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Children's Wisconsin common breastfeeding myths

Breaking down breastfeeding facts and fictions

As a pediatrician, one of the best parts of my job is meeting my newest patients! I see their moms are commonly sleep deprived and wondering if they are doing everything right. Many of the moms I see have questions about breastfeeding that have been covered in other blogs by my colleagues: Benefits of breastfeeding, practical advice for getting started and trusted resources for breastfeeding guidance

But one thing that comes up often is myths. There are so many myths about breastfeeding that I thought it would be helpful to set the record straight and separate fact from fiction. 

Myth: You can’t get pregnant while breastfeeding

Sorry to say, this one isn’t totally true. Breastfeeding prevents ovulation in some women, but not all. It’s not a reliable form of birth control. If you are not ready to expand your family while breastfeeding, you should talk to your doctor about your options for birth control to figure out what is best for you. 

Myth: You need to toughen your nipples before you begin nursing

There is no need to try to toughen your nipples before your baby is born. A woman’s body prepares during pregnancy for breastfeeding — the area around your nipples will thicken and the glands in your areolas will produce oils for lubrication and protection. Once your baby arrives and you begin breastfeeding, a surge in the hormone oxytocin makes your nipples more pliable and stretchy for your baby's mouth.

Myth: Moms with small breasts will not be able to produce enough milk for her baby

Breast size doesn’t matter when it comes to breastfeeding. Storage capacity, meaning how much a nursing mom holds at their fullest, is the most important factor. Women with smaller breasts can have a large storage capacity, while women with larger breasts may not. How this affects breastfeeding is fuller breasts may be able to satisfy a baby with one breast while smaller breast capacity may mean the baby needs to nurse from both sides to be full. It may also mean that a mom with smaller storage capacity may need to nurse more frequently, but they should be able to keep up with demand. 

Myth: You aren’t making enough milk if your baby suddenly wants to nurse all the time

This one is somewhat related to the above myth. An increase in appetite most commonly means a growth spurt, which is normal and, most importantly, healthy. I see moms get concerned that they aren’t able to keep up when their baby’s appetite spikes, but on-demand feedings will help keep up your supply to meet your growing baby’s needs. 

Myth: It hurts to breastfeed

While it can be an adjustment to breastfeed and getting your baby to latch just right, it shouldn’t hurt. If it’s hurting, you should talk to your baby’s pediatrician or check in with a certified lactation consultant. They can check to make sure your baby is latching right and help make adjustments if not. One of my lactation consultant colleagues wrote this blog about some common reasons why breasts during nursing hurt and what to do if you’re experiencing pain. 

Myth: Moms need to avoid certain foods while nursing

In most cases, this is not true. Having a diet full of different flavors, including spicy or other strongly flavored foods, is a great way to introduce your baby to different tastes. In rare cases, a baby may have allergies to something the mom is eating. If you notice allergy symptoms such as diarrhea, blood in poop or rashes, talk to your pediatrician or a certified lactation consultant to figure out what may be causing these issues. If an allergy is suspected, a mom may have to review her diet and eliminate foods, but this should all be done at the direction of a medical professional. 

Myth: You shouldn't nurse if you're sick

Continuing to breastfeed while you have a cold or the flu actually helps protect your baby from illness. And good news out of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is that moms who have COVID-19 can still nurse with a few precautions, including mom needs to wear a mask and wash her hands thoroughly with soap and warm water. When a nursing mom is fighting a cold, flu and even COVID-19, her body is producing germ-fighting antibodies that are transferred to your baby every time your baby nurses. Many times your baby won’t get sick, and if they do it will be a milder version of what mom has. 

Myth: Drinking beer can increase your supply

I hear this myth a lot...that beer is helpful for increasing milk production. There is a grain of truth to it, in that barley and malt are both good for helping to induce milk production. The catch is that alcohol inhibits milk production, and more importantly, alcohol can be passed on through breastmilk to a child, so this is not recommended. But there are other foods that can help with milk production! Foods such as oatmeal, brown rice, and anything made with whole grains are loaded with B vitamins. Additionally, fennel and fenugreek (the seeds of the fennel plant), and leafy green vegetables such as arugula, beet greens, spinach, Swiss chard, collard greens and kale, can all help with milk production. Bonus! They are a really healthy part of a well-rounded diet.

Myth: Exercise can affect breast milk production and taste

If you are cleared by your doctor to exercise, then do it! Moderate exercise is so good for you and will not decrease milk production. Make sure you are staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Strenuous exercise has been shown to increase lactic acid in the milk in some cases, which can make it taste a little bitter. Additionally, if you haven’t showered after working out, the dried sweat can make it unpleasant for your baby. I advise moms to start exercise slowly. Putting your baby in the stroller and taking a brisk walk is a great way to start. The fresh air is good for moms and babies!

Myth: If you don't nurse, you're a bad mom

This one breaks my heart. Being pregnant, giving birth and then caring for and raising your baby is a miracle, but it can be really hard on the body. I see moms who are trying to do everything just right for their babies and struggle to breastfeed for a variety of reasons. Although breast milk is best, if it costs you your peace of mind or you are unable to produce enough milk, then giving your baby formula is perfectly fine. While breastfeeding provides significant health benefits for your baby and you, deciding not to breastfeed or being unable to breastfeed for whatever reason doesn't make you an unfit mother. Talk to your pediatrician about a formula that will suit your baby’s needs. Whether your baby is nourished with breast milk, formula or a combination of both, they will have what they need to grow into a healthy toddler and beyond.  

These are just a few of the myths I hear. There are plenty more out there. It’s always best to check with a trusted medical professional, like your child’s pediatrician, when you have questions about nursing or your baby’s overall well-being.