PARENTS
07/31/2014 12:34 pm ET | Updated Aug 01, 2014

10 Breastfeeding Myths That Won't Go Away

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There is a lot of really good, really helpful information about breastfeeding out there. But between the Internet and the abundance of insights from well-meaning (but often woefully misinformed) friends and family, there is also a lot of misinformation.

We asked a team of breastfeeding experts for some of the most stubborn myths they hear day in and day out. Here's what they said:

Myth #1: Breastfeeding is easy.

crying newborn

Yes, babies and mothers are hardwired for breastfeeding. And yes, for some new moms it does come easy. But the notion that for most women it is a completely seamless process, with no learning curve, is just plain wrong. Some women and their partners have a hard time conceiving, and some mothers and babies struggle to get the hang of breastfeeding, explained Pat Shelly, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and director for the Breastfeeding Center For Greater Washington. "A question I still get asked, after doing this for 35 years, is 'How come it's so difficult?'" she said.

Know that you haven't somehow failed if you find yourself struggling. Shelly urges moms to find a qualified professional who can offer guidance.

Myth #2: Pain is normal.

Breastfeeding isn't always a cinch, but that doesn't mean it should hurt. "We know that breastfeeding pain is common, and part of the reason why it's common is because we've been teaching mothers these holds and positions for the last few decades that we've learned actually make it more difficult and painful," said Nancy Mohrbacher, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and co-author of Breastfeeding Made Simple: Seven Natural Laws for Nursing Mothers. Most of those holds mimicked bottle feeding, she added, but recently breastfeeding experts have embraced more natural positions -- letting a mother recline with her baby resting his weight against her body.

But whatever the culprit behind your breast pain, don't accept it in silence, she said. Get help.

Myth #3: You can prep your breasts.

It's a good thing to think about breastfeeding before your baby arrives, to clarify what your goals are and work through logistical concerns, like where you'll pump if you return to work. But you don't need to do anything to your breasts to get them ready. "Nipples do NOT need to be toughened up," New York City-based International Board Certified Lactation Consultant Leigh Anne O'Connor explained. "If they get calloused, it is because of a bad latch," she added -- not because you somehow failed to get your nipples in shape ahead of time.

Myth #4: The more water you drink and the healthier you eat, the more milk you'll make.

woman water bottle

Hydration and good nutrition are important for breastfeeding mothers, just as they're important for pregnant women (and frankly, for anyone at any stage in his or her life). But nursing women need not go overboard. "Someone wrote me recently and she was concerned that she had to eat a perfect diet in order to produce good milk," Mohrbacher said. "I told her there was no reason to restrict herself in that way." Yes, some mothers may need to alter their diets in order to accommodate babies with certain sensitivities, but that's the exception, not the rule.

Likewise, drinking a lot of liquids will not dramatically affect a woman's milk supply or quality. "Women who are looking to increase their milk supply can go on these relentless journeys, changing their diet and what they drink, when in reality there's a lot more involved," Shelly said.

Myth #5: Your breastfed baby can never have a bottle.

This one's a little tricky. There are babies who will have a difficult time going back and forth between bottles and the breast in the very beginning, Mohrbacher said. "They're not born with labels," she added, "so you don't know if you're going to have that issue or not." But if your baby does get a bottle at some point early on, that does not mean breastfeeding is ruined or that he or she is definitely going to suffer from so-called "nipple confusion."

"In reality, many babies are given bottles," said O'Connor. "The way a baby handles a bottle is different than the way a baby handles the flow from her mother's breast. More often a baby chooses the easier way, so it is more a flow preference than 'confusion.' With the right guidance, a baby can move from breast to bottle and back again." Again, if you need help making that happen, ask a professional.

Myth #6: Your newborn will eat every two to three hours.

"An older child may have a more consistent nursing pattern like this," Mohrbacher said. "But most babies younger than six weeks will feed more randomly -- sometimes bunching feedings close together, sometimes going for four- to five-hour sleep stretches." Talk to your baby's pediatrician about what ideal early feeding "schedules" (a loose idea) look like, and be prepared to breastfeed your new infant on demand.

Myth #7: Women who breastfeed get less sleep.

tired woman

Formula-fed babies can generally go longer between feedings, because formula takes longer to digest -- but that doesn't mean their parents are clocking long, restful nights of sleep while their breastfeeding counterparts struggle. First, every baby is different and every baby's sleep pattern is different and a lot of factors, other than food, go into that. Furthermore, breastfeeding mothers who keep their babies in close proximity to them have the benefit of not having to get up, prepare the formula, warm the bottle, and so on, Shelly said, as well as a surge of oxytocin that can help lull moms back to sleep.

It's not a contest between breastfeeding and formula-feeding parents to see who can get more sleep. But the idea that breastfeeding mothers inherently get fewer ZZZs is just not true, Shelly argued.

Myth #8: Only birth mothers can breastfeed.

"It is a myth that if you adopt a baby you cannot breastfeed," O'Connor said. "If a mom previously breastfed a biological child, she may be able to get away with just pumping. If not, then often a combination of hormones and pumping are needed to nurse an adopted baby." Talk to your health care provider about your options well in advance and remember -- "the thing about breastfeeding is that it comes in so many colors and every woman’s experience will be different," O'Connor said.

Myth #9: Breastfeeding = fool-proof birth control.

"Breastfeeding can be effective birth control," O'Connor said, but only if certain conditions are met. According to Planned Parenthood, women can use breastfeeding as a form of birth control in the first six months after giving birth if they're breastfeeding exclusively (meaning that baby is not drinking anything else), nursing at least every four to six hours and have not yet gotten their period again. But it's not foolproof -- 1 in 100 women who practice continuous breastfeeding will get pregnant, and 2 in 100 will if they don't always practice it correctly, Planned Parenthood estimates.

Myth #10: If you're going back to work, you need to start pumping and storing right away.

woman at work

This one depends a lot on your particular circumstances: Whether you've got leave, how long that leave is and what your office conditions will be like when you return. But working moms do not need to stress over filling their freezer with container upon container of frozen "just-in-case" breast milk. "Many moms think they must stock their freezer in the early months if they are going to be working full time," O'Connor said. "While this may be true for those moms who are unable to pump at work, it is not true for those who are able to." In other words, when it comes to pumping and storing, it might be okay to cut yourself some serious slack.

This article is part of HuffPost Parents' World Breastfeeding Week series. Read more here.

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