Monday 21 March 2016

Top 10 Breastfeeding Myths

Poor old Jamie Oliver, he really has got it in the neck this last week.  He has been called all sorts of names simply for saying that breastfeeding is good and that mums need more support in doing it.

It sometimes seems like you can't say something positive about breastfeeding without being accused of being judgmental, putting pressure on women, or even being likened to a Nazi regime.

But we really have got to keep saying good things about breastfeeding, and we really have got to keep fighting for better support because the formula companies have millions of pounds to spend telling people that their product is really good and helping mums get to it and making sure they know about it. Funding for breastfeeding support is woefully poor, so if we don't use our voices to get the message across, what hope have we got against multi national, billion dollar companies? And the mad thing is that people supporting breastfeeding don't even do it for any financial gain!  We are doing it simply because we know how good it can be, how good it can be for mums and how good it can be for babies .  And on a personal level, I did it because I saw the the emotional pain women went through when they weren't able to achieve their breastfeeding goals and I wanted to help take that pain away. (I can assure you that the formula companies are not considering your emotional well being when they promote their product, despite how much they might like to appear like your best friend.)

It has really made me sad seeing the negativity surrounding breastfeeding that has been flying around social media this past week.  Many many women have been let down by the system and they are quite rightly burned.  But my concern is that with such a small voice in support of breastfeeding we risk putting generations of women off breastfeeding altogether.  When women are unsupported with their breastfeeding and things go wrong, they are often left to draw their own conclusions for why things didn't work out or are told false truths by family members and medical professionals alike which can derail their journeys.

So I wanted to take an opportunity to dispel a few of the myths surrounding breastfeeding that I have spotted over the past few days in the hope that it will fill women who are yet to embark on a breastfeeding journey with hope that breastfeeding is indeed good, and that the breastfeeding community is full of love and encouragement for other mums and mums to be.

1. Breastfeeding hurts:

Ok so, yes, sometimes breastfeeding hurts, BUT, and here is the big but, it doesn't have to hurt.  It shouldn't hurt.  If it hurts then that's a sign that something ain't quite right.  
There are a few possible causes to pain when breastfeeding. Sometimes it is quite simply that you have never had a baby suck on your nipple before and so it takes your body a little getting used to.  If pain persists though or there is cracking or bleeding, then it's important to get help.  Often a simple tweak to the position and attachment of the baby can solve feeding pain.  Sometimes it takes a little more investigation.  In rare cases a tongue tie might be to explain (a tongue tie means that baby is not able to draw the nipple to the back of the mouth, so it instead hits the hard pallet at the front of it's mouth, which can cause pain, but can be rectified fairly simply with a small surgical procedure) or a possible infection such as thrush (easily treatable when diagnosed).
The main thing to remember is that pain when breastfeeding is not inevitable, it's is not something to be expected and it is not something which should be tolerated.

2. Dad's find it harder to bond with their babies when mum's breastfeed:

There are many ways for dads to bond with their babies that don't include feeding.  Bathing, baby wearing, co-sleeping, cuddling, massage, playing together etc etc.  If dads weren't able to properly bond with their babies except through feeding then mother nature would have given men lactating breasts too.

3. Breastfeeding makes your boobs saggy:

There are three things that cause breasts to sag.  One is pregnancy.  Even if you decided not to breastfeed your body still grows breast tissue and prepares the body for breastfeeding.  Often this means your breasts grow bigger, causing them to stretch, but sometimes not, which is where I come onto the next reason for breasts sagging - genetics.  Some women will have boobs that sag, others won't, it's down to your genes.  And finally, aging.  You can't argue that gravity plays it's part in the downward direction of our breasts and over time (aging) gravity can take it's toll, unless you are one of the lucky ones (genetics).  Breastfeeding does not cause breasts to sag.

4. Breastfed babies wake more at night:

A recent study by Swansea University showed that all babies wake in the night and that what sort of milk a baby was fed did not affect the number of times they woke.

5. Breastfeeding takes longer:

Different mother and baby combinations make for different feeding times.  Some babies take a long time to feed, others take less time, they are all different. Sometimes babies will suck the breast for comfort which may have led to the myth that breastfeeding takes longer.

6. You have to eat a really healthy diet so your baby gets healthy milk:

Studies show that even mothers who would be considered moderately malnourished produce breast milk that is equal in quality to that of a well nourished mother.  It doesn't matter what you eat, your body makes excellent milk.

7. You can't drink (or eat curry, drink orange juice, etc) if you breastfeed:

It is perfectly safe to consume an alcoholic drink whilst breastfeeding.  The body is an excellent filter.  There are actually no food or drink restrictions with regard to breastfeeding.  Some mums find that different foods they eat affect their baby in different ways, but there are no hard and fast rules, it's all trial and error. But there is certainly no reason not to eat curry or cauliflower or grapes unless you discover any undesirable side effects in your baby. Here is some more information on alcohol and breastfeeding:

8. My boobs/nipples are too small/ too big to breastfeed:

Nipples and boobs come in all shapes and sizes and are not a reflection on the mother's ability to produce milk or feed her baby.  It is the amount of breast fat that usually affects the size of the breasts most significantly, but also the number of ducts can vary from woman to woman from between 4 and 9 per breast. However they work on a supply and demand basis so even if you have four there is no reason why our breasts would produce less milk. Nipples also come in different sizes and do not reflect an ability or not to breastfeed.   If mums experience difficulty getting their baby to latch and find that the size of their nipple is the reason, there is almost always a way to adjust the positioning so that the baby can latch effectively, a visit to a breastfeeding supporter can help find a comfortable position.

9. You can't breastfeed twins:

Women's bodies are designed to be able to sustain multiple births. Two babies, two boobs! Don't believe me, just ask on any good breastfeeding group. Unfortunately many mothers have been led to believe it is simply not possible.  I am here to say, with the right information and support, it is.


If you have had breast surgery you can't breastfeed:

It is very likely that after a breast reduction, or breast implants that you would still be able to breastfeed.  Check with your doctor before assuming you won't be able to breastfeed after having breast surgery. I have seen many women with both implants and reductions successfully breastfeed their babies.

Hopefully that has dispelled a few myths and maybe given some women confidence in their bodies ability to nourish their babies.


  1. Thank you for your breastfeeding support Helen! I struggled as a new mom because it was hard and comments especially negative or unsupportive made it even worse. Supporting breastfeeding mothers should not mean that it sets expectations to mothers who simply don't want to do it. It is to make sure that mothers who struggle are simply not getting put down about it because there is nothing more painful in the world than not being able to connect with your body and newborn the way you need to.
    Love this post X

    1. That's so true Cristiana. We are here to help the mums who WANT to breastfeed (that's about 75% of mothers) not to make the ones who choose not to feel bad.

  2. Great post! The fuss about Jamie Oliver doesn't change that bf is great once you get the hang of it (and support in the early stages really helps with that).

    1. Absolutely, we were still all trying really hard to help mums breastfeed before JO spoke out, but it's great to have a voice from someone in the public eye draw attention to the fact that mums need support.