7 Myths About Breastfeeding

Here's the truth behind some common myths about nursing a baby.

4 min read

All a mother needs to do is mention she's breastfeeding, and instantly, everyone seems to have an opinion or a piece of advice. While you can pick up a few pointers from well-meaning friends and relatives, too often the wrong information is passed along -- sometimes through several generations.

"Although we encourage breastfeeding moms to share their experiences and support one another, some of the information is not altogether accurate. And sometimes, the wrong information can get passed from one woman to the next," says Katy Lebbing, IBCLC, manager of the breastfeeding resource organization La Leche League International.

To help you tell fact from fiction, here are seven of the most common breastfeeding myths:

Myth #1. If babies feed a lot, that means they aren't getting enough milk.

Fact: Because breast milk is so easy to digest, babies generally get hungrier sooner than if they are formula-fed. It's appropriate for your breastfeeding newborn baby to eat every two to three hours, says Lebbing.

Myth # 2. Giving the breast a nursing "rest" can help ensure more milk.

Fact: The more you nurse, the more milk you make. Breaking your regular nursing schedule to "rest" the breast actually may decrease your milk supply, says Lebbing.

This myth got started, she says, because skipping a feeding or pumping during the day results in greater supply of milk at night. But by the next day you will have less milk if you skip a feeding. "The only way to ensure a steady supply is to keep expressing milk as regularly as you can," says Lebbing. You should nurse at least nine to 10 times a day to ensure milk production.

Myth # 3. Formula fed babies sleep better.
Fact:Research indicates that babies fed on formula do not sleep better, although they may sleep longer. "Because bottle milk doesn't get digested as quickly, it may be a longer stretch between feedings so your baby may sleep longer," says Pat Sternum, RN, IBCLC, a lactation counselor at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City.Â

But there's a downside. Formula remains in the baby's system longer, so it begins to ferment, she says. This results in what she calls "ultra-stinky poop!" Breastfed babies typically start sleeping longer at 4 weeks old and soon are sleeping the same amount of time as formula-fed babies.

Myth # 4: Nursing babies shouldn't take an occasional bottle or they may become confused and stop eating.
Fact: Babies suck on a nipple, but suckle at the breast. The difference between the two actions rarely will confuse your little one, says Sternum. If you think you need to supplement your baby's feedings (particularly if you plan to return to work before you finish nursing), then you should introduce baby to a bottle between 2 to 6 weeks of age.

Use it for one or two feedings a day. Your baby will develop the skills necessary to bottle feed without losing the ability to feed at the breast. Use your own milk when trying the bottle, and hold your baby close to your body to cuddle. It's the bonding time that matters almost as much as the actual feeding.

Myth # 5: Breastfeeding changes the shape and size of your breast, or reduces sensitivity.

Fact: While pregnancy does somewhat alter the look and feel of your breasts, experts say breastfeeding does not cause any changes beyond that. "This is all pretty much old wives' tales."

In fact, "breastfeeding can actually help protect your breasts," says lactation consultant Linda M. Hanna, IBCLC, with Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. Indeed, studies show that women who breastfeed have a reduced risk of breast cancer later in life.

Myth # 6: Never wake a sleeping baby to breastfeed.

Fact: Most of the time your baby will wake you -- and be ready to eat -- every two-and-a-half to three hours. However, your baby may feed vigorously for two or three hours -- known as "cluster feedings" -- then sleep a longer than usual.

"It's okay to let them sleep a little longer than usual, but you should never have more than one four-and-a-half-hour period of sleeping per day," says Sternum. If your baby is regularly sleeping through feeding time, wake baby when it's time to eat. It's important for your baby to feed on schedule, and you need to express milk on schedule to keep up a good supply.

Myth # 7:Breastfeeding prevents you from getting pregnant.

Fact: Judging by the number of families with babies born 10 months apart, it's clear that breastfeeding isn't guaranteed birth control. However, experts do believe breastfeeding is 98% effective -- similar to other forms of birth control. La Leche League International experts say hormones involved in breastfeeding prevent ovulation, thereby blocking your ability to conceive for up to 14 or 15 months following delivery.

How do you know if you need additional birth control? As soon as you begin having a menstrual cycle, you can get pregnant again. For some women, Hanna says, this can be as early as six months after giving birth.

If you don't want another baby right away, talk to your doctor about using low-dose birth control pills several months after you start breastfeeding. They are safe for you and your baby, Hanna says. Or your partner can use a condom and spermicide. Any chemicals that enter your body will make their way to your breast milk, so choose only spermicides that are safe for nursing mothers.