Breastfeeding Myths

by Jack Newman, MD, FRCPC

Some Breastfeeding Myths

1. Many women do not produce enough milk.
Not true!

The vast majority of women produce more than enough milk. Indeed, an overabundance of milk is common. Most babies that gain too slowly, or lose weight, do so not because the mother does not have enough milk, but because the baby does not get the milk that the mother has. The usual reason that the baby does not get the milk that is available is that he is poorly latched onto the breast. This is why it is so important that the mother be shown, on the first day, how to latch a baby on properly, by someone who knows what they are doing.

2. It is normal for breastfeeding to hurt.
Not true!

Though some tenderness during the first few days is relatively common, this should be a temporary situation that lasts only a few days and should never be so bad that the mother dreads breastfeeding. Any pain that is more than mild is abnormal and is almost always due to the baby latching on poorly. Any nipple pain that is not getting better by day three or four or lasts beyond five or six days should not be ignored. A new onset of pain when things have been going well for a while may be due to a yeast infection of the nipples. Limiting feeding time does not prevent soreness. Taking the baby off the breast for the nipples to heal should be a last resort only. (See Information Sheet Sore Nipples).

3. There is no (not enough) milk during the first three or four days after birth.
Not true!

It often seems like that because the baby is not latched on properly and therefore is unable to get the milk that is available. When there is not a lot of milk (as there is not, normally, in the first few days), the baby must be well latched on in order to get the milk. This accounts for "but he's been on the breast for 2 hours and is still hungry when I take him off". By not latching on well, the baby is unable to get the mother's first milk, called colostrum. Anyone who suggests you pump your milk to know how much colostrum there is, does not understand breastfeeding, and should be politely ignored. Once the mother's milk is abundant, a baby can latch on poorly and still may get plenty of milk, though good latching from the beginning, even in if the milk is abundant, prevents problems later on.

4. A baby should be on the breast 20 (10, 15, 7.6) minutes on each side.
Not true!

However, a distinction needs to be made between "being on the breast" and "breastfeeding". If a baby is actually drinking for most of 15-20 minutes on the first side, he may not want to take the second side at all. If he drinks only a minute on the first side, and then nibbles or sleeps, and does the same on the other, no amount of time will be enough.

The baby will breastfeed better and longer if he is latched on properly. He can also be helped to breastfeed better and longer if the mother compresses the breast to keep the flow of milk going, once he no longer drinks on his own (Information Sheet Breast Compression). Thus it is obvious that the rule of thumb that "the baby gets 90% of the milk in the breast in the first 10 minutes" is equally hopelessly wrong. To see how to know a baby is getting milk see the videos at nbci.ca.

5. A breastfeeding baby needs extra water in hot weather.
Not true!

Breastmilk contains all the water a baby needs.

6. Breastfeeding babies need extra vitamin D.
Not true!

Everyone needs vitamin D. Formula has it added at the factory. But the baby is born with a liver full of vitamin D, and breastmilk does have some vitamin D. Outside exposure allows the baby to get the rest of his vitamin D requirements from ultraviolet light even in winter. The baby does not need a lot of outside exposure and does not need outside exposure every day. Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin and is stored in the body. In some circumstances (for example, if the mother herself was vitamin D deficient during the pregnancy) it may be prudent to supplement the baby with vitamin D. Exposing the baby to sunlight through a closed window does not work to get the baby more vitamin D.