Breastfeeding myths: From low milk-supply to diet

Aug 11, 2010 at 4:20 p.m. ET

Is it true many women can't produce enough milk to breastfeed? Does breastfeeding cause saggy breasts? Is there a breastfeeding diet you should be on? As a mother, it’s virtually impossible to escape the great breastfeeding debate. When making decisions about your baby’s nutrition, it’s important to distinguish the facts from all the breastfeeding myths that seem to circulate freely.

Woman breastfeeding baby

Before you move forward in your quest for breastfeeding truth, let's debunk some common myths with certified doula, childbirth educator and breastfeeding counselor Jennifer Zorich.

Myth: A lot of women can't produce enough milk to breastfeed

Fact: Although the most common problem Zorich sees in her practice is inadequate milk supply, only about 2 percent of women actually have low milk-supply due to surgery or hormone imbalances. "I rarely find any indication of an actual supply problem, but rather 'latch' problems, which cause the baby to take in insufficient amounts of milk at a feeding, resulting in slow or low weight gain," says Zorich.

Get tips here for getting baby to latch on correctly during breastfeeding. >>

Myth: Breastfeeding causes breasts to sag

Fact: This is a big concern for many women, but the truth is that a myriad of factors beyond nursing can cause sagging breasts, including hormonal changes, weight changes, smoking, poor nutrition and genetics. Still, your post-nursing breasts probably won't be exactly the same as your pre-baby pair. "Since breastfeeding also provides health benefits for the mother, like reducing the risk of breast cancer, slight changes in the breast tissue seem like a small price to pay," says Zorich.

Myth: Breastfeeding moms can eat whatever they want and continue to lose the 'baby weight'

Fact: Nursing does help burn a large number of calories, but the quality of a mom's caloric intake is still very important. Eating whatever you want is not a wise strategy when you're breastfeeding. It's all about making educated choices when it comes to food. "Restaurant burgers are notoriously high in fat and calories," advises Zorich. "A bison burger would be a better choice than a beef burger in a restaurant. Avocado, almonds and eggs are high in protein and nutrient-dense, which are ideal for nursing mothers."

Myth: If a mother is not eating a high-quality diet she shouldn't breastfeed

Fact: Moms who are not able to eat exceptionally well may assume that their milk isn't nutritious enough for their baby. While eating a healthy diet is ideal for emotional and physical well-being, the inability to do so should not completely eliminate your option to nurse. "Mothers in Third World countries breastfeed," says Zorich. "Women have breastfed during famine, holocaust and war. Fertility is more affected by stress and diet than milk production is."

Myth: Breastfeeding mothers get less sleep than their formula-feeding counterparts

Fact: Many moms believe that their chosen feeding strategy is harder than the alternative when it comes to sleep. But it's complicated.

"Several studies have been conducted exploring the sleep patterns of nursing moms versus formula-feeding moms," says Zorich. "One of them found that at four weeks postpartum, exclusively breastfeeding moms slept an average of 20 minutes less than formula feeding moms."

Twenty minutes may sound like a lot to a tired mommy, but keep in mind, "breastfeeding gets increasingly easier and more efficient, while bottle-feeding always requires washing, mixing, and time to hold the baby and feed her with the bottle," says Zorich. Of course, as a mother, you are empowered to make the decision that is right for you and your baby, but it's always best to collect truthful information rather than rely on myths. Whichever path you choose, happy feeding!

More breastfeeding tips: