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12 Breastfeeding Myths

12 Breastfeeding Myths

Photo credit: Julia Lorraine Peterson -  with permission.

Photo credit: Julia Lorraine Peterson - with permission.

There are a 12 Myths that can really have a negative impact on a mother’s breastfeeding. There is evidence to show a clear link between these myths and mothers not reaching their feeding goals and this makes me really sad. So. Let’s bust them.

  1. A mother should wash her nipples before breastfeeding.

    No. Only when a mother is formula feeding should she be vigilant about cleanliness. Formula is a good breeding ground for bacteria. It can be easily contaminated and will provide zero protection against baby getting infections, unlike breast milk.

  2. You need to eat specific foods to make milk.

    No. A breastfeeding mother should obviously try to eat a balanced diet but there is nothing special that she needs and nothing really to avoid strictly. She does not need to drink milk to make milk or avoid garlic, spice, cabbage or even alcohol. Sometimes something she eats might affect the baby, but this is relatively unusual.
    In fact, “colic”, “gassiness” and crying can be improved by changing breastfeeding techniques, rather than changing the mother’s diet.

  3. Babies under 6 months need juice or water.

    Breastmilk contains all of the fluid and hydration a baby needs. Offering a baby water will fill the baby’s stomach and mean they aren’t getting the nutrients they require from breastmilk. If baby is full and not feeding, the mother’s milk supply will be affected.

  4. You have to avoid oily fish when breastfeeding.

    No. But you should limit your intake to 2 portions a week. Oily fish is, mackerel, salmon, trout, sardines…This is because oily fish contain pollutants such as dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

  5. You should avoid feeding your baby the night milk you expressed due to sleep inducing hormones. And you should label, date and store the night milk separately.

    No. A study found that the concentration of certain sleep-associated chemicals fluctuate in human breast milk over a 24 hour period. However their effect on babies was not directly examined so it cannot be assumed that they have an effect on babies’ sleep.

    This myth could actually be quite damaging because it might motivate mothers to express at really inconvenient times of the day causing a lot of anxiety (we need to make breastfeeding as uncomplicated and stress-free as possible). It could be the turning point for a mother to give up and turn to formula.

  6. Large boobs equals more milk.

    No. Research into breast size and milk production shows that milk supply is not dependent on breast size, but rather on the amount of epithelial tissue contained in a breast that is capable of making milk.

  7. Pain is normal and should be expected.

    No. The first few days will be tender, and this is common. But the tenderness is temporary and will ease after a few days or after the first week in many cases. It should never be so bad that a mother dreads nursing. If it is, it’s almost always due to the baby latching on poorly. Any nipple pain after day 5 or 6 days should not be ignored.

    IF a mother has a new wave of pain when things have been going well for a while, it might be thrush. Keep feeding and support her to see her GP. Limiting feeding time does not prevent soreness.

  8. Mothers should space feedings to allow breasts to refill.

    No. That’s not the way it works. Breasts are never empty so if your baby wants to feed, there will be milk for her, don’t worry about that. I just read somewhere that it’s like trying to empty a river…impossible! MIlk will always be there in a constant supply and demand flow. On average baby will drink 75%-80% of the breast’s available milk. Research also tells us that the emptier the breast, the faster the breast makes milk. So when baby removes a large percentage of milk from the breast, milk production will speed up in response.

    It is actually counterproductive to space feeds because any delay over time will decrease a mother’s milk supply seeing as her body will think that her baby needs less feeds. Milk production slows when milk accumulates without being emptied from the breast.

  9. Premature babies cannot exclusively breastfeed.

    No - they absolutely can. Breastfeeding is possible from 28 weeks gestation when they have a strong rooting reflex. A baby is considered a Preemie if they are born before 37 weeks. Breast milk is extremely important for these babies, to help them develop and grow. If you keep your baby skin-to-skin in Kangaroo Care, he or she might develop the rooting reflex sooner. See Small Wonders film for more info.

  10. All babies must be on the breast for 30 minutes on each side or they won’t get the hind (fatty) milk.

    No. But let’s be clear about what being ‘on the breast’ means because there’s a difference between on the breast and breastfeeding, drinking, or suckling. If a baby is on the breast and drinking for 15-20 minutes on one side, he or she might not want the other side. But if he or she drinks only a minute on the first side, and then suckles and falls asleep for 10 minutes, that’s different. A good latch means baby will feed better and longer. Baby can also be helped to breastfeed longer if the mother compresses the breast to keep the flow of milk going. Breast compression can also help to naturally boost a mother’s milk supply.

  11. Poor milk supply is usually caused by stress/fatigue or inadequate food or water intake by the mother.

    No. Tiredness is a given in early motherhood…and in fact…possibly motherhood forever :) But fatigue and stress does not affect milk supply. Neither does inadequate food or water. Milk supply will only be affected if the mother’s calorie intake becomes critically low for a prolonged period of time. Generally, the baby will get what he or she needs. If a mother eats badly for a few days the milk is not affected. It is also a little myth that breastfeeding mothers should eat 500 extra calories a day but this is not true. Some do eat more and some eat less and milk and baby are unaffected. Eat according to your appetite and let’s not make breastfeeding unnecessarily complicated.

  12. Breastfeeding is super duper easy.

When is my baby ready for solids?

When is my baby ready for solids?

We often get told that ‘back in the day’ babies were given solid foods at 4 months old, water and juice to drink and if our baby is salivating at the dinner table, reaching for food or waking frequently at night, they are definitely ready for solids. These are not signs of readiness however and current government, WHO and NHS guidance states that if* developmentally ready babies should be first introduced to solid food shortly before or after 6 months of age.

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Common misconceptions of readiness:


  1. watches people eat with interest

  2. salivates when watching food and people eating

  3. reaches and tries to grab food

  4. weighs in or above the 90th centile

  5. breastfeeds every 2 hours with no longer intervals at night of three hours or more

  6. waking frequently at night

Actual signs of readiness:

Baby can…

  1. sit strongly unassisted with good head control

  2. pick up food and bring it to the mouth confidently

  3. swallow food.

Many parents are eager to start introducing solid foods, (it’s pretty exciting to be fair) - but it might be reassuring for parents to read a few facts about the benefits of exclusively breastfeeding for the first 6 months:

  • Breast milk contains all the fluid and nutrients the baby needs for around the first 6 months.

  • Exclusively breastfeeding provides protection from gastrointestinal infections.

  • Exclusively breastfeeding ensures a healthy milk supply.

  • Exclusively breastfeeding can provide a good contraceptive effect and can help weight loss for some mothers.

  • Breastfeeding can be much easier to do than giving solids. It takes less time, makes less mess and is cheaper.

One final note…

As a Doula I am always talking to my clients in prenatal sessions about normal newborn behaviour and normal baby behaviour, with a fairly big chunk of time discussing sleep and feeding. If your baby is breastfeeding more often, is spending longer at the breast, has become fussier or is waking more at night, know that these behaviours are very normal and are not signs that your baby is ready for solid food.