Breastfeeding can be a controversial topic. Some people become enraged at mothers breastfeeding in public, and others become angry at mothers who refuse to give breastfeeding a chance. The topic gets brought up a lot among moms, and unfortunately a lot of myths have begun to circulate about the practice. So here are four of the biggest breastfeeding myths and why you really shouldn't worry too much about them.
Myth 1: You need big breasts to breastfeed.
One of the biggest myths about breastfeeding is that large breasts are either essential or ideal. But this could not be further from the truth. Women with small breasts can and do breastfeed; size does not matter when it comes to feeding ability. Large breasts are so big because of fatty tissue, and fatty tissue in the breasts has no relation to milk production.
In fact, women with large breasts often have more difficulties breastfeeding than other women. Women with big breasts often run into practical problems in breastfeeding, like helping the infant latch while also supporting the large breast. Or if a woman has short nipples (which is not uncommon among large breasted women), the infant may find it difficult to properly latch at all. Simply put, large breasts may make attachment more difficult for the infant and result in a less than ideal feeding experience. It is for this reason that some literature
refers to large breasts as an obstacle in breastfeeding
This is not to say that large-breasted women cannot breastfeed; they usually can and many do. But the idea that large breasts are better is simply a myth.
Myth 2: It is normal for breastfeeding to hurt.
Pain is often a part of the breastfeeding process, but rarely does it need to be. Though your breasts may ache somewhat before the baby is born, the actual process of breastfeeding need not be painful at all. If there is pain, its likely that something has gone wrong.
In one study, 77% of breastfeeding participants did not report any breastfeeding pain at all during the first year of feeding. Of the 23% that did report some breastfeeding pain, the two biggest reasons for the pain were mastitis (a breast tissue infection) and candida (a fungus). A small minority reported nipple tenderness during breastfeeding. However, nipple pain during breastfeeding is often the result of “poor latch-on and positioning, oral anomalies, and suckling disorders.”
Simply put, breastfeeding pain is often a sign that something is wrong. Most mothers experience very little if any pain, and expecting mothers should not expect to deal with any kind of significant pain during breastfeeding.
Myth 3: You can’t get pregnant while breastfeeding.
This myth is particularly interesting. Breastfeeding is a legitimate form of birth control.
Less than 1 out of 100 women who properly practice continuously breastfeeding become pregnant. Breastfeeding prevents a certain hormones from being released which in turn suppresses ovulation. This makes for an effective birth control method.
And this birth control method has been verified by numerous scientific studies. A study published by Cambridge University Press found that prolonged breast-feeding “has a birth-spacing effect and postpones the next pregnancy by inhibiting ovulation and by delaying resumption of the menstrual cycle.”
A separate study notes that “In general, it would appear that the more frequent and the longer the episodes of breastfeeding, the longer will be the period of anovulation, and the longer the period of infertility.” Breastfeeding really does qualify as birth control.
However, the claim that “You can’t get pregnant while breastfeeding” is still a myth. Effective birth control does not equal perfect birth control. You can still get pregnant while breastfeeding, especially if you are not breastfeeding continuously. If you ever go more than four hours without breastfeeding, you increase the probability that you will become pregnant. And even if you do breastfeed continuously, there is still a small chance that you will become pregnant anyway.
Myth 4: Frequent nursing can lead to postpartum depression.
This myth is simply not supported by the data. There really is not a good reason to think that breastfeeding causes depressive symptoms. In fact, there might be a case asserting that breastfeeding helps prevent postpartum depression (although this is not known conclusively).
Multiple studies have actually found a link between postpartum depression and not breastfeeding. That’s right; the link is between postpartum depression and NOT breastfeeding. Mothers who do not breastfeed are apparently more likely to suffer for postpartum depression.
However, we do not know if the lack of breastfeeding actually causes the depression. It could be that a completely separate problem causes both breastfeeding issues and postpartum depression (leading to the correlation found by the studies cited above). But the fact that breastfeeding mothers are LESS likely to suffer from postpartum depression than bottle-feeding mothers does seem to completely destroy the myth that nursing somehow causes postpartum depression.
Disclaimer: To be clear, we at Tiny Needs do not endorse any one form of feeding for all mothers. We understand that each baby is different, and sometimes formula-feeding might be the correct option. (We even review some wonderful products that make formula feeding a lot easier!) However, we also recognize that breastfeeding sometimes gets an unnecessarily bad reputation, and we hate to see any good parents be misinformed!