If you’re pregnant or planning to become pregnant, you’ll ultimately need to choose a feeding plan for your baby: breast milk or formula. You’ve probably heard about the significant benefits to breastfeeding, but you’ve also probably heard that nursing your baby can potentially present challenges.
If you decide formula feeding is the right choice for you, don’t worry. Breastfeeding is not the only way for your baby to thrive—your infant will still grow healthy and strong on formula. But if you want the additional benefits of breastfeeding, you may feel a bit intimidated. That’s understandable—when it comes to feeding babies, there’s a lot of misinformation out there.
In honor of National Breastfeeding Awareness Month, check out these common myths about breastfeeding—and learn to separate fact from fiction:
MYTH: You and your baby can figure out breastfeeding without outside help—after all, it’s supposed to be natural.
FACT: A little help never hurts. According to the International Lactation Consultant Association, working with a professional lactation consultant can help moms figure out the best position for successful feeding and how to help their baby get a good latch—that is, the way the baby’s mouth connects to your breast. Lactation consultants are also a great resource for slightly more challenging situations, such as breastfeeding twins or preemies and managing breastfeeding after returning to work.
MYTH: Breastfeeding is bound to hurt.
FACT: While you may experience some tenderness when you begin breastfeeding (and may get a nip or two once your baby’s teeth come in), nursing shouldn’t be painful. According to WebMD, there may be several reasons why your nipples or breast hurt during feeding—and they are all issues that can be remedied. Nipple pain may be the result of a poor latch. Feeding in a different position can be a big help. Sore or lumpy breasts may be caused by a clogged milk duct or the start of mastitis, a common infection of the mammary gland. Warm compresses, cabbage leaves and massage can help with clogged ducts. On the other hand, mastitis (an infection of the breast tissue) may require a trip to your primary care provider for an antibiotic prescription.
MYTH: Many women simply can’t produce enough milk to satisfy a growing baby.
FACT: Many women are able to produce more breast milk than their baby needs. When infants fail to put on weight while breastfeeding, it’s often because they are having difficulty latching. Working with a professional lactation consultant from day one can help assure that breastfed babies are getting the sustenance they need. They can also help you figure out if the problem truly is low milk supply, which does happen for some women.
MYTH: You need to exclusively breastfeed to gain any of the benefits of breastfeeding.
FACT: For a variety of reasons—from low milk supply to not having the time or space to pump when they return to work—some women end up feeding their babies a combination of breast milk and formula, a practice known as combo feeding. While exclusive breastfeeding offers the most benefits, the good news is that you can still reap some of the benefits of breastfeeding if you combo feed. Combo feeding ensures that your baby gets the immune-enhancing benefits of breastmilk, plus the skin-to-skin contact and oral development of nursing.
If you have any concerns about breastfeeding and what is best for your child’s growth and development, ask your pediatrician. Many problems can be solved by a lactation consultant, or simply by confirming that your baby’s growth is on track. And if you need to use formula for any reason, ask your doctor for a recommendation—and move on without guilt.