Breastfeeding Myths Expert: Rachel Hansen, CD (DONA)

Debunking Breastfeeding Myths

There are many breastfeeding myths that pregnant women may hear. Learning to breastfeed takes time and patience, but the benefits for you and your baby are countless. We asked doula and lactation specialist Rachel Hansen to debunk five of popular breastfeeding myths.

Breastfeeding Hurts

One of the most popular breastfeeding myths is that breastfeeding is supposed to hurt. But according to Rachel, "Breastfeeding is painless, even enjoyable, after the first couple of weeks. Even at the beginning, pain is usually a warning sign. Most often, sore nipples indicate a baby who's not well-latched or well-positioned at the breast. Nipples do have greater sensitivity in the first week or two as a result of hormones. This sensitivity actually helps us learn how to breastfeed; if baby is not latched well, we'll feel it! A little bit of tenderness at the beginning is normal for some women. But nursing should not feel pinchy and nipples should not develop cracks or sores. Breast pain can also indicate blocked ducts, mastitis, or a yeast infection. All of these can be treated and should not interfere with breastfeeding. If breastfeeding hurts, seek help from a lactation consultant or breastfeeding counselor."

My Mother Couldn't Nurse; Neither Can I

Many women assume that because their mother wasn't able to breastfeed, they will also have difficulty. Rachel answers this breastfeeding myth by saying, "Unfortunately, not all women in the past few generations have had good support to get through their breastfeeding challenges. Especially once formula use became widespread, many pediatricians didn't recognize the importance of breastfeeding or how it differed from bottle-feeding. Or women were told that their milk was "too thin" because it didn't look like formula. Most women who stopped breastfeeding early could probably have overcome their challenges with the right support. With good advice and encouragement from experienced breastfeeding friends, a lactation consultant, and a pro-breastfeeding pediatrician, you can too!"

Breastfed Babies Need Extra Water

Because children and adults need extra water during hot weather, many people assume that nursing babies do too. But according to Rachel, "The number one ingredient in breast milk is water! Babies who nurse whenever they are hungry or thirsty will get plenty of fluids, even in hot weather. Breast milk even changes composition according the baby's needs, quenching the baby's thirst first with a quick flow of thinner milk, then becoming richer to satisfy the baby's hunger."

Breastfeeding Doesn't Benefit Older Babies

One of the most popular myths about breastfeeding is that it has no benefit for older babies. In the United States, most breastfeeding mothers stop nursing infants between six months and one year of age. But, according to Rachel, "Babies continue to get valuable nutrients and immune benefits from breastfeeding as long as they nurse. In many cultures, nursing two to four years is common. Breastfed toddlers continue to have lower rates of illnesses such as ear infections and diarrhea than toddlers who have been weaned. Nursing also provides an opportunity for closeness that can be hard to find with an active toddler! There's nothing more comforting to a little one who has an illness or injury than nursing, and breast milk is so easily digested and absorbed that it can provide a valuable source of nutrition and hydration to a child who is vomiting or feels too sick to eat solids." La Leche League has a great deal of information about breastfeeding your baby past the first year.

Small Breasts Produce Less Milk

Breast size is not related to how much milk a women produces. "Breast size is unrelated to milk production," Rachel said. "Insufficient milk production is rare, but the condition can occur in women with either large or small breasts. Most of the breast is made of fat, with the milk glands and ducts taking up a very small space. The best way to encourage an abundant milk supply is to latch baby on well, nurse "on demand", and meet all baby's sucking needs at the breast. Most experts recommend delaying use of pacifiers or bottles until baby is at least four weeks old and breastfeeding is going well. If you have had breast enlargement or breast reduction surgery, you face unique challenges, but you may still be able to breastfeed."

Move Beyond the Myths

Unfortunately, many people are in the dark about breastfeeding, so myths abound. If you are determined to nurse your baby, don't be discouraged by the well-meaning but discouraging "help" from your friends and family. Seek out expert advice before you give up on breastfeeing.

Breastfeeding Myths Expert: Rachel Hansen, CD (DONA)