Oh, Yes (You Can)

Five reasons (or are they excuses?) you might think you can'’t breastfeed — —and why you really can.


Chances are you're pretty well aware of breastfeeding's benefits. Most likely, your doctor has told you that breast milk is the best form of nutrition for your baby and that breastfed babies get sick less often. She also may have mentioned that nursing burns calories (hooray!) and that it lowers your risk for breast and ovarian cancers. Plus, it promotes bonding with your infant.

Yet despite these positives, many moms aren't sure they want to breastfeed. "I see plenty of women who just aren't interested in it," says Susan Rothenberg, M.D., director of obstetrics at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City. "Some are confused and change their minds after they have the facts. Others, though, are just dead-set against it and offer up excuses." Rothenberg has heard them all, from "My mother didn't breastfeed me and I turned out fine" to "My friend said it's too much work." So how does she counter such mistaken notions? "Education is the key," Rothenberg says. "My hope is for every woman to get all the information she needs to make the choice to breastfeed."

That's our goal here, too: not to force you to breastfeed or to make you feel guilty if you decide not to, but to educate you. So read on for information about the more common—but mistaken—nursing notions, presented alongside physicians' opinions, well-documented research and inspiration from real women who changed their minds.

Belief: Nursing will make my breasts sag. Reality Check: They will change to some degree—whether or not you breastfeed.

Due to gravity and aging, your breasts do change over time. And pregnancy—not breastfeeding—changes them further. "Breasts may seem smaller than ever after pregnancy because you've gotten used to the larger size," Rothenberg says. They may change shape as well; that's because pregnancy causes your breast skin to stretch. Add to that any stretch marks you may develop, and you're likely to get that "deflated" look.

Belief: Breast milk can't be that much healthier than formula, can it? Reality Check: Is it ever.

"Breast milk has antibodies that no factory can imitate," says Susan Richman, M.D., assistant professor and director of reproductive health at Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn. "It changes composition depending on the gestational age at which you deliver, responds to the supply-and-demand needs of the baby and never has preservatives or artificial anything." Plus, it's free. And it's clean—you never have to sterilize your breasts!

Research also shows that breastfeeding can decrease infant mortality. "Worldwide, formula-fed infants are at 25 times higher risk of dying from diarrheal illness, four times higher risk of dying from pneumonia and five times higher risk of dying from sudden infant death syndrome [SIDS]," says Laura Wilwerding, M.D., F.A.A.P., a clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. "I'd say that's a pretty compelling reason to breastfeed."

Belief: Breastfeeding seems so outdated and primitive. It just makes me uncomfortable. Reality Check: Our society has become so sanitized that many women are not used to seeing babies being breastfed.

Throughout most of the world, breastfeeding is the primary method of feeding infants. "And it has been since the dawn of time," Wilwerding says. In America, however, nursing is not necessarily the norm. Some experts theorize that this is the result of our heritage of modesty; or it may stem from the notion that nursing is inconvenient. So what's the solution? "Breastfeeding should be promoted as normal behavior in our country," Wilwerding says. "Then it won't seem weird."

Puppies get dog milk, kittens get cat milk. How, then, can we deem it strange when human babies drink human milk? "What's strange is taking milk that was made for baby cows, chemically altering it, sticking it in a container designed to imitate a breast and marketing it to the point that everyone thinks it's normal," Rothenberg says.

Belief: My breasts are too small to produce enough milk for my baby. Reality Check: There is no correlation between breast size and milk production.

First, size is determined by the amount of fat tissue in your breasts, not by the number of milk ducts you have (which is where the milk is produced). Second, the volume of your milk supply is determined by your baby's needs: The more your infant nurses, the more milk you will make. "The biggest factor that determines milk supply is demand," Rothenberg explains. "Frequent, on-demand feedings are the best way to ensure that you make as much milk as your baby needs."

Belief: I'm going back to work in a few weeks, so I may as well not bother breastfeeding. Reality Check: Returning to your job doesn't mean you have to wean your baby.

Many women continue breastfeeding once they return to their jobs; it's a simple matter of using a breast pump to express their milk while they're at work, then having their caregiver feed the milk to the baby the next day.

If pumping isn't possible, consider giving your baby breast milk and formula. "A baby who gets mom's milk at night and in the morning is still getting some of the benefits and is likely to be healthier than a baby who is only formula-fed," Rothenberg says. If this before- and after-work nursing schedule won't work for you, at least breastfeed during your maternity leave—the early antibodies and nutrients will provide your baby with a good start in life. Bottom line: Some breast milk is better than none.

Not the nursing kind?

Here's what a few reluctant-to-breastfeed women like you learned from their own experiences.

Julia Tai, 29, mother of Samantha, 9 months

Then: "The whole idea of somebody latching on to my breast was just strange."

Now: "A few hours after Samantha was born, the nurse brought her to me and I said, 'OK, I'll try.' A month later, I really started to like it. Now I love having her close, and I'm paranoid she's going to detach from me."

Mindy Strauss, 43, mother of Will, 6; and Jesse, 3

Then: "I thought, I'll never breastfeed—it would tie me to the baby too much. I thought it was what hippies did. I also worried that it would hurt and my breasts would get saggy."

Now: "It was difficult at first. But it got easier, and in a few months, I didn't feel tied down at all—I could breastfeed, talk on the phone and cook dinner at the same time! Sure, after two pregnancies my breasts are saggy, but who cares if I ever wear a bikini again?"

Jenna Coito, 36, mother of Sophie Bella, 2; and Sasha Laurel, 4 months

Then: "A friend came over with a breastfeeding goodie bag, which included an electric pump, a hand pump, a pillow, bras, pads—all sorts of paraphernalia. I thought the whole deal seemed all-consuming and complicated."

Now: "At first it was all-consuming, but within a few weeks, the baby and I got better at it. Besides, you'd have to be sitting there with a bottle, so what's the difference? Once I got the hang of it, I realized it's way easier than mixing formula and sterilizing and warming bottles. It's the ultimate have-food-will-travel."