10 myths about breastfeeding

1. Women instinctively know how to breastfeed

FALSE: Many mothers assume that breastfeeding will come naturally and therefore will be easy. This is not always the case. Breastfeeding comes instinctively to most (but not all) babies; however for mothers breastfeeding is a learned skill. A skill that can be learned through 'trial and error' or learned from others with knowledge and experience in breastfeeding.

2. Doctors know about breastfeeding

RARELY: Occasionally a doctor may hold a special interest in breastfeeding and undertake additional education in this specialized area. However, very few doctors see this as relevant to their professional role. With some exceptions, doctors generally have very limited understanding of the practical aspects of helping a nursing mother to overcome breastfeeding difficulties. Sadly, it is often doctors who provide nursing mothers with misinformation regarding breastfeeding, which can lead to unnecessary weaning.

3. You can't overfeed a breastfed baby

FALSE: Nursing mothers are frequently told "it's not possible to overfeed a breastfed baby" but again this is not entirely true in every situation. If your baby is healthy and content he's not overfeeding. He may be gaining large amounts of weight and/or spit up occasionally and this can be perfectly normal.

However... if your baby is gaining large amounts of weight and ALSO experiences gastric symptoms, such as tummy pains, excessive gas, greenish watery bowel movements or spitting up large amounts, he may be feeding too frequently. (See our article on gastro-esophageal reflux and lactose overload to discover why these conditions are often associated with overfeeding.)

4. A baby will come off the breast when he has finished feeding

NOT ALWAYS: You may have been told "Your baby will come off by himself when he's finished!" this does not always happen. For many babies the need to suck goes beyond the need for nourishment. Some babies love to sleep in their mother's arms with her nipple in their mouth, and will remain latched on for hours on end. If the mother tries to remove her baby, he quickly searches for the breast again. This can be confusing for mothers and many become unnecessarily worried about their supply as a result.

5. Irritable infant behavior is often due to low supply

RARELY: Nearly every mother, at some stage, worries whether her baby is getting enough milk. When faced with difficult or irritable infant behavior nursing mothers often worry that their milk supply has decreased. Where a breastfed baby is healthy and thriving low supply is rarely the cause of irritability. (See How to tell when your baby is getting enough breast milk for more information.)

The no.1 reason breastfed babies are weaned to infant formula is due to a mistaken assumpton that the baby's irritability is a sign of hunger. If this assumption is incorrect, irritability will not only persist while bottle feeding, but the situation may become even more complicated by the many additional problems a bottle/formula fed baby can face.

6. Bottle feeding is easier than breastfeeding

FALSE: Although it requires less work for a baby to suck from a bottle than from the breast that doesn't mean bottle feeding is problem free. In fact, formula fed babies experience more feeding related problems than breastfed babies.

7. Formula is as good as breast milk

FALSE: There are over 100 different nutrients, hormones, enzymes and disease-fighting compounds in human milk, all in perfect balance to meet a baby's needs. Although infant formula provides a nutritionally balanced food to encourage healthy growth, formula feeding can never compete with the many benefits of breastfeeding.

8. A reflux baby will do better on formula than breastmilk

FALSE: Gastro-esophageal reflux affects formula and breastfed babies equally. Even the use of thickeners or an AR formula (anti-regurgitation formula) offers no guarantee that spitting up will decrease; it makes some babies worse. Due to young babies limited ability to control the flow of milk from an artificial nipple, there is an increased risk of overfeeding while bottle feeding. Overfeeding is associated with increased spitting up.

9. Colicky behavior is often due to something a nursing mother has eaten

RARELY: Although the possibility of a baby developing gastric symptoms due to a food or milk allergy or intolerance to something eaten by his mother exists, it sits well down on a very long list of possible causes of infant colic. It may prove beneficial to examine the possibility of some of the more common reasons for infant colic before heading down the path of what may well turn out to be unnecessary and unhelpful dietary restrictions.

10. If a baby has lactose intolerance she needs to be weaned onto soy or lactose-free formula

FALSE: It is EXTREMELY RARE for a baby to be born with primary lactose intolerance. Even where there is a strong family history, lactose intolerance rarely develops before the age of 4 years. However, secondary lactose, a temporary condition following a bout of gastroenteritis, can occur in infancy. Breast milk has healing properties that will assist a baby's gastrointestinal tract to recover faster and should be encouraged.

Lactose overload (functional lactase deficiency), which is a relatively common condition for breastfed infants in the early weeks and months, is often misdiagnosed as lactose intolerance. Breastfeeding should be continued as gastric symptoms can be reduced with simple feeding management.

WE CAN HELP you to increase your breastfeeding knowledge and confidence, by providing individualized advice regarding any difficulties you may experience caring for your breastfed baby.

Written by Rowena Bennett
RN, RM, RPN, CHN, IBCLC, Grad Dip Health Promotion and author of 'Your Sleepless Baby: The Rescue Guide'.

Added Aug 2004. Reviewed Aug 2008; Sept 2013.