As if breastfeeding isn't exhausting enough on its own, try adding in some of the antiquated, misinformed, and downright entertaining old wives' tales about breastfeeding that are hilariously untrue. Despite their level of hilarity, it's a little bit crazy that so many people still take these myths seriously. Whether you've heard them from a well-meaning bystander, your mother-in-law, or even, god forbid, a medical professional, all of these myths are as popular as they are easy to disprove.
As a breastfeeding mom, the last thing you need is something in the form of an old wives' tale getting in the way of your confidence about your milk supply or your abilities to provide for your child the way nature intended. These myths aren't just silly and harmless. In fact, they could have a real impact in the way you view yourself as a mother, your body, and your ability to nurse your baby.
So, without further ado, I give you some of the most ridiculous breastfeeding myths out there. But more than that, I give you the information to debunk them and reclaim your confidence about breastfeeding — regardless of your hair color or breast size. (Sound ridiculous? Just keep reading).
Myth #1: Small Boobs Produce Less Milk
If you are part of the Itty Bitty Community, you may be concerned about your ability to breastfeed based on the nasty rumor that small breasts produce less milk. Fortunately, this myth can be explained away. “Most often, smaller breasts can produce ample amounts of milk. Generally the appearance of the breast has nothing at all to do with its milk making potential,” nurse and lactation consultant Angie Natero tells Romper. “There are a few exceptions to this though such as hypoplasia/insufficient glandular tissue, where a mom's milk-making potential is related to her breast appearance. If a mom suspects this condition or is worried she is not producing enough for her baby, it is so important she and her baby see an IBCLC promptly.”
Myth #2: Drinking Beer Will Increase Your Milk Supply
This myth has a bit more scientific backing than most, but it's definitely not an excuse to go on a drinking binge in honor of your milk supply. According to New Health Guide, it is thought that drinking beer may increase your prolactin levels, one of the hormones responsible for making milk, however it wouldn't effect your supply enough to increase it. Although some of the ingredients in beer are common galactagogues (foods that increase supply) nurse and lactation consultant Tera Hamann tells Romper that drinking beer can do more harm than good when it comes to your supply. “The dehydrating effects of beer counter any benefits it might have,” she says. “Also, alcohol can inhibit let-down, and research shows that baby nurses less when there is alcohol in breast milk. In the big picture, routine alcohol consumption can decrease supply.”
Myth #3: Breastfeeding Ruins Your Breasts
Although pregnancy, breastfeeding, and motherhood in general will certainly change the appearance of your breasts (they'll be bigger, smaller, perkier, saggier, fuller), breastfeeding isn't the culprit, and the permanent differences that some women say “ruined” their breasts are actually formed during pregnancy. “Breastfeeding can result in changes in your breasts’ elasticity from filling and removal of milk. But it’s pregnancy that is responsible for the relaxation of coopers ligaments, which stretch and cause drooping,” Jody Segrave-Daly RN, MS, IBCLC, co-founder of The Fed Is Best Foundation tells Romper. “With time, age, and gravity, all breasts will sag. Breast changes that occur in pregnancy also affect the tautness of the skin and connective tissue, whether or not a mother breastfeeds.”
Myth #4: Taking A Break Will Help Your Breasts Produce More
Wrong again. In fact the opposite is true: the more you nurse, the more you'll produce. “Milk supply is based on demand; if a breastfeeding session is missed, without pumping, supply will drop,” Segrave-Daly tells Romper.
Hamann also explains that while you may see more milk the session following a skipped feeding, your supply will ultimately suffer if you skip sessions. “You may get more for that feeding/pumping, but it will signal your body to make less,” she says.
Myth #5: Consuming More Dairy Will Help You Make More Milk
While you may love drinking chocolate milk, eating copious amounts of cheese, and downing yogurt-based smoothies, it unfortunately will not help you make more breast milk. The milk that comes out of a female’s body in order to feed a baby is not impacted by the amount of dairy they consume. Lynnette Hafken, MA, IBCLC, with the Fed Is Best Foundation puts it very simply, telling Romper, “Cows eat grass; enough said.”
Myth #6: Exercise Makes Your Milk Sour
This one really depends on how you are using the word “sour,” but fortunately, your milk will not spoil or be too sour for baby to consume after working out. “High levels of lactic acid remain after very intense exercise, for about 90 minutes. This can change the taste of breast milk, some describing it as slightly sour,” Segrave-Daly tells Romper. “Moderate and gentle exercise does not increase levels of lactic acid. Nevertheless, breast milk that contains lactic acid is still nutritious, and most babies do not seem to mind.”
Myth #7: Being Angry Or Stressed Makes Sour Milk
Although stress and anger are not fun to deal with, they are a normal part of life and are sometimes unavoidable. Luckily, experiencing stress or anger does not spoil your breast milk or give it a sour flavor. “Stress while breastfeeding can reduce supply and reduce the IgA immunoglobulin (antibodies passed from mother to baby), but there is no evidence that says stress makes breast milk taste sour,” Segrave-Daly tells Romper.
Myth #8: Extended Breastfeeding Spoils Children
This is absolutely untrue. The length of time a mother nurses for is a completely personal choice, and as Hamann puts it, “You can’t spoil a baby/child with the proper nutrition that is tailored to their needs at that moment.”
Hafken tells Romper how the weaning process can happen naturally, and what she sees as the actual behavior that can lead to “spoiling” a child. “Caving in to inappropriate demands due to whining or tantrums can spoil children. When your goal is to breastfeed until your children outgrow the need, the key concept here is that your children have needs that are being met by a form of nutrition and comfort that they are used to,” Hafken says. “There is no point at which breast milk loses nutritional value. The weaning process can happen naturally as children’s diet diversifies and they are encouraged to develop a variety of ways of seeking comfort.”
Myth #9: You Need To "Toughen Up" Your Nipples Before Nursing
Please don't. “Nipple skin does not ‘toughen' or form calluses. It is similar to lip tissue in that it works best when kept supple by sufficient moisture and general hydration, and injuries such as cracks are prevented or treated quickly,” Hafken says.
Breastfeeding does tend to become less painful for the nipples over time, and Hafken says this is due to several reasons, neither of which is the ‘toughening up’ of nipples before nursing. “In a first-time mother, connective tissue inside the nipple has never been stretched out to that extent, and it takes time for elasticity to develop,” Hafken says. “Nipples become especially sensitive during pregnancy and postpartum due to hormonal changes that regulate over time, and as the baby’s mouth grows and both of you master a comfortable latch, you should find that nipple pain recedes.”
Myth #10: Breastfeeding Can Cause Dental Problems
The reason this myth even exists has to do with the high sugar content of breast milk, but proper dental care should quell any issues. “Breast milk is high in sugar to fuel our big brains (in fact, it is the sweetest of all mammalian milks). Any sugary substance can cause cavities if allowed to linger around teeth, and anyone who has seen their nursing baby pop off and give a milky smile before going back to feeding can see that milk can pool around the teeth,” Hafken says. “Of course this is more a risk of any infant feeding method, not specifically breastfeeding, so dentists recommend that babies’ gums be wiped and teeth be brushed after drinking breast milk or formula.”
The opposite of this myth may actually be true, as there is some evidence that breastfeeding can actually improve dental health over time. “With regard to breastfeeding specifically, there is evidence that during the first year of life, babies who were breastfed longer had a lower incidence of tooth decay than babies breastfed for a shorter time period, but after the first year the research is less clear,” Hafken says.
Myth #11: Drink Plenty Of Water To Maintain Supply
“Milk supply is not affected by the amount of water you drink,” Segrave-Daly tells Romper. “Increasing milk supply depends on biological factors like sufficient glandular tissue, normal levels of several hormones (prolactin for example), and other health factors (BMI, age, PCOS, and thyroid disease, just to name a few), and frequent and thorough milk removal.”
Segrave-Daly does note however that staying hydrated is still important for moms regardless of whether or not it impacts your milk supply. “Do try to stay hydrated though, because your needs are important too,” she says.
This post was originally published on Sept. 13, 2016. It was updated on Aug. 20, 2019. Additional reporting by Ashley Jones.
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