Skip to main content

NewFolks may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site.

Myths about breastfeeding – debunked

Breastfeeding facts vs. myths: 5 common misnomers about breastfeeding

For centuries, breast milk has sustained human babies. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend exclusively breastfeeding for at least six months and continuing, along with solid foods, from around that time through six years.

In an updated policy statement in 2022, the APP cited breastfeeding could reduce the risk for diseases and conditions like obesity for the baby, lower breast cancer rates in the lactating parents, and promote a bond between the caregiver and baby. Despite the benefits and centuries of parents who have breastfed, there are many myths around the topic.

Related Videos

It’s a problem. Misinformation about breastfeeding can cause parents to stop before they would like. A 2021 study suggested that interruption of exclusive breastfeeding and increased stress levels put mothers more at risk for postpartum depression. Separating breastfeeding facts from fiction is essential in helping parents meet their goals. Let’s debunk some common ones.

Woman breastfeeding older infant outside

Breastfeeding is easy

This statement is a myth for so many reasons that it’s nearly impossible to name them all. Breastfeeding is hard, particularly at first. The process involves two people who are just getting to know one another. Some babies struggle to latch at first. Shallow latches can cause pain, cracked nipples, and bleeding. Newborns feed very frequently — sometimes every 90 minutes or even shorter intervals. Feeds can also take longer as the newborn learns to transfer milk efficiently. It can be all-consuming and painful.

In time, with the proper support, it’s possible for most parents and babies to enjoy breastfeeding. international board-certified lactation consultants (IBCLC) are highly trained in breastfeeding and the roles the parent, baby, and even support system (like another parent) can play. They can help you work through poor latches, slow weight gain, and confidence.

Baby girl with a dark red headlband breastfeeding

Milk loses nutritional value when the baby turns a year old

Solids become a child’s primary source of nutrition after their first birthday, but breastmilk doesn’t suddenly lose nutritional value. A 2001 study found that breast milk continued to provide significant amounts of critical nutrients, including fat and protein, even after a child turned 1. For this reason, the WHO has recommended breastfeeding for at least two years. The AAP’s policy statement caught the agency up.

Of course, toddlers can and will get nutrients from solids. A lactating parent can wean at whatever time is best for them and their baby, and they should feel empowered to make that choice without judgment either way.

Woman breastfeeding under a blanket

If the latch looks good and doesn’t hurt, the baby is transferring milk effectively

A good, pain-free latch is a positive sign, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the baby is properly transferring milk from the breast or chest. Sleepy feeding and oral dysfunction, such as tongue ties, can affect how much the infant takes.

Since breastfeeding is a game of supply and demand, ineffective transfer is problematic. If the infant isn’t demanding enough by drinking it, the lactating parent’s body won’t think it needs to make more milk. This issue can affect milk supply and cause the parent to think they have chronic low supply, which is a rare issue.

Working with an IBCLC to do weighted feeds can ensure a baby is getting enough milk. An IBCLC cannot diagnose ties, but they can flag the potential for one and refer the family to a pediatric dentist for further evaluation. Finally, they can set you up with a feeding plan that follows two critical rules: 1. Feed the baby (which may include supplementing with pumped milk from the parent, donor milk, or formula temporarily) and 2. Protect milk supply.

A mom and baby breastfeeding

It’s not possible to make enough milk to feed your baby

Unlike bottles, you can’t tell how much a breastfed baby takes unless you do a weighted feed, which is best done with a lactation professional using a hospital-grade scale. This breastfeeding fact can worry parents, especially at first. If the baby is fussy, frequently waking to feed, or not gaining weight appropriately, the default reason is often to blame the parent’s milk supply. In fact, perceived low milk supply is a common reason for early weaning, according to research, including a 2022 study.

Some conditions, like thyroid dysfunction, diabetes, and insufficient granular tissue (IGT), can cause chronic low milk supply. However, most parents can make enough to feed their babies with the appropriate information and support. It’s unclear how many people this applies to, but experts say it’s generally less than 5%.

Mom breastfeeding and manual breast pump on the table

Breastfeeding has to be all or nothing

Also not true. People with actual chronic low milk supply can breastfeed and supplement with donor milk or formula. Also, remember, pumping is breastfeeding, too. If you need to return to work or want a night out, it’s possible to pump to replace the feed and give expressed milk to a baby. Breastfeeding can be a wonderful bond, but exclusive nursing or exclusive human milk feeding is not possible or desirable for everyone. What’s important is that everyone feels supported, informed, and empowered in their decisions.

Breastfeeding is supposed to be natural, but sometimes it doesn’t feel that way, especially at first. It’s important to separate breastfeeding facts from myths so people who want the experience can have it. What’s more, human milk provides key nutrients, protection from diseases, and plenty of built-in snuggle time. IBCLCs are highly trained in lactation and can provide evidence-based information on breastfeeding, pumping, obtaining donor milk, and even formula feeding. You can breastfeed for as long as you want. You don’t have to wean when your child is 1, but you can also stop one day and feel proud you gave your baby what you could.

Editors' Recommendations

What is normal teen sexual behavior? We’ve got answers to help you understand your teenager
Read this to find out if your teen's sexual behavior is "normal"
Two teenagers on a date outside

What can parents actually expect when their kids turn into teens and start exploring their sexuality? It can be an uncomfortable subject, but being educated about typical sexual development and what your teen may be hearing from their peers is important to make sure you can talk openly with your child about protection, consent, risk reduction, and other issues.
Teens will be talking about sex and exploring this new part of their lives eventually and it's perfectly natural. Having your head in the sand won't make it go away, so the information below will prepare you with information to tackle this new stage of parenting.

The onset of puberty is what can start the beginning of this stage of life for teens, but it doesn't mean they're ready for sex; just that they may start experiencing sexual thoughts like crushes or urges like feeling aroused. On average, puberty begins between ages 8 and 14.

Read more
Going through the IVF process? Here’s what to expect
Ready for the IVF process? The steps and expectations from start to finish
A woman undergoing an ultrasound

Because of modern science, the birds and the bees aren’t precisely what they used to be. The rise of assisted reproductive technology (ART) has given parents ways of conceiving besides intercourse.

More than 8 million babies have been born via in vitro fertilization (IVF) since its inception in 1978 and 2018. In 2019, more than 83,000 babies were born via ART, according to CDC data. It’s unclear how many of those were from the IVF process, but the CDC notes it’s the most common form of ART.

Read more
5 things you should never say to a pregnant woman
She's already cranky, puffed, and exhausted. Please don't make it worse with these common questions for pregnant women
Pregnant married woman standing in a floral gown

These lists are sometimes hard to compile because of the beautiful complexity and differences between women. What may be offensive to one may be exactly what another needs to hear. Women, particularly pregnant women, are multidimensional, deeply thinking, individualistic human beings, and there is no "one-size-fits-all" list that applies to everyone.
However, there does seem to be an invisible boundary of privacy that drops when a woman is expecting a child. In a time when she is very likely uncertain, nervous, and potentially bombarded with any number of questions, swimming in a pool of nerves, people think this is the time to invade her space.
Most of these are well-intentioned questions, habitual, even. Rightfully so, people are excited and happy at the sight of a pregnant woman, and sometimes in that joy, manners can slip. It's important to keep in mind that many women -- particularly the more introverted ones -- are uncomfortable with all the new attention they're probably receiving. For the women who don't relish having these conversations with their family members, friends, hairstylists, and strangers in the produce section, these questions can be very awkward. Keep reading to find out the things you should never say to a pregnant woman.

'Are you going to breastfeed?'
This one is usually said with an air of haughtiness that also says, "It is the best choice, you know. Any mother who doesn’t breastfeed is just the absolute worst and shouldn’t be allowed to have children if only because of her shocking selfishness."
Ladies (and gentlemen), think about this one for a moment. While, as mentioned above, your intentions are undoubtedly lovely and kind, you may very well be deeply offending the already uncomfortable pregnant woman you’re talking to. Take into consideration that there are many reasons her answer to this question may be (gasp) "No."
Perhaps she has a medical issue that prevents her from breastfeeding. Perhaps she has a deeply rooted psychological reason she’s chosen not to. Perhaps she just feels icky about the whole thing, and despite her best efforts, just can’t move past it. Whatever the reason, she already knows breastfeeding is the healthiest and “best” option without you telling her so.
She doesn’t need to know that it’s what you did and that your babies were just healthy little horses. She doesn’t need to hear that feeding her precious, unborn baby formula is the equivalent of feeding it Tang instead of freshly squeezed orange juice. She’s thought about her choice more than you have; whatever that choice is, it's really none of your business.

Read more