12 Things You Don't Have To Do When Breastfeeding, Even Though Everyone Says You Do

by Sabrina Joy Stevens

If you’re thinking about (or have started) nursing a young child, you’ve probably heard all about the benefits of breastfeeding. You’ve probably also heard plenty of common myths about breastfeeding, possibly without even knowing it, that may make nursing seem excessively difficult or inconvenient. Well-meaning relatives, friends, and sadly even health care professionals, often spread these general misconceptions because they’re not aware of how breastfeeding actually works. After generations of breastfeeding playing second fiddle to formula feeding (in most of our society), and because breastfeeding still happens largely “under cover” or at home, many people are unfamiliar with how it works or know what constitutes "normal" for breastfed babies.

Sadly, the widespread misunderstandings of how women’s bodies work more generally, and widespread moralizing about how women “should” behave and relate to our children, it's not all that surprising that people regularly repeat misleading things about breastfeeding. Regardless of the intentions (and I do believe that many people's intentions are good) continuing to tell women that they "should" do something or "have to" do something else, when breastfeeding, puts unnecessary pressure on mothers, particular new mothers, who are trying to figure out their new role as "mom."

So, if you are planning to nurse, definitely seek out knowledgeable professionals (like lactation consultants or midwives) and experienced peers (friends who have successfully nursed children or support groups with other nursing parents) to answer your questions as you go. Knowledge and support are critical for breastfeeding moms and their ability to breastfeed, just like the rest of parenting. Just like it's important as it is for you to know what you can do help you breastfeed, it's equally important to know what you don't have to do, including the following:

Time Or Schedule Your Baby's Nursing Sessions

It’s one thing to keep track of how long you're breastfeeding for, to get a sense of how long it takes your baby to eat and especially in the beginning when you’re trying to understand what your particular baby’s “normal” is. It isn't a good idea, however, to schedule or limit an exclusively breastfed baby’s feedings.

Children need to be able to eat when they’re hungry and stop when they’re full in order for them to get enough to eat and drink, and for your body to maintain a sufficient milk supply. Cutting them off while they’re actively nursing, or making them wait until certain times to nurse, puts your child at needless risk of malnourishment and dehydration. Please, please, please do not do this.

Take Lactation “Boosters”

With the exception of folks with certain diagnosed medical conditions, whose doctors and lactation consultants have prescribed them something, it is not necessary to take anything in order to make enough milk. You don’t need to eat special cookies, or drink certain teas, or anything remotely similar in order to make enough milk. Many common folk remedies have not been verified to boost milk production, and some may have negative side effects for your and your baby.

Avoid Alcohol Completely And The Entire Time You Breastfeed

I feel so sad when I hear mothers lament about a missed happy hour with their friends, "because they're nursing." There is no need to swear off alcohol for the duration of your nursing relationship. Only a small percentage of alcohol actually makes it into your milk from your bloodstream, and it leaves once your body metabolizes it. If you’re planning to really tie one on, make sure you have someone else who can attend to your baby, of course. But don’t feel like you have to wait until your child weans to have a cocktail again.

Switch To Formula Because Your Baby Is "Nursing Too Much"

If your baby is latching when they’re hungry and unlatching when they’re full, if they’re wetting enough diapers and gaining enough weight, then you are doing fine. Babies are supposed to nurse frequently, especially when they’re brand new or when they’re going through growth spurts or when they’re not feeling well (like when they’re teething, battling a cold, etc.) Don’t let other people’s judgments about what your baby “should” be doing shake your confidence or influence your feeding choices, especially if those people have never breastfed a baby.

“Pump And Dump”

One, you don’t actually have to throw away breastmilk )unless it is spoiled.) If you are expressing milk because you’re separated from your baby and you have a few drinks, it can still be used for things like baths (really healing for a babies’ super sensitive skin) or other topical applications. Some really crafty mamas even make soap, lotion, and other things with their expressed milk.

Two, pumping your milk will not help you sober up any faster, because it’s not like the alcohol is just hanging out in your breasts. Alcohol enters and leaves your milk at about the same rate as it enters and leaves your bloodstream. So, if your baby nurses every two to three hours and you’ve only had a single glass of wine or beer since their last feeding, you can probably nurse the next time your little one is hungry. You’ll probably have metabolized the alcohol by then. Good rule of thumb: If you’re safe to drive, you’re safe to nurse. (But note that this means for real for real safe to drive, not slurring, belligerent, “I candrriveI do sisss alls the time!” but not actually safe to drive.)

Use A Nursing Cover

Breasts are normal. Breastfeeding is normal. If covering up makes you more comfortable, do it. If you or your child don’t feel like hiding under a blanket while nursing, you don’t have to. It’s your choice. You have nothing to be ashamed of, and you don’t need to hide.

Pump At All

I once met another stay-at-home-mom who was at her wits end, because she was nursing her baby every couple of hours and pumping every hour after he was finished. Apparently, someone had told her that she needed to do that to maintain a healthy milk supply. In actuality, she was stressing herself out needlessly, and giving herself an oversupply.

If you’re going to be separated from your nursling and want to maintain your milk supply while you’re gone, it’s a good idea to express your milk so your body knows it still needs to make a specific amount. Otherwise, if your baby is nursing effectively and getting enough to eat, there is no need to pump in addition. A healthy child is way more effective at removing milk than even the best pump, so the idea that pumping is “necessary” for a healthy milk supply is bogus. Also? If you just don’t like pumping, it’s more than OK to provide formula for your child while someone else is caring for them, and to nurse when you’re together. (Make sure your care provider knows how to pace feed a breastfed baby, whether you’re sending pumped milk or formula, however.)

Prohibit Comfort Nursing

Young children nurse for lots of reasons besides hunger. If you are OK with your little one latching on to fall asleep, or when they’re scared, or for whatever other reason, then it’s OK to let them. You don’t have to cut them off because someone else told you not to “let them use you as a pacifier.” Also? It’s super offensive to reduce a whole person sharing a bond (and an immune system) with their child to an object, so never say that about yourself or another mom.

Be "All Or Nothing" About Breast Milk

It’s totally OK to both breastfeed and formula feed your baby, if that’s what works for you and your family. There are some timing and feeding tricks you’ll want to know if your baby will be switching back and forth between bottle and breast, in order to not totally jeopardize your nursing relationship. However, combination feeding can be done, and it’s not “cheating.”

Avoid Certain Foods

In various nursing support groups I’m in, I’ve heard moms ask how many times they need to “pump and dump” after eating crab legs, or lament how much they miss spicy foods, as well as many other unfounded complaints about dietary restrictions related to breastfeeding. Unless a doctor has identified your child as having an allergy, or you have carefully identified a connection between certain foods and problems for your child, there’s no need to swear off specific foods in order to nurse.

Have An Extensive Freezer Stash

There are some moms and babies with special circumstances that require a freezer stash of pumped breast milk. That being said, it's not at all necessary for most nursing moms and babies. If you're going back to work and want your care provider to feed your little one your breast milk, you only need to pump enough for the next day. If you're not planning to be regularly separated from your child, and that child nurses effectively, you don't need to worry about this at all. So don't let photos of other moms’ stashes make you feel like you're not doing enough to nurse successfully.

Wean At A Specific Age, Or For Any Other Reason Except That One Or Both Of You Want To

You should nurse for as long as both you and your child want to. If that’s two days, awesome! If that’s three years, awesome! You don’t have to wean because they’re turning one, or because they started trying solid foods, or because they cut a tooth, or because someone else says they’re “too old for that.” It’s normal for babies to start off exclusively breastfeeding, then to eat complementary foods when they show readiness, and to spend the next few months or years gradually nursing less and eating more solid foods until they wean themselves. If you’re ready to be done sooner than that, by all means wean. But if you’re both still into nursing, keep nursing. That’s a perfectly valid choice, especially from a biological perspective.