You've Heard the Myths About Breastfeeding. Here's the Truth.

Some of the breastfeeding "advice" you'll get may be helpful, but chances are much of it won't be.


When it comes to breastfeeding, everyone from your mother's second cousin to your hairstylist will ply you with advice and opinions. Some of the "wisdom" imparted may be helpful, but chances are much of it won't be. "There are so many myths surrounding breastfeeding that it can be hard for women to know what's true and what's not," says Wendy Haldeman, R.N., M.N., a certified lactation consultant and co-owner of The Pump Station, a breastfeeding-support center in Santa Monica, Calif. To help you sort through it all, here are the truths behind some of the most common myths.

Myth #1: If you have small breasts, you won't produce enough milk to feed your baby. Truth: Size doesn't matter! "The breast tissue you need to nurse a baby grows in response to pregnancy regardless of your breast size," says Judith Lauwers, I.B.C.L.C., a spokeswoman for the International Lactation Consultant Association. It is in this so-called functional tissue—rather than in the fatty tissue that is responsible for breast size—that the milk ducts are located. So rest assured that whether you're an A or D cup, your breasts are capable of providing your baby with the milk she needs.

Myth #2: You won't be able to breastfeed if you've had breast-augmentation or breast-reduction surgery. Truth: Not necessarily. "These days, implants are usually inserted near the armpit or under the breast tissue or chest muscle, which shouldn't interfere with breastfeeding," says Carol Huotari, I.B.C.L.C., manager of the Center for Breastfeeding Information at La Leche League International. On the other hand, if you had surgery in which the nipple was removed in order to insert the implant and then reattached, breastfeeding may be hampered, as this procedure disrupts so many nerves that milk letdown is impaired. In this case, you will likely need to supplement with formula.

Whether you will be able to breastfeed after breast-reduction surgery also depends on how the procedure was performed. "If the nipple is left partially attached during the procedure and then reattached once the unwanted breast tissue has been removed, it's more likely that you'll be able to breastfeed," Huotari says.

If you have had either type of breast surgery, be sure to let your pediatrician know so she can keep a close watch on your baby's weight gain.

Myth #3: You must eat only bland foods while breastfeeding. Truth: Maybe, maybe not. By the time the foods you eat have been digested and used to make breast milk, the potentially upsetting elements have been broken down and shouldn't affect your baby at all. In other words, if you eat cabbage or broccoli, it's unlikely that it will make your baby gassy. And if you indulge in some spicy salsa, your baby probably won't refuse to nurse. As Haldeman of The Pump Station says: "Women in India eat really hot curry and their babies still breastfeed. And there is research that shows babies actually prefer garlicky milk." Still, there are a few foods that do cross into breast milk and upset some babies' stomachs, she says. Among them are dairy products, soy, peanuts, fish and shellfish.

Many breastfeeding moms swear by the wait-and-see approach: Don't alter your diet at all and see if your baby has a problem. If she does seem fussy after you eat certain foods, experiment with your diet. "If necessary, keep a food diary, and if your baby is fussy two to 12 hours after you've eaten a certain food, cut it out of your diet for a while," Huotari says.

Myth #4: You need to nurse every two hours around the clock—no more, no less—to make sure that your baby gets enough to eat. Truth: Babies' eating patterns are as individual as those of their parents. That said, many newborns do naturally fall into an every-two-hours routine. "'Watch the baby and not the clock' is what we always emphasize," Haldeman says.

If you're worried that your baby isn't getting enough to eat, count the number of dirty diapers she has—she should have at least six wet diapers plus two or three "seedy" stools daily. You can also schedule a weight check with your pediatrician if you're worried that your baby isn't getting enough to eat.

Myth #5: If you give your baby bottles of pumped milk, she will refuse the breast. Truth: Most babies switch between breast and bottle with no problem. "As long as you wait until your baby has mastered breastfeeding [usually at about six weeks] before you offer her a bottle, she should be willing to switch back and forth," Haldeman says. She notes, however, that women who limit their babies to one bottle per day tend to have less of a struggle.

Myth #6: You shouldn't nurse if you have a blocked duct or breast infection. Truth: Exactly the opposite is true. The best way to treat a blocked duct is to nurse as often as you can. And the best way to prevent an infection is to clear a blocked duct. But how do ducts become blocked in the first place? "It usually happens when the baby's nursing patterns change and the breast becomes overfull," Lauwers says. "For instance, when a baby starts taking longer naps, eating solid foods and sleeping through the night, she may nurse less frequently, which can lead to blocked ducts."

Besides frequent nursing, applying heat—in the form of a heating pad or wet washcloth—before nursing can help clear a duct. Also be sure your bra isn't too constricting; and avoid underwire bras, as they can compress ducts.

If you do develop a breast infection—symptoms include redness and soreness in the breast, a fever and flulike symptoms—see your doctor right away, as you'll need to take antibiotics. "But you can still nurse with a breast infection," Lauwers says. "It's not going to hurt your baby."

Myth #7: A breastfed baby won't sleep through the night until she starts eating solids. Truth: Your baby will sleep through the night when she's ready. And that depends on a number of factors, such as her size, personality and sleeping patterns. That said, breastfed babies do need to be fed more frequently than formula-fed babies in the early months because breast milk is digested more quickly than formula. "But I would never recommend loading a baby up with formula or feeding solid foods before she's ready just to get her to sleep," Lauwers says. "As long as your baby is getting enough to eat, she'll sleep for as long as she's meant to sleep."

Myth #8: Breastfeeding is a reliable form of birth control. Truth: If you're not ready to be pregnant again, don't rely on breastfeeding for birth control. However, if you're breastfeeding exclusively (and that means frequently, day and night), if your baby is younger than 6 months and if your period hasn't resumed, the so-called lactation amenorrhea method can be 98 percent effective in preventing pregnancy. "But if all three of those criteria are not met, or if you're letting your baby use a pacifier [which can make a baby suck less often or less intensely when on the breast, in turn affecting your hormone production], breastfeeding should not be used as contraception," Lauwers says.

Myth #9: Once you go back to work, you'll have to wean. Truth: Hogwash! "If you commit to pumping, you can give your baby breast milk for as long as you wish," Haldeman says. This involves pumping three times a day when you're at work—preferably at the same times she would normally nurse—until your baby is 6 months old. After that, when she's eating some solids, you can drop down to twice a day. (If you continue to nurse in the morning and at night, in addition to pumping twice, you should be able to maintain an adequate milk supply.)

Since pumping will probably consume most of your break and lunch times, keep a supply of nutritious snacks at your desk so you have the fuel you need to make milk. Haldeman recommends fruit, protein bars, nuts and the nutritional drink Ensure. Also be sure to drink plenty of water—at least eight glasses a day.

Myth #10: Breastfeeding your child for more than one year makes weaning difficult. Truth: There is no evidence that nursing for longer than one year will make weaning more difficult than if you weaned earlier. "Babies are individuals, and some just want to nurse longer than others," Lauwers says. Some children give it up on their own at about 1 year of age, while others are content to nurse well past their second birthday.

Lauwers recommends that you consider weaning only when you and your baby are both ready for it. "But if you reach a point where you no longer enjoy it, you may want to consider weaning to avoid sending negative messages to your baby," she says.

Myth #11: Your boobs will forever look like tube socks. Truth: Some women may notice a change in the shape of their breasts after breastfeeding, but pregnancy, not just nursing, is the culprit. "The breast often doubles in weight during pregnancy, whether or not you breastfeed," explains Pamela Berens, M.D., a board-certified lactation consultant and professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. "Any increase puts extra stress on the ligaments that support the breasts, and more stress equals extra sagging." Your age, BMI and prepregnancy bra size all affect how likely your boobs are to droop.

Myth #12: It'll make your baby clingy and dependent. Truth: Quite the opposite. "Studies have shown that babies who benefit from the attachment of breastfeeding tend to be more independent later in life," says Bettina Forbes, a certified lactation counselor and cofounder of the Best for Babes Foundation, an organization dedicated to changing cultural taboos that surround nursing.

Myth #13: You have to stop if you get sick. Truth: Taking a hiatus from breastfeeding won't protect your cutie from your ailment. "By the time you feel ill, you've already exposed your baby to the infection," says Berens. In fact, by nursing while you're sick you pass along protective antibodies, helping your little guy stay healthy.

Myth #14: You can't take any meds. Truth: While some medications are verboten because they could pass through your breast milk to your baby, Berens says many are just fine. For a full list, visit the Drugs and Lactation Database.

Myth #15: Exercise will turn your milk sour. Truth: Not as far as your baby is concerned. Common wisdom used to be that workouts produce high levels of lactic acid in breast milk, giving it an unpalatable taste. But recent studies show that babies don't notice any difference. One thing that could make them turn up their squidgy little noses? Saltiness left on your skin by sweat—so shower right after your session, Berens suggests. (And whatever you do, don't pull up your exercise bra to nurse; the tight band can lead to clogged ducts.)

Myth #16: Weaning is the worst. Truth: Don't stress about it. It's understandably challenging to break what's become a very important bond, but it doesn't have to be painful or anxiety-provoking. Start by subbing in a bottle of breast milk or formula during your sweetie's least favorite feeding, and do it gradually to give both your body and your baby time to adjust.

The myth of sore nipples

  • Many women believe that sore nipples are an inevitable part of breastfeeding. The fact is, such discomfort usually is the result of an improper latch—and is therefore entirely preventable. Here's how to get your baby latched on right.
  • Before putting your baby on the breast, position her on her side so she is directly facing you, with her belly touching yours.
  • Prop up the baby with a pillow, if necessary, and hold her up to your breast. Don't lean over toward her.
  • Place your thumb and fingers around your areola (the dark area around the nipple).
  • Tilt your baby's head back slightly and tickle her lips with your nipple until she opens her mouth wide.
  • Help her "scoop" the breast into her mouth by placing her lower jaw on the breast first, well below the nipple.
  • Tilt her head forward, placing her upper jaw deeply on the breast. Make sure she takes the entire nipple and at least 1 1/2 inches of the areola in her mouth.