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Common myths about breastfeeding
Common myths about breastfeeding
When it comes to breastfeeding, people have a lot of opinions and a lot of (sometimes unwanted) advice to share. There is also a lot of misinformation out there. In this article, I bust 13 common myths about breastfeeding – from whether or not breastfeeding can prevent pregnancy to why breast size has no impact on breastfeeding capabilities. Let's get into it.
1. Breastfeeding doesn't have any real health benefits.
Breastfeeding has proven health benefits for both mothers and babies. It helps protect babies from common illnesses, death at a young age, and not having enough nutrients. It can also help prevent the child from becoming overweight later in life (1, 2). Additionally, mothers who breastfeed are less likely to develop breast or ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes, and heart-related problems (3).
2. Exclusively breastfeeding isn’t necessary for the first 6 months.
The WHO recommends exclusively breastfeeding for the first 6 months and continued breastfeeding with complementary foods for at least the first 2 years of life (4).
3. Most babies worldwide are breastfed.
Less than half of babies around the world are breastfed, and many mothers want to but face challenges like not having enough support, returning to jobs without a place to feed or pump, feeling shy about breastfeeding in public, dealing with health problems, being influenced by baby formula ads, or just not knowing enough about the benefits and how-tos of breastfeeding. Sometimes breastfeeding is not possible because of medical conditions or other problems.
4. Formula milk is as nutritious as breast milk
Whilst formula is a substantial alternative, it can't fully mimic breast milk's unique composition. Some formula firms use misleading advertising, highlighting the convenience and nutritional completeness of formula, making it seem an equal or superior option. This can include targeting mothers who might be insecure about breastfeeding, playing on those fears (5). Though formula provides some essential nutrients, it lacks specific antibodies, enzymes, and hormones found in breast milk, and parents should be wary of marketing tactics that may suggest otherwise.
5. Breastfeeding is easy.
Breastfeeding takes time and practice, and many mothers need practical support with positioning and attachment. If this is your case, it is completely normal and okay. This is exactly why lactation consultants and other skilled professionals exist – to help.
6. Many mothers can’t produce enough milk.
Almost all mothers produce the right amount of milk, but they may need support and guidance to ensure proper latching and frequency. Milk production is a supply and demand situation; frequent breastfeeding promotes production. Many mothers may struggle due to a lack of education and information rather than actual supply issues.
7. Mothers shouldn't breastfeed if they’re sick.
Depending on the illness, mothers can usually continue breastfeeding. Antibodies may even pass on to the baby, building their defences. Of course, we'd always suggest you check in with your healthcare provider if you aren't sure.
8. If mothers go back to work, they’ll have to wean their baby.
Many mothers continue breastfeeding after returning to work by utilising various strategies like expressing milk or breastfeeding during working hours.
9. Breastfeeding is painful for mothers.
While it might cause soreness and tenderness initially, breastfeeding should not be painful for mothers.
10. Breastfeeding in front of people is rude.
There is no shame in mothers breastfeeding anywhere. Laws often support breastfeeding in public places like restaurants and parks. Own it! And if it helps, there are clothing options and cover-ups that help support mothers to feel comfortable breastfeeding in public.
11. Mothers who breastfeed don’t get enough sleep.
Research shows that breastfeeding mothers may get more sleep than mixed- and formula-feeding mothers. This is for a number of reasons, including the impact of natural hormones and chemicals released for the baby and mother when breastfeeding at night (6).
12. It will be hard for mothers to breastfeed because their breasts are small (or large).
Mothers with breasts of all sizes can produce plenty of milk, and babies can feed successfully regardless of breast or nipple size.
13. Breastfeeding will prevent mothers from getting pregnant.
While breastfeeding does impact ovulation, it’s not a guaranteed form of birth control, especially after about 6 months postpartum (7).
- Rollins NC, Bhandari N, Hajeebhoy N, Horton S, Lutter CK, Martines JC, et al. Why invest, and what it will take to improve breastfeeding practices? Lancet. 2016;387(10017):491-504.
- Horta BL, Rollins N, Dias MS, Garcez V, Pérez-Escamilla R. Systematic review and meta-analysis of breastfeeding and later overweight or obesity expands on previous study for World Health Organization. Acta Paediatr. 2023;112(1):34-41.
- Victora CG, Bahl R, Barros AJ, França GV, Horton S, Krasevec J, et al. Breastfeeding in the 21st century: epidemiology, mechanisms, and lifelong effect. Lancet. 2016;387(10017):475-90.
- Lawrence RA, Lawrence RM. Breastfeeding: A Guide for the Medical Professional: Elsevier Health Sciences; 2021.
- Lancet. Unveiling the predatory tactics of the formula milk industry. Lancet. 2023;401(10375):409.
- Doan T, Gardiner A, Gay CL, Lee KA. Breast-feeding increases sleep duration of new parents. J Perinat Neonatal Nurs. 2007;21(3):200-6.
- Louis-Jacques AF, Stuebe AM. Enabling Breastfeeding to Support Lifelong Health for Mother and Child. Obstet Gynecol Clin North Am. 2020;47(3):363-81.
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