Breastfeeding tall tales and urban legends
breastfeeding myths

No matter what anyone says, breastfeeding can be damn hard work, and sometimes you just need a little advice from mum or grandma about how they succeeded... but remember that a lot has changed since then, and before you go jotting down these family secrets to pass on to your own daughter one day, you might want to check that you're not producing more of a fictional novel than a helpful breastfeeding guide.

Here are 10 of the most common old wives’ tales about breastfeeding that people have been known to fall for.

Tall Tale 1: Your nipples need toughening up in preparation 

Breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt, so put down those loofahs and dry towels!

In the first few days, sore nipples are common, but if you experience any significant pain it probably means that your baby isn’t latching on properly or you have a nipple infection. 

Tall Tale 2: Many women don’t produce enough breast milk

This is actually quite rare.

Paediatrician and breastfeeding expert Dr Marianne Neifert estimates that only 4 percent of women truly don’t make enough milk to satisfy their babies’ needs. More common causes of low supply include incorrect attachment and not breastfeeding often enough to stimulate adequate milk production.

Tall Tale 3: You need to wait for your breasts to fill up with milk

Your breasts are never completely empty.

They’re constantly producing milk, so there will be some available if your baby seems hungry again shortly after a feed. And because they work according to supply and demand, the more your baby feeds the more milk they will make.

Tall Tale 4: Small breasts don’t produce as much milk as big breasts

Size doesn’t matter.

The amount of fatty tissue in your breasts is what determines how big they are, but it’s the glandular tissue that expands during pregnancy that allows you to produce milk.

Tall Tale 5: Drinking beer is a safe way to boost your milk supply

Don’t dash to the pub just yet.

While some research indicates that the barley in beer increases serum prolactin, a hormone that stimulates the production of milk, researchers at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia found that babies drank significantly less milk immediately after their mothers consumed beer. The risks probably outweigh the benefits, so wait two hours after having an alcoholic drink to breastfeed.

Tall Tale 6: Babies get all the milk they need in the first 10 minutes of breastfeeding

Not every baby receives the same amount in 10 minutes.

Newborns might have to stay on the breast for up to an hour to satisfy their needs because they’re not yet efficient at latching on and sucking. And some women have a slow let-down reflex or release milk in batches. To ensure your baby gets enough, it’s best to let them feed as long as they want – especially when they’re very young.

Tall Tale 7: Expressing gives a good indication of your milk supply

Babies are much more efficient than breast pumps.

They’re more likely to trigger your let-down reflex and to get more milk out of your breasts. Plus, some women have a large milk supply but have a hard time expressing it, so the amount that makes it into a bottle isn’t necessarily a good indicator of how much you’re producing.

Tall Tale 8: Breastfeeding ruins your breasts

Nope, this one we can blame on the pregnancy hormones.

While your breasts will probably swell and expand during pregnancy, they could end up sagging and becoming smaller (or in some cases, bigger) after you give birth or when you stop breastfeeding. Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do to prevent these changes.

Tall Tale 9: You can’t get pregnant when you’re breastfeeding

Have you heard of Murphy's Law? Don't risk it if you're not ready. 

If your baby is less than six months old, you don’t yet have your period back and you breastfeed exclusively around the clock (no pumping and no other type of food), it’s very unlikely that you’ll get pregnant because breast milk production interferes with ovulation. In fact, if done correctly, the lactational amenorrhea method (LAM) of birth control (breastfeeding as contraception) is 98 percent effective. But because most women don’t fulfil all these conditions perfectly, it’s far from fool proof.

Tall Tale 10: You can’t breastfeed when you’re pregnant

You can do whatever you damn-well please.

Although some women find that pregnancy hormones cause their milk supply to dwindle and some babies will self-wean when their mother is expecting, it’s possible to breastfeed throughout pregnancy. If you wish, it’s even possible to breastfeed a baby and a toddler simultaneously.

Have you heard of these breastfeeding myths, or any others? Share in the comments below.

This article was written by Sabrina Rogers-Anderson and adapted for Kidpsot, New Zealand's favourite parenting resource for Early Life Nutrition.
Breastfeeding is best for babies and provides many benefits. Combined breast and bottle feeding in the first weeks of life may reduce the supply of your own breast milk. Always consult your doctor, midwife or health care professional for advice about feeding your baby. This post is part of the Early Life Nutrition story.

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