Breast- or chestfeeding is one of those topics everyone seems to have an opinion about. Literally, everyone. Bloggers, influencers, your mom, your neighbor, some random person on the street, you name it—they have something to say. While most advice is well-meaning, it’s not always filled with accurate information.

When you’re nursing, especially as a first-time parent, it’s easy to fall prey to misconceptions you hear about breastding. If you feel stressed: Don’t worry, we got you. We’ve gathered the truth from trusted medical sources, and spoke with a lactation consultant, to separate breastfeeding fact from fiction.

Read on to bust the most common breastfeeding myths.

Experts In This Article

  • Chrisie Rosenthal, Chrisie Rosenthal is a Consultant Relations Manager and International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant with The Lactation Network.

Myth: You can’t have caffeine

Coffee lovers, rejoice: You don’t need to nix your morning cup of joe while nursing. Drinking moderate amounts of caffeine—about 300 milligrams or less per day (or two to three cups of coffee)—is generally safe for your little one, says Chrisie Rosenthal, an international board-certified lactation consultant (IBCLC), consultant relations manager at The Lactation Network, and author of The First-Time Mom’s Breastfeeding Handbook: A Step-by-Step Guide from First Latch to Weaning.

That’s because only a tiny fraction of the caffeine you take in (approximately 1 percent) ends up in breastmilk, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Still, some babies—typically young infants—can be sensitive to caffeine’s effects. “If caffeine was affecting your baby you’d notice fussiness, irritation, and poor sleep,” says Rosenthal. If this is the case, try cutting back on your coffee to see if it helps.

Myth: Breastfeeding is a surefire way to lose weight

Some people claim baby weight just falls off when you breastfeed or chestfeed. But this isn’t true for everyone. In fact, some people even put on a few pounds during lactation.

“Breastfeeding is hard work, so your body requires more calories,” says Rosenthal. You may need up to 500 additional calories to sustain your milk supply, which is why you might feel hungrier and end up eating more than usual.

We know adjusting to a new version of your body can be challenging. But try not to focus on the scale too much. Losing weight, especially losing weight too quickly, may negatively affect your milk supply, says Rosenthal.

Myth: You can’t drink alcohol

Need a nightcap once you put your baby down after a long day? Drinking alcohol in moderation (up to 1 standard drink per day) won’t hurt your baby, says Rosenthal. For reference, one standard drink is equivalent to 12 ounces of regular beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1½ ounces of liquor.

It’s overdoing it with booze while breast or chestfeeding that can be harmful. If you have more than one drink per day, you can potentially harm your baby’s development, growth, and sleep, says Rosenthal.

To be safe, wait at least two hours after you drink to nurse your baby and have a bottle of pumped milk available as backup (in case you’re still feeling the effects of alcohol), she says.

And in case you’re wondering, “pumping and dumping” breastmilk won’t speed up the time it takes for alcohol to clear out of your system, adds Rosenthal. It takes time for alcohol levels to decrease in your breastmilk, just like it does in your blood, per Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Myth: You have to avoid certain foods

There may have been a laundry list of foods to avoid during pregnancy, but you’ll be happy to hear your menu is wide open when breast or chestfeeding.

“As a breastfeeding parent, there are no foods you need to avoid,” says Rosenthal. The food you eat won’t make your baby gassy or fussy, she says. So if you’re obsessed with spice, have at it. Many lactating people around the world eat spicy foods as part of their culture and daily cuisine.

Because of your choices, your little one may have a preference for certain foods.“Babies are introduced very early to flavors in your diet via amniotic fluid and breastmilk,” says Rosenthal. Matter of fact, eating a variety of foods while pregnant and nursing can be beneficial for baby. The University of Utah Health mentions that pregnant people who eat a diverse diet tend to have babies who are less picky about food later in life. And a July 2018 review in PLOS One found that children exclusively breastfed for the first four to five months were less likely to be picky in early childhood compared to those breastfed for zero to one month.

But like all things in life, there are exceptions. Some babies have food allergies or sensitivities that require special consideration when it comes to your diet. The most common issue is usually dairy, but even then, it only affects about 3 percent of exclusively breastfed babies, according to Johns Hopkins. Signs of a food allergy or sensitivity may include the following, per Johns Hopkins:

  • Blood or mucus in poop
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Wheezing or difficulty breathing
  • Skin rash, eczema, or hives
  • Severe fussiness
  • Indications of abdominal pain like a tight, swollen belly

If your baby is having any of these symptoms, check with your pediatrician who can properly test for food allergies.

Myth: Eating certain foods will increase your milk supply

There are many claims that certain foods you eat can strengthen your milk supply—ingredients known as galactagogues, says Rosenthal. Some include oats, nuts, legumes, brewer’s yeast, milk thistle, and fenugreek, to name a few.

While many people swear by galactagogues to maximize milk production, there’s very limited scientific proof they work, per the Cleveland Clinic. Still, these foods are harmless to try, and they can be nutritious additions to your balanced diet. Just don’t over-rely on them to ramp up milk supply.

More important than the kinds of foods you eat? How much you eat. Yep, the best way to maintain milk production is to get enough food and water each day. Your body needs those calories and H2O to have enough energy to make breastmilk.

The general rule of thumb is to aim for a minimum of 1,800 calories per day, but these needs will vary depending on your body size, activity level, metabolism, and overall health, per Johns Hopkins. If you’re unsure you’re getting the amount you need, or your milk supply is slipping, talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian.

You can also try the USDA’s Dietary Reference Calculator (which takes into account whether you’re lactating and how active you are) to help get a rough estimate of how many calories you need per day.

Myth: You can’t nurse when you’re sick

A cold of the flu may make you feel crappy, but nursing while sick will not hurt your baby. In fact, the opposite is true. “Breastfeeding is the best thing you can do for your baby when you’re sick,” says Rosenthal.

It can actually help build your baby’s immune system. “Your breastmilk has protective antibodies to help keep your baby healthy,” says Rosenthal. In other words, when you’re under the weather, your milk changes to protect your baby from your infection. “You may even notice it looks more concentrated when you or your baby is sick,” adds Rosenthal adds. (Pretty cool, right?)

Just make sure you rest, eat, and drink water while you’re sick. Not getting enough calories and dehydration can both affect your milk supply.

Note: Though in most cases it’s okay (and recommended) to continue nursing when sick, there are some instances when chest or breastfeeding isn’t safe for your little one. If you have certain illnesses like HIV, active untreated tuberculosis, or HTLV 1 (human T-lymphotropic virus type 1), you shouldn’t feed your baby breastmilk, according to the New Jersey Department of Health.

Myth: It’s normal for breastfeeding to hurt

Dealing with sore, cracked nipples? Too many lactating people push through an excruciating nursing experience because they think pain is normal—but it’s not.

“It’s common to feel a little nipple tenderness when you and baby are first learning to latch, but breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt or be painful,” says Rosenthal. Pain is your body’s way of telling you that something’s off (like a poor latch or a breast infection). Don’t grin and bear it. If breastfeeding hurts, reach out to your OB/GYN, midwife, or an international board-certified lactation consultant (IBCLC), says Rosenthal.

IBCLCs are experts in lactation who can be helpful to anyone who’s nursing and needs a bit more support. They can help make breast or chestfeeding more comfortable (by assisting with latching or providing pointers on feeding positions, among many other tips). And if you’re dealing with sore, cracked nipples, they can help you come up with a plan for healing, too, she adds.

The following organizations can help you locate IBCLCs near you:

Myth: Breastfeeding makes your breasts sag

This may blow your mind, but nursing doesn’t actually make your boobs hang lower. “Contrary to popular belief, research has shown that breastfeeding does not cause breasts to sag,” says Rosenthal.

The real reason they sag? “Weight gain during pregnancy, genetics, age, and multiple pregnancies are just a few of the factors that can influence the shape of your breasts after pregnancy and breastfeeding,” says Rosenthal.

As we’ve said before, it can feel hard to adjust to or embrace changes to your body after giving birth—and it’s okay if you don’t totally love the way your breasts look all the time! Instead, try to focus on all they’ve done for your baby.

If at the end of the day the sagging is really bothering you, you can try chest exercises to make them appear perkier—like chest flies, push-ups, and bench presses that strengthen your pectoral muscles.

Myth: Breastfeeding is intuitive and easy

How many times have you heard people say “breastfeeding is natural” or “breastfeeding is easy”? Yes, nursing is natural in the sense that a) your mammary glands are made to produce milk and b) babies are born with the instinct to look for the breast. But breast or chestfeeding doesn’t always come naturally.

“Breastfeeding is a learned skill, for parent and for baby,” says Rosenthal. “It often takes a few weeks to really feel like you’ve got the hang of it.” Through trial and error, you will learn to latch and find the right feeding position that’s comfortable for you and your baby. The key is practice.

And you don’t need to figure it out on your own. “Working with a lactation consultant can help you and your baby feed more comfortably and increase the likelihood that you reach your feeding goals,” says Rosenthal.

Myth: You won’t be able to breastfeed unless you do it right after birth

The first 60 minutes after birth are often called the “golden hour”—i.e., an ideal time to bond with baby through skin-to-skin contact and breast or chestfeeding. It’s true: According to Unicef, your baby’s reflexes to feed at the breast are super strong in this first hour.

But just because this is an “ideal” time doesn’t mean your nursing experience will be ruined if you can’t feed your baby during that window, says Rosenthal. You and your baby may have to be separated if either of you require extra medical attention. “When that happens, we recommend you latch your baby as soon as you are back together,” she adds.

And if you have to be apart for more than a few hours? You should still try to stimulate your breasts to produce milk. “You’ll often be given a hospital-grade pump and guidance on how (and how often) to pump,” says Rosenthal. “Hand expression is also very effective in the early days when you have colostrum—i.e., baby’s first breastmilk.”

Don’t worry if you don’t know how to pump or hand express—no one does at first. Ask a nurse for help or request to see a lactation consultant (most hospitals have them there for this very reason).

Myth: You can never use formula

Because the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends exclusive chest or breastfeeding for the first six months of life, many people think you can only feed your baby breastmilk and never formula. But know this: Nursing doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing decision. Just because you choose to breast or chestfeed doesn’t mean you can’t give your baby formula, too (if you want).

Giving your baby both is totally safe and is sometimes called combo feeding or supplementing. Breastmilk is ideal, but formula is still healthy and provides all the necessary nutrients for your baby to grow and thrive.

There are also endless reasons for supplementing, but some of the most common include the following, according to Rosenthal:

  • You’re going back to work, and it’s tough or tiresome to pump on the job
  • You want to catch more zzzs at night, and supplementing allows your partner to feed your baby while you sleep
  • Your milk supply is dipping, and you need help bridging the gap

“Feeding choices are very personal, and will vary from family to family,” says Rosenthal. There’s no “right” way to feed your little one—only what’s best for the both of you.

Just keep in mind: If you want to combo feed and keep your breastmilk supply strong, you’ll still have to nurse as often as possible. Creating a plan with the help of a pediatrician or a lactation consultant can ensure your baby gets what they need, says Rosenthal.

Myth: Many lactating people can’t produce enough milk

One common fear among nursing parents is that they won’t make enough milk for their baby. Rest assured: For many birthing parents, this fear is unfounded. As long as you are nursing consistently, most lactating people make the perfect amount of milk, according to Unicef.

That doesn’t mean building up a strong milk supply isn’t free of ‘booby traps’ as Rosenthal likes to call them. There are many factors that go into keeping up milk supply including the following, per Unicef:

  • How well your baby latches to your breast
  • The frequency of feeding
  • How well your baby removes milk with each feeding

Any disruption to the above can affect supply. But positive factors—like educating yourself on lactation, connecting with an expert, and relying on your partner or a friend who’s gone through this experience—can help influence supply for the better.

All this to say, breastmilk production isn’t always a breeze. Though with the proper support, most people will be physically able to produce enough milk.

Still, there are exceptions. It’s uncommon for a breastfeeding parent to have a medical problem that prevents them from producing a full milk supply, says Rosenthal. But it can happen. The following health issues may cause low milk supply, according to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia:

  • Severe postpartum bleeding or hemorrhage (more than 1,000 milliliters)
  • Treatment with magnesium sulfate before birth for high blood pressure or preterm labor
  • Placenta pieces still remaining in your uterus (usually you will have severe cramps and heavy bleeding)
  • No breast growth during pregnancy and after birth
  • Breast surgery
  • Untreated hypothyroidism
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure

If you have any of the above medical conditions, talk to your doctor about combo feeding or other options to help your baby stay nourished.

Myth: You can’t take any medication if you’re breastfeeding

It’s true that medications are passed to your baby when pregnant and nursing (drugs can transfer into breastmilk). But that doesn’t mean you have to avoid medication altogether.

Only trace amounts of most medicines are transferred to breastmilk and aren’t considered harmful to babies, according to the Mayo Clinic. Plus, by the age of six months, the risk of potential harm from medication is low because babies can metabolize drugs more efficiently. For this reason, “many medications are compatible with breastfeeding,” says Rosenthal.

There are some instances where medications are not safe while nursing. Premature babies, newborns, and babies with health conditions (like kidney issues) are at a higher risk of being negatively affected by medicine, per the Mayo Clinic.

To be safe, always check with your doctor and your pediatrician before taking any medications. Trusted resources like The LactMed database and InfantRisk Center can also help parents and clinicians make informed, research-based medication decisions together, adds Rosenthal.

Myth: You’ll have to wean your baby if you go back to work

Worried that you’ll have to wean when you return to the office? “Returning to work changes your feeding relationship, but it doesn’t mean you have to wean,” says Rosenthal.

In these cases, you can pump your milk to maintain your supply. “If your goal is to maintain exclusive breastfeeding,” you can also pump at work and a caregiver can give your baby breastmilk bottles, says Rosenthal.

If you need a little help making the transition, once again, reach out to a lactation consultant. They can help you prepare a plan (and modify it if needed) once you return to work.

And if you’re a little anxious your boss won’t be on board, or your workplace won’t be accommodating, remember—you have the law on your side. “The PUMP Act is a federal law that recently passed, protecting breastfeeding parents’ access to appropriate time and facilities to pump while at work,” says Rosenthal.

Myth: Lactation consultants are unaffordable

If you’re thinking, “lactation consultants are a luxury for people with the means,” you’re not totally wrong.

“Before the Affordable Care Act, accessing the support of a lactation consultant was often very expensive,” says Rosenthal. Fortunately, “many families can now meet with IBCLCs” through their insurance, she says. The Affordable Care Act requires insurance companies to provide breastfeeding supplies and support services.

And if you don’t have insurance? That’s okay! You can still find affordable lactation consultants through some online research. Some IBCLCs offering a sliding fee scale based on income, too.

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