People love to give breastfeeding moms unsolicited advice. As well-meant as they may be, the wrong information can derail a mom’s breastfeeding efforts. To help you separate fact from fiction, we ask a certified lactation educator counselor about the truths behind the most common myths about breastfeeding.
I was super paranoid of what I ate when I was breastfeeding my first child. I would lose sleep (not like I was getting much of it) over whether or not I was producing “good quality” milk for my baby. I would line up bottles of breastmilk pumped from different days and study the differences in consistency and color and wonder which one is the best to give my baby.
The world of breastfeeding is as beautiful as it is confusing. Your breasts are mini-factories pumping out precious milk for your baby, but you have little visibility into what goes into the breastmilk. Meanwhile, you are trying to lose all that stubborn pregnancy weight, but worried that what you eat will somehow impact your supply and quality of your milk.
The last thing a new mom need is false information about breastfeeding. To set the record straight, I asked Kristina Rattet of The Fit Forward Mom, a mother of two boys and a certified lactation educator counselor, to address some of the most common breastfeeding and nutrition myths she hears from her clients.
Truths Behind Breastfeeding Myths
Myth #1: You have to pump and dump after drinking alcohol.
This is simply untrue. Alcohol metabolizes out of breastmilk at the exact same rate and time as it does from our bloodstreams. If you’re safe to drive…or as I like to say, if you’re safe to hold the baby…then you’re safe to keep the milk. Don’t use those expensive test strips; they’ll just make you feel insecure and cause unnecessary worry – I’ve seen them turn black from orange juice.
Myth #2: You can’t lose weight while breastfeeding.
Failure to lose weight while breastfeeding is caused by either:
1. Eating in too much of a calorie surplus:
The average breastfeeding mom needs an additional 300-500 calories per day – that’s just a handful of nuts or just one fancy blended coffee drink – breastfeeding isn’t a free pass to eat 2000 calories in pastries or cookies.
2. Eating too much in a calorie deficit:
Studies have shown that lactating women need a MINIMUM of 1800-2200 calories per day to maintain their milk supply. If you drop below your minimum, your body will either compromise fat loss in order to maintain your milk supply, or it will allow for fat loss at the expense of your milk supply. If you are eating too little, your body will provide for one at the expense of the other.
Myth #3: “I don’t have enough milk.”
It is so disheartening when I hear this. SO many breastfeeding moms are made to feel like our milk isn’t enough – it isn’t good enough, it isn’t satisfying enough, it isn’t gentle enough. The more insecure women are about their milk and their supply, the more likely they are to supplement with formula.
Milk production operates on a demand-and-supply principle, so the less frequently the baby is allowed to nurse, then the less stimulation the mother receives, which WILL decrease her supply, thus perpetuating her fear that she doesn’t have enough milk.
Myth #4: You can increase the fat content of your milk by changing your diet.
I see so many moms become insecure over their “fat plugs”, or their lack thereof. Moms will take pride in their centimeters or inches of fat that accumulate in refrigerated bottles of breast milk. I’m constantly asked what you can eat to increase the fat plug.
There is nothing you can eat that will increase the fat content of your milk. Mothers need to be assured that their milk is perfect without the plug and that their bodies are making the exact milk that your babies need. If you really want to try and increase the fat concentration in your milk, do breast compressions during feeding/pumping and hand express after a feeding or pumping session to draw out more fat.
Myth #5: Weight will “just melt off” while breastfeeding.
We all know of someone who knows of someone who breastfed and lost “all” the baby weight in what appears to be a short period of time.
First mamas, be kind to yourself and try not to compare your body to another mom’s. Second, there are just some people who get lucky and fall into an eating and nutrition pattern that puts them in the perfect range of the right amount of calories to sustain weight loss and preserve supply. Third, there are so many factors that influence weight loss: genetics, sleep, stress, hormones, IVF or fertility treatment, age, number of previous pregnancies, oversupply, having a nanny/housekeeper/caretaker to help out with everyday duties, the mom’s pre-pregnancy body composition, and more.
Remind yourself that if you’re not able to prioritize weight loss, prioritize healthy eating, positive self-image, and a healthy relationship with your baby – you only have a small window of time when they are your baby, then you have the rest of your lives to try and diet.
Myth #6: You can’t eat spicy food while breastfeeding.
I get this question a lot! A lot of cultures have passed down a “superstition” of sorts that spicy foods are bad for the baby. Conversely, there are a lot of cultures whose primary diets consist of a variety of spicy foods!
Mexican food, Indian food, Korean food, and more! I’m half Korean and integrated spicy dishes all through my pregnancy and while breastfeeding. The “heat” of the spice will not carry over through the breastmilk; however, the different flavor profiles of the spicy foods may – just as would happen in non-spicy foods. I personally encourage a varied diet that includes both bland and spicy foods so that the baby is exposed to a spectrum of flavors and has a wider breadth of food preferences as they get older.
Myth #7: You can’t drink coffee while breastfeeding.
I personally have mixed feelings on this one. A cup of coffee a day is perfectly fine in most cases of healthy mothers who breastfeed healthy babies. However, I always like to make the disclaimer that caffeine is a Central Nervous System stimulant…it is a drug…and it may have an effect on your baby.
Regardless of whether my client is breastfeeding or even if they are childless, I like to have them evaluate why they have a dependency on coffee and if there are other avenues that can be explored to decrease that reliance.
I know that mothers are EXHAUSTED, tired, and worn down, and a cup of coffee can provide that little “pick-me-up” to get them through the day. So, in this case, as long as baby is not affected, then go for it. Enjoy that coffee or latte or Frappuccino!
However, if you are finding that it is disrupting your baby’s sleep, causing stomach discomfort in your baby, or that you are needing 3-5+ cups per day, I would evaluate other areas in your diet and lifestyle that could be improved to reduce your daily caffeine intake. If you are interested in decreasing your coffee consumption, try switching to black tea, and then to green tea, and then eventually to decaf green tea. Or drink half-caffeinated and half-decaffeinated and gradually reduce the ratio of caffeine to decaffeinated until you’ve been able to eliminate it.
Myth #8: Exercising will decrease your milk supply.
Nope! However, exercise can affect your hydration level or your caloric intake, which may affect your supply. So, if you’re exercising, make sure that you’re drinking plenty of water and that you’re not over-doing it and eating too few calories to support your activity level.
Myth #9: You can’t get pregnant if you’re breastfeeding.
Oh, Girlfriend! We ALL know the mama who got pregnant while she was breastfeeding and before her period ever came. Breastfeeding only has a 98% efficacy rate if ALL of the following requirements are met: (1) baby is less than 6 months old, (2) baby is fed on demand from the breast only, and (3) baby does not use a pacifier. Very few babies will meet all of these requirements, which means very many mamas may not be protected against a surprise pregnancy! As early as 8-12 weeks postpartum, estrogen levels begin to reduce and our menstrual cycles start to cycle and we can ovulate even if we are not menstruating.
Additionally, the “mini-pill”, which many doctors prescribe to lactating moms, is only 98% effective if used in conjunction with breastfeeding. So, that means that if your baby starts transitioning to solids and/or you stop breastfeeding, it’s time to ask for another form of birth control!
Myth #10: You can’t breastfeed if you have breast implants.
In most cases, breast implants should have little-to-no effect on a mother’s ability to breastfeed. Of course, there are conditions where implants will affect a mom’s ability to lactate. They include:
- a “botched” or reconstructive surgery in which breast tissue and milk ducts were damaged, scarred, or removed,
- a breast augmentation that has been performed within 1-3 years of giving birth, particularly if implants were placed through the areola, and/or
- large-sized implants that may cause the breast to become overly engorged and shorten the nipples and/or make it hard for the baby to get an effective latch (a lactation consultant can assist with this).
The longer it has been since the implants were placed, the less likely you are to be affected. A qualified lactation consultant may be able to help with the challenges your implants may be causing.
What other breastfeeding myths have you heard? Tell us in the comments!