Breastfeeding myths/old wives' tales

Here we publish old wives' tales and other myths about breastfeeding.

By courtesy of BDL - Berufsverband Deutscher Laktationsberaterinnen IBCLC e.V.,, compiled by Gudrun von der Ohe, doctor and IBCLC.

The amount of fluid the mother drinks affects the quantity of milk.

Wrong! Neither will plenty of drinking produce more milk nor will drinking little reduce milk production. Drinking plenty of fluid results in frequent urination, drinking only little may cause dizziness or even fainting. Breastfeeding women should follow their feeling of being thirsty. The quantity of milk is influenced by the frequency and duration of feeding.

Let us hope that our society will soon return to a more favourable attitude towards breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding is to be blamed for everything.

Wrong! Family members, health care staff, neighbours and friends tend to blame breastfeeding if the mother and/or the child are tired, nervous, whiny or ill. Whenever something happens which does not fit into the picture-perfect family, the mother will be advised to stop breastfeeding – sadly so! Let us hope that our society will soon return to a more favourable attitude towards breastfeeding.

Milk supply is not sufficient in the evening.

Wrong! Infants all over the world get more fidgety in the evening – irrespective of whether or not they are breastfed. Just image yourself being invited to an 8-course dinner. That's what our little ones also want. After such a dinner, they will often sleep up to five hours which is also referred to as "cluster feeding." This way, the infants get enough energy for the night. At the same time, the frequent feeding reserves enough milk for the next day.

By the end of the breastfeeding period, breastfeeding infants will have 7-12 feeds per day as a minimum.

Wrong! During the first 4-6 weeks, these numbers are normal taking cluster feeding into consideration. Afterwards, feeding frequency will develop individually. Some babies maintain this frequency, others require feeding less often. The key factor is the gain in weight.

There must be a pause of two hours between two feeds.

Wrong! This is an arbitrary determination. Frequent breastfeeding does not lead to stomach ache, not even when the stomach was not emptied completely. The important aspect is that a baby drinks the hindmilk which is rich in energy. To be honest: Will you get a stomach ache if you eat a sweetie, for example, shortly after having eaten? When breastfeeding, short intervals are permitted. Whoever claims the contrary shows how little knowledge about breastfeeding he or she has.

My milk is too thin or it's bad for my child. My baby's hunger cannot be satisfied.

Wrong! The breast milk of all mothers corresponds to the needs of their individual baby. 85 % of breast milk are made up of water to cover the fluid requirement. The other components mainly include fat, lactose and protein in a ratio which is perfectly adjusted to the human baby. If you allow expressed milk to stand, the fat will settle to the top. The milk underneath might have a bluish colour which is normal. Gently heat and swirl the milk to remix the fat again into the milk.

If the mom ate something wrong, her baby will suffer from a stomach ache.

Wrong! There is no breastfeeding diet. Never before have we had such ample possibilities of choosing our food as in the last 50 years. In former times, people were happy to have something to eat at all. And the kids were not more badly off at that time. However, you should avoid tasting extraordinary food you haven't tried before.

Breastfeeding causes pendulous breasts.

Wrong! The shape of the breasts is defined genetically. During a pregnancy, the breast is prepared for breastfeeding. This change will take place irrespective of whether the mom-to-be plans to breastfeed. After pregnancy or breastfeeding, it takes some time until the glandular tissue has arranged again and the fat content increases again. Eventually, the breasts will gain their original shape. The largest changes occur during pregnancy and by ageing in general. Whoever does not want changes of the breast has to avoid both.

Breastfeeding must be interrupted with many diseases or when taking medicine.

Wrong! There are only but a few diseases of a mother when breastfeeding has to be stopped, like e.g. when the mother suffers from HIV infection. When medicine has to be taken, products are available which are tolerable during breastfeeding. Individual face-to-face consultation by competent lactation experts is required.

Babies who are completely full at night will sleep better.

Wrong! This is an argument widely used by the baby food industry to increase the consumption of baby mash especially at bedtime. Unfortunately, this works neither for us adults nor for the infants. We adults should have something light at night for a better sleep. A baby's sleeping behaviour is different from that of adults. However, most babies will not wake up at night because they feel hungry but due to other reasons. They tend to fall asleep again when being breastfed. Breastfeeding makes both baby and mom tired.

After the sixth month of life, infants shall not be breastfed at night anymore.

Wrong! There are no scientific studies at all on this topic, but there is widespread copying from each other. Babies will neither get used to nocturnal eating for the rest of their lives nor will it make them fat. Nocturnal breastfeeding does not overfeed an infant. However, the babies shall gradually gain in weight. Besides, breastfeeding is far more than mere nutrition, it satisfies all needs.

After 6, 7, 10, ... months after delivery, the breast belongs to the husband again, it's time for the mother to start weaning.

Wrong! The way in which a pair handles sex after pregnancy is a very individual issue and independent of breastfeeding. In general, the bosom belongs to the woman, and neither to the child nor husband.

If a woman is pregnant again, she must stop breastfeeding.

Wrong! There is no study which would confirm that breastfeeding interferes with being pregnant. However, it can be very stressful for the mother. Besides, the nipples will become more sensitive at the beginning of the next pregnancy. Nevertheless, ablactation is recommended for mothers with a tendency of premature deliveries. With a new pregnancy, the composition of the milk will turn closer to that of colostrum and its taste may change slightly. Breastfeeding during a new pregnancy is an individual decision to be made by the respective family.

Extended breastfeeding longer than a year spoils the infant.

Wrong! The global strategy of infant nutrition recommends exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months of live worldwide. After that, appropriate complementary food can be introduced in combination with continued breastfeeding up to two years and longer. How long an infant will be breastfed is the individual decision of each family. It seems as if industrialised societies have their own myths why breastfeeding should not be prolonged: In the UK, they say that long breastfeeding leads to homosexual children (irrespective of sex), in Germany, they are afraid of harmful substances in the milk, while sexual abuse is feared in the US. Studies which would confirm the statements do not exist.

White food, like cream, milk and yogurt, make milk.

Wrong! Blame it on the dairy industry. The key factor which influences the quantity of milk is the breastfeeding frequency. Frequent breastfeeding, sufficiently long feeding and changing breasts during breastfeeding (right, left, right, left) will increase the quantity of milk. Food has hardly any influence. However, fenugreek seed or vitamin B can increase milk production.

With each feeding, both breasts must be emptied to avoid plugged ducts.

Wrong! A breast can never be emptied since it does not work like a bottle. Milk is produced permanently. After feeding, the breasts should feel softer. Breastfeeding for an adequate time on one side and on the other as required or changing sides after some time will be adequate. Plugged ducts are caused by stress which, in turn, may have different causes.

I must not practise any sports while breastfeeding. Otherwise, my milk will get sour and the baby doesn't want to drink the spoiled milk.

Wrong! All breastfeeding moms can exercise. During breastfeeding time, it is all the more important to start slowly so that the body can adjust to the work out. Sore muscles are a sign of overstraining. The taste of the milk may vary after excessive exercising. However, this does not have any negative effect on the infant's health. The milk is neither bad nor spoiled.

Breastfeeding leads to a loss of hair.

Wrong! During pregnancy, everything is geared to maintaining, and the normal loss of hair is also reduced. About three months after delivery, the loss of hair is made up for and the amount of hair might be lower temporarily. This phenomenon occurs irrespective of breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding undermines the mother's health who loses more and more weight. The infant exhausts the mother.

Wrong! In general, the female body created some reserves during pregnancy. Breastfeeding helps a mother to return to her pre-pregnancy weight more easily. Having a child is challenging. New mothers should take care to deliberately look after themselves. Most of the time, they think of themselves last. The baby, older children, husband and household have priority. It will help the mothers to treat themselves: An afternoon nap, e.g., is not luxury but should be obligatory for any new mom, irrespective of whether or not she is breastfeeding. Being a mom means to be present 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year – without legally defined rests. No employee is expected to cope with such a situation. Mothers need our support!

Preparing for breastfeeding

Composition of breast milk

How long shall I breastfeed?

You are invited to tell us other tales and myths you encounter in your daily work which we might include in the list.