I breastfeed my children. I breastfed my twins for 13 months. Currently I am exclusively breastfeeding my 10 month old son and plan to continue nursing him for several months still to come. And I love it! I think breastfeeding is better than formula (though I am not anti-formula at all. I supplemented my twins with formula), and love the close bond it allows with my children. I also love not having to deal with bottles! I hate bottles (said the women who supplemented twins without a dishwasher)!
However, I didn’t always love breastfeeding. Breastfeeding hurts! And it’s awkward at times. I struggled through the first several weeks of nursing twins, often being surprised that what I had heard and what I had read about breastfeeding wasn’t all true. I found that there are many lies, misconceptions, and breastfeeding myths floating around out there.
To see if I was alone or not in my breastfeeding surprises, I recently asked on my What’s up Fagans? Facebook fan page what nursing moms found the most surprising, what they thought they were lied about in regards to breastfeeding. I was surprised at the amount of engagements and comments I received on the matter! So, I decided to write this post, hoping to clear some of the air, and share the true (painful) reality of breastfeeding, from the mouths of nursing moms themselves (and not those well-intentioned medical professionals and groups).
The following are 11 breastfeeding myths and lies. However, because all women are different, as well as all babies, some may be true for you.
Breastfeeding Myths and Lies
1. If you are doing it right, it shouldn’t hurt.
This one is the biggest, fattest lies about breastfeeding for me and pretty much every nursing mom I know. Breastfeeding hurts! It hurts for a multiple of reasons: engorgement, mastitis, clogged ducts, poor latch, biting, chomping, and pumping. Even if you are doing it right, breastfeeding will hurt! As one of my friends put it “The people that say if shouldn’t hurt, probably never nursed…” One of my friends said that the pain of breastfeeding was worse than her three unmedicated births! She said “Breastfeeding will kick your butt” and cause you “tense up your whole body, make your toes curl kind of pain.”
While a poor latch from your child can cause extra pain and discomfort (one of my twins wouldn’t open her mouth very big and boy did it hurt even more when nursing her), that is only one of the reasons you will experience pain. The reality is, your nipples are not used to constant sucking, and until they toughen up, it will hurt. Nipple creams and things can help, but expect your nipples to be sore, raw, and/or bleeding for at least the first 6-10 weeks.
2. Engorgement only happens when your milk comes in.
In all my reading and breastfeeding courses I had heard that you will experience some engorgement when your milk comes in, but that it should stop after a day or two. What a lie! Engorgement can happen any time during your stint as a breastfeeding mother!
I was so unprepared for this reality of breastfeeding and what it would mean. If your child goes on a hunger strike or experiences an illness, and doesn’t nurse well for a day, expect engorgement.
If your child (blessedly) sleeps through the night (like my twins did, and my son used to ever so long ago), expect engorgement by the morning, and don’t expect to sleep yourself. Because the truth is your engorged breasts will cause you such discomforting, agonizing pain, often leaking milk all over yourself, your clothes, and your bed, that you cannot enjoy the 10-12 hour respite! Engorged breasts are swollen, tender to the touch, and worthy of an adult film. With a swollen chest, it is often hard to lift your arms, wear bras and T-shirts comfortably, and more. Engorged breasts are just another way that breastfeeding hurts!
Because the truth is your engorged breasts will cause you such discomforting, agonizing pain, often leaking milk all over yourself, your clothes, and your bed, that you cannot enjoy the 10-12 hour respite! Engorged breasts are swollen, tender to the touch, and worthy of an adult film. With a swollen chest, it is often hard to lift your arms, wear bras and T-shirts comfortably, and more. Engorged breasts are just another way that breastfeeding hurts!
My solution? Get a breast pump. Stat!
Engorgement is also very common when you are trying to stop breastfeedingbreastfeeding.
3. Breastfeeding comes naturally. It’s simple.
Just because breast milk is an all-natural way of feeding our offspring does not mean it comes naturally. It is not simple. You both have to figure it out. As one nursing mom said:
Nursing is promoted as natural and simple, and that ‘the breast is best!’ when in reality, nothing about nursing (twins especially) feels natural, or is simple, at first. It is embarrassing, awkward, messy, and it hurts. For weeks, not just the first day. And though my babies took to it quickly, a lot of babies don’t. Moms with the best intentions end up feeling inadequate, and often give up too soon.
Your tiny newborn babies can’t support themselves or their heads. They’re super sleepy at first and don’t often want to nurse. Sometimes women’s bodies don’t produce milk like it should, or your letdown is slow, or a host of other things that complicate this natural process. While it seems simple on paper (Bring baby to boob. Babe suckles for 5-30 minutes. Baby’s fed! All done!) it really isn’t for many women. Some never get their milk to come in. Some don’t produce enough milk. Some babies can’t suckle properly. Though breastfeeding is a natural, animalistic quality of human women, the reality is that it doesn’t necessarily come naturally, nor simply (why do you think you have to take breastfeeding classes?).
4. Breastfeeding moms lose that baby weight!
Many women are fed this breastfeeding myth. And many women get frustrated hearing it because it is a lie for them!
While nursing does mean you burn extra calories, it’s not that many calories (~300 a day). Even while nursing twins (and its extra caloric burn), it took me months and months to finally lose all of that baby weight. With my singleton, it took me 10 months to lose those last five pounds, and it was only through diet and exercise.
Breastfeeding is not a guaranteed weight loss tactic.
If you want to shed some weight while nursing, read this post with 11 ways how to lose weight breastfeeding.
5. Introducing a pacifier or a bottle at the hospital (or in the first two weeks) will give your baby nipple confusion.
Just like the last point, this is one of those things that may or may not happen, but tends to just freak out new parents. They are so afraid of nipple confusion, that they postpone introducing pacifiers, or using bottles, sometimes to the detriment of their sanity. I know plenty of nursing mothers who introduced a pacifier or bottle the first day and still successfully breastfed, without a lousy latch or poor sucking patterns later on.
6. Since milk is full of natural anti-bodies your baby won’t get sick.
This is one of the things that breastfeeding advocates love to talk about. It is quite amazing that our bodies create exactly what our babies need, when they need it. But, despite creating these great anti-bodies, breastfed babies will still get sick. My twins got sick. My 10-month old, exclusively breastfed, son has had pneumonia, runny noses, coughs, and the flu in his short life. Breast milk is not a cure-all and will not prevent your son or daughter from getting sick.
7. Breastfed babies will always wake up during the night to feed.
Despite the fact that breast milk is easier to digest than formula for baby’s little tummies, breastfed babies can sleep through the night without having to nurse. My twins slept the the night for months starting at around four months old. My son slept the night by about six weeks old (and then stopped, mostly, by about four months). There have been numerous studies done on the subject of new mom sleep and many prove this breastfeeding myth is indeed false. So, don’t let this breastfeeding lie deter you from nursing. You’ll likely get just as much sleep (or more) as your bottle-feeding counterparts.
8. Breastfed babies aren’t overweight or obese.
People love to look at statistics about obese babies and the higher percentage of them that are bottle-fed. But, just because one child is formula fed, doesn’t mean he will be obese. And just because a child is breastfed, it doesn’t mean they won’t be overweight. (Honestly, I think it’s ridiculous in any case to label a 10-month old as obese…). I have seen some skinny, tiny formula-fed babies, and some crazy chunky breastfed babies.
9. If you send your baby to the hospital nursery, they will never breastfeed well.
One nursing mom had a “well-intentioned” nurse at the hospital who kept telling her that sending her baby to the nursery would mean a poor start to breastfeeding. It didn’t. There are other lies similar to this one, like if you don’t hold and try to nurse your baby immediately after birth that breastfeeding will be difficult (I didn’t see Alison for hours after delivery, and she nursed perfectly the very first time). Then there are those nurses and doctors who insist you supplement at the hospital, especially if your child has jaundice (like two of my nursing friends had happen to them). But, both later didn’t feel like that was as necessary as they were pressured into believing.
10. Exclusively breastfeeding means your period won’t come back!
While I never actually heard of this while reading up on pregnancy and breastfeeding, it definitely seemed to be a popular topic among breastfeeding women themselves, and why some women don’t want to stop breastfeeding: they don’t want their period to come back! However, there is no guarantee that if you breastfeed, your period won’t come back. Some women, like my unlucky self, have their regular period come back by about three or four months postpartum, despite nursing exclusively and/or nursing twins. Other women may have a light period or spotting.
11. Breastfeeding is a natural birth control. You can’t get pregnant while nursing.
I don’t know many people who don’t know that this is a big, fat lie, but in case you don’t know, you absolutely CAN get pregnant while breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is not a natural birth control. In fact, you can get pregnant very shortly after giving birth, even before your period returns (see the previous point on that…). So, be smart and careful if you don’t want your children born a year apart.
The Real Reality of Breastfeeding
Despite all of these breastfeeding “lies” and the surprises that come once you start breastfeeding, one of my fans beautifully said:
I was surprised about the bond I feel with my daughter and how much I look forward to nursing her. On the days I work, I really miss those nursing sessions.
Isn’t that a happy surprise of breastfeeding?
I also love nursing my children because of the one-on-one, motherly time it affords us. This was especially true when nursing my twins. I didn’t tandem feed (though check out this post on How do you do it? to learn more about tandem feeding twins) very often because I preferred the individual time with each of my twins, even if it meant listening to the other one cry in their crib the whole time.
Because, the real reality of breastfeeding is that it is a beautiful experience. Your body, your milk, is your child’s life force! You are, in a very powerful way, helping your tiny little babe grow into a not so tiny version of you (or your partner). It is while breastfeeding that I feel like a better mother, because I am personally giving life to my child, sustaining them, comforting them. And my child loves me even more for it. I love creating a unique, loving bond between me and my child.
Plus, after the first three months, breastfeeding doesn’t hurt very often, I develop my groove, my child develops their, and the whole breastfeeding process doesn’t take very long at all.
There a host of great reasons why I choose to breastfeed. So tell me, readers, what do you love about breastfeeding? But, what were some of the surprises you’ve had along the way?
As a follow-up of this post I share seven things I think lactation consultants should be teaching at breastfeeding classes. Please share this post and my other one so we can help empower women on their breastfeeding journey.