Breastfeeding Myths

In the last few months I’ve been reevaluating my commitments and allowing many things to take a backseat or go on to my “someday, but not today” list. My La Leche League leadership training was one of the things I chose to let go. Sadly, it just wasn’t fitting into our family right now.
I made it through quite a bit of my writing coursework and a HUGE chunk of amazing reading so even though I’m not moving forward with actual leadership within LLL, I still feel like I have a ton of facts and resources floating around in my mind. So, I decided it was about time to write a post or two on some breastfeeding resources. Today, here’s a peek at some common breastfeeding myths that mama’s experience along their breastfeeding journey. I’ve heard most of these firsthand, and I’m guessing you probably have too!

MYTH: Breastfeeding should stop when baby gets teeth.

I totally get that it can be scary to have a little chomper coming at those sensitive nips. But please oh please don’t cut off the goods when a tooth appears. For one, if the tooth is on the bottom you’re likely in the clear because when baby nurses their tongue thrusts over their teeth and you should never feel any contact. Things get trickier with a top tooth or if your little one is a playful nurser (smiling a lot and wiggling around breaking their latch), but it is not a baby’s goal to bite you. Sometimes their just testing the waters. Sometimes their new teeth are actually hurting and biting you, biting anything, helps a little. You may experience a small bite or teeth graze here and there when a new tooth is popping through, but just remember that they’re getting used to something new and the accidental biting is usually temporary. If things persist, KellyMom has some valuable ideas on breaking a biting habit so you can continue your nursing relationship.

MYTH: Big babies need more than just breast milk to stay full.  

All baby’s stomachs are small, so no matter the size of your baby, they need roughly the same amount of breast milk in those early days. Later on, a big baby (or any baby for that fact) may increase their nursing frequency due to a growth spurt. No doubt they are hungry – babies grow so much in that first year. Just remember, your milk is plenty as long as baby is gaining weight. In truth, be thankful for those extra hunger-induced nursing sessions. The more frequently your baby eats, the more your body with respond with milk.

MYTH: Breastfeeding at night will cause baby’s teeth to decay.

There is not a direct link between night nursing and tooth decay. Tooth decay can happen to nursing babies and bottle-fed ones; babies who sleep through the night and those who eat often in the night hours. It is a best practice to wipe baby’s teeth with a soft rag after nursing if you can’t immediately brush their teeth.

Read more about tooth decay from KellyMom.

MYTH: There is little to no nutritional value to breastfeeding after 6 months.

Actually, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends nursing until at least 2 years of age. So the next time you see a mama nursing a long, wiggling toddler – give her a high five. Or, at least an encouraging smile :) Breast milk doesn’t magically become “less” at 6 months or a year or anything between or beyond.

I could go on and on about this misinformation, but the bottom line is – every day you breastfeed your baby is valuable and amply nutritious. If you choose one day or a week or 6 months or 36 months. In the US we’ve developed a cultural norm around breastfeeding that both hinders and limits a full-term breastfeeding relationship. That is a whole other post though.

MYTH: Babies ought to nurse on one side for “x” minutes and then “x” minutes on the other.

Poppycock! Timing and managing sides can make a mama go mad.  I wholeheartedly recommend nursing on demand. This means that you and baby find out what works for you each and every day. Sometimes this means frequent nursing or cluster feeding. Sometimes it results in longer stretches and mama makes the call when it is time for a snack to relieve her swelling breasts. As long as baby is thriving, let go of the clock.

Most days my Max is a great example of this – in the mornings he is a quick nurser. He sucks strong for my letdown, guzzles his milk and then is off to play. Usually just eating on one side and coming back for the other side in an hour or two. In the evenings he is much more of a lingering nurser, suckling for milk and for comfort. It has changed over time and changes from week to week depending on how he is feeling, what our schedule looks like, if he is cutting teeth or experiencing a wonder week. There is so much that goes into the timing of things so, I’ll just say “go with the flow” :)

MYTH: Breastfeeding should/shouldn’t hurt.

I’ve heard both and I’ve experienced both. And here’s the thing … it’s different for everyone! Every mama and baby duo have a learning curve. Sometimes it hurts because something is wrong, sometimes it hurts just because it is something new. Sometimes it doesn’t hurt one bit. Sometimes, it is actually easy. And when you fall into that scenario, ride that train, girl! Sometimes it will get better and then get worse; or vise versa. Breastfeeding is a constant learning experience because it is a relationship. It takes adjusting and over the course of your journey there will be many adjustments. Knowing what could happen and what to watch for is my recommendation. For example, know the signs of thrush before they arrive so you can act quickly. Same with a poor latch and mastitis. In most cases, the sooner you can address an issue, the less pain you’ll experience. 

MYTH: If mom doesn’t eat healthy there is no point in breastfeeding.

There was a big ol’ debate on this topic a few months ago spurred by a popular health blogger. The basis of her claim was that if mama wasn’t nourishing herself with the proper whole foods and supplements it was better for her to feed her baby a specialty homemade formula instead of say, fast food fueled breast milk. This just isn’t the case. Homemade formula (or any other formula) will never trump the qualities of breast milk. One, breast milk is FULL of ingredients that are not found anywhere else. Two, you can’t doctor up the antibodies and immunities found in breast milk.

I say this all while adding this … I know I can do a better at making my milk a higher quality by better nourishing myself. I am a work in progress. I eat better now than I did when I was breastfeeding my first and I’m sure in the coming year I will make more strides in improving my nutrition. Early on in my breastfeeding journey I remember reading the layers of acceptable nutrition for babies. The ideal order is … mama’s breast milk from her breast, mama’s expressed/pumped breast milk, another mama’s breast milk (either through safe/screened wet nursing or milk sharing), homemade formula (since you can control the quality of the ingredients) and other formulas. Breast milk will always be the preferred nutrition for babies. That’s just the way God made things. Obviously it doesn’t mean it’s the only way, but it is the ideal. 

After the uproar of “homemade formula is best if mama has poor nutrition” a number of bloggers gathered together to write in support of breastfeeding, regardless of nutrition. You can read my and a number of other fabulous posts here.

I hope this post was helpful to at least one of you! Breastfeeding has been both a battle and a joy for me and I love chatting about all the details. Did you hear or experience any of these myths while you were nursing? What are some of your most valuable resources that helped you find the truth?

Read more about my breastfeeding experience here. And here’s a favorite post and photo of mine … Why I Nurse In Public.

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  1. says

    I've seen the tooth decay one through several FB groups and actually posted on a children's dentist website in their 'about me' section. Needless to say, we didn't even bother interviewing that dentist :)

  2. says

    It's not at all — I'm sure our season will come to pick things back up though! At least in the meantime we have cute little ones to snuggle :)