If you are a new or expecting mother, then there’s no doubt that you have heard your fair share of opinions about the advantages or disadvantages of breastfeeding. Whether it's friends, family, or strangers on the internet, it seems like everyone has their own take on what is best for your baby. Deciding what sources to trust can be difficult, and unfortunately, there’s a lot of misinformation out there.
Even well-meaning in-laws or acquaintances might have opinions that are based on outdated science or biased claims, so it’s crucial to know the facts. When it comes to the health of your child, you need information that is up-to-date and based on accurate science. That’s why today, we want to take some time to debunk a few of the most common myths about breastfeeding.
The Myth: Breastfeeding can “spoil” your baby.
Some people will tell you that breastfeeding can “spoil” babies and make them clingy, especially if you choose to breastfeed past the point at which your baby is already taking some solid foods. Relatives or friends might claim that if you breastfeed for too long, your baby will develop problematic behavioral or psychological issues in the future.
The Reality: breastfeeding does the exact opposite of “spoiling” a baby- it is an essential component of promoting lifelong psychological and behavioral health. Studies have proven that breastfed babies form more secure bonds with their mothers, creating healthy attachment styles and increased capacity for learning as they grow. Breastfeeding for extended period of times is completely normal and if you decide to do it, there is nothing wrong with it. Even though many people think that is unacceptable to breastfeed a baby longer than few months, in reality it is a natural phenomenon. Many studies on human communities still living in the wild like aboriginal tribes (which you can consider as a sort of reference point of what can be classified as a natural behaviour in humans) have shown that it is fairly common for children to be breastfeed even for 2-3 years. Obviously this does not mean that it is better to do that and you should pursue such a goal, but once again, if you decide to do it, there is absolutely no problem with that!
The Myth: Breastfeeding is painful, difficult and problematic.
This is one of the most common disadvantage people might mention about breastfeeding.
Similarly, some believe that you need to have tough nipples to nurse otherwise you will develop cracks or sore breasts.
The Reality: breastfeeding doesn’t need to be painful! If it’s painful, the baby is not latching properly. This means that with some training and possibly the help and support of a consultant this problem can be completely avoided. Also remember that breastfeeding takes time and even though babies have an innate instinct to suckle, it takes some time and effort for them to learn how to do it properly.
The Myth: breastfeeding will give you saggy boobs.
This is another very common disbelief about breastfeeding. It’s indeed very easy to imagine that saggy breasts are caused by the baby draining them during breastfeeding.
The Reality: the breast will change with maternity not because breastfeeding but because pregnancy. It will respond to the hormonal alterations during pregnancy and it will grow in size to make possible the production of milk. The skin and ligaments around the breast will also stretch and this might make them looser and softer and cause the breast to sag after pregnancy. The weight variation around pregnancy might also be involved because big changes in weight will also correspond to big changes in the size of the breast. Age and genetics are also involved as these two factors influence the strength of the ligaments. Finally, smoking badly affects skin and ligaments in general and it will make the breast saggy over the time. In conclusion, breastfeeding is not directly related to saggy breasts as they are caused by different factors and it also depends on the specific person.
Myth: you should dump breast milk right after you have a drink.
This means that if you drink alcohol you are supposed to discard the first milk because it is full of alcohol and it will harm the baby.
The Reality: when you drink alcohol, it will be absorbed and driven into your bloodstream and from there a fraction of it is eventually transferred to the milk. It is also true that alcohol is very dangerous for babies because they cannot digest it and it might damage their growing brain. However, you don’t have to dump your precious milk if you time wisely the drink. A small amount of alcohol will be present in your blood stream only for about 2-3 hours after you drink, so if you drink it some hours before you feed the baby it will not be a problem.
The Myth: Breastfed babies don’t sleep as well as babies who drink formula.
Sometimes, formula fed babies sleep for longer periods of time at once; this is because natural breast milk takes less to be digested than formula milk. Some mothers find shorter sleeping periods to be a disadvantage to breastfeeding.
The Reality: Studies have found that breastfed babies sleep just as well, if not better, than babies who drink formula. Most importantly, breastfed babies sleep more safely. The truth is, babies aren’t naturally supposed to sleep for long periods while digesting synthetic formula. Waking frequently is actually essential to infants’ physical and cognitive health. Research has proven that breastfed babies are at a lower for SIDS- their shorter sleeping periods help to regulate their bodies and keep them safe.
The Myth: It is impossible to continue breastfeeding and go back to work at the same time.
Mothers who need to go back to work after they have their baby face many disadvantages; breastfeeding is just one of many challenges. Some people will claim that when you go back to work, you must begin to wean your baby.
The Reality: Despite what others might tell you, you do not have to choose between going back to work and continuing to breastfeed. The World Health Organization recommends that babies be exclusively breastfed until they are at least 6 months old. Depending on where you live, it’s likely that your country has laws protecting your right to time and space to go home and breastfeed during a break, or, to express your milk during the workday and feed your baby later on.
Even if you need to supplement some feedings with formula when you go back to work, breastfeeding your baby as often as possible off-the-clock will still ensure that your little one experiences all the miraculous benefits that breast milk can provide.
The Myth: Breastfed babies can’t learn to take a bottle later on.
Sometimes, breastfed babies have trouble adjusting to bottle feeding. People might tell you that you must wean early in order to avoid bottle feeding becoming an impossibility when traveling, working, or experiencing low milk production.
The Reality: Though nipple confusion and baby bottle refusal are real and challenging issues, breastfed babies can still take bottles (read here if you want to know when it is the right time to give the bottle) - it just takes time, patience, and the right bottle.
To prevent nipple confusion for your breastfed babies, look for baby bottle nipples that are wide and soft like a natural breast. Consider products made specifically for transitioning a breastfed baby to a bottle- like the Teatle. The Teatle was created with exactly this issue in mind; it uses REALATCH™ technology to create a soft and pliable nipple which adjusts to your baby’s mouth as they nurse, perfectly replicating the sensation of a mother’s breast and reducing the potential for nipple confusion or baby bottle refusal.
The Myth: if you don’t breastfeed you are a bad mother.
The Reality: No, you are not, and nobody has the right to interfere in such a personal matter. Either if you don’t breastfeed because of personal choice or because the circumstances don’t allow you to, it is always up to you to decide what’s best for yourself. On top of that, being a good mother is down to a million different things and breastfeeding won’t make a huge difference because you will anyways bring up your child the best way you can!
The Bottom Line About Breastfeeding
When you know the facts, the reality becomes clear: Breastfeeding is important to support the needs of your growing baby, and the longer you choose to breastfeed, the more benefits your growing little-one will receive. As a mother, your body is perfectly designed to provide your baby with everything they require to grow into a healthy, happy, and successful person. One of the best things you can do to give your baby a head start in life is also one of the simplest- providing your baby with all the natural goodness of breast milk. So if you and your baby are happy with breastfeeding, don't mind about myths and just carry on... You are doing great!