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 a 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."