorous exercise session the lactic acid content in you milk may increase and slightly alter the taste of your milk. However, within an hour or two the lactic acid passes out of the milk again, leaving it tasting just fine. Also, some researches suggest showering off after a workout to get rid of salty tasting sweat. And remember, it's wise to start back to a previously established exercise regimen gradually, whether the new mother is breastfeeding or not.

Myth #24: Adoptive mothers can't breastfeed.

    Reality: As surprising as this may seem, you do not have to give birth to a child to produce milk. Many adoptive mothers have successfully developed their ability to produce milk through pumping, putting the baby to their breast and allowing it to suckle, and use of a supplementary feeding system designed to give the baby artificial milk until the mother can begin to produce her own. In some cases only a little milk will be obtained. In others, the majority of the baby's nutrition can be provided from the adoptive mother's body. The La Leche League site has many interesting articles on this issue.

Myth #25: After menopause you can't breastfeed.

    Reality: Interestingly, women can continue to produce milk after they are no longer fertile, and have been known to do so into their 80's! There is no change in the quality of the milk, and many wet nurses have continued to practice their profession well past menopause.

Myth #26: Breastfeeding clothes and pumps end up costing as much as formula.

    Reality: First of all, you don't need any special clothes or paraphernalia to breastfeed successfully. Yes, if you plan to pump you should buy or rent a good, reputable model. Yes, you'll need storage bags and bottles, although you'd need even more to formula feed. Yes, it's nice to have a few specially designed nursing tops, bras and a nursing pillow. Re-usable nursing pads are also helpful, and disposable nursing pads are nice the first few weeks.

    However, even with these items taken into consideration, they do not come close to the expense of formula. Plus, there are all the added medical expenses you may have to deal with if you formula feed. Also, when you breastfeed you can re-use most of the items you purchase for one child with the next. With formula, it's just as expensive every time.

    It is also possible to purchase sewing patterns and make your own nursing clothes and baby sling if you want to, or create your own pads out of cotton diapers. A t-shirt with a convenient slit cut in the middle can provide extra coverage under any pull-up or button down blouse. Nursing bras are great, but for many women a front closing cotton bra works just as well. Use your imagination!


    Cost of no-frills style breastfeeding
    No pump, no special clothes, etc.
    Total: $0.00

    Optional breastfeeding expenses:

    Pump: $200*
    Bras(2): $60
    Pads (re-usable): $12
    Tops(2): $50
    Dress(1): $60
    Nursing Pillow: $35
    Total: $417 (A one-time expense!)

    *NOTE: You save an additional $160 if you use a good manual pump like Isis (increasingly popular with new mothers, especially ones that do not have to work out of the house) rather than a professional grade one like the Pump-in-Style (also very popular, especially for working mothers).

    Approximate formula expenses:

    Formula: $1,200 (Approximate average)
    Added medical expenses: $1,500 **
    Total: $2,700 (For just one year!)

    That adds up to a difference of $2,283. Wow! And remember, you can use those nursing clothes again, then consign them or pass them on to a friend. With formula, it's just as expensive with every child.

    These figures don't take into account possible future orthodontic problems, or other more serious adult disease issues associated with bottle feeding (see ProMoM's "101 Reasons To Breastfeed Your Child"). Of course, the real bottom line is that no price can be put on the special intimacy that exists between a nursing mother and child!

Even more myths and realities can be found here, here, here, and yet more here.

**(According to Aetna employee research results) Breastfeeding Myths and Realities
By Leslie Kincaid Burby for ProMoM