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Breastfeeding myths in the African-American community

Did you know?

In the first few days of your baby’s life, your breasts make colostrum, a thick, yellowish fluid that is considered a natural vaccination for your baby. Science has proven that babies who are fed colostrum develop the antibodies to fight against many infectious diseases.

New moms get a lot of baby advice. Although people usually mean well, not all of it is based on fact. Myths about breastfeeding are common. The fact is that breastfeeding is a healthy way to feed your baby. The decision to breastfeed is a personal one, and it should also be an informed one. So let’s clear up some of the myths you may have heard.

Myth: Everyone uses formula.

More women breastfeed than you think. According to the latest Breastfeeding Report Card by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 80% of all women in the United States — regardless of status, race, or income — start out breastfeeding. Among African-American women, the breastfeeding rate is almost 55% — up from 35% in the 1970s. Research over the past 40 years has proven that mother’s milk is an inexpensive and healthy choice for babies.

Myth: Formula has more vitamins than breast milk.

In fact, the opposite is true. Formula cannot match the nutrients and vitamins in breast milk. More importantly, breast milk has antibodies, which can only be passed from your body to your baby. This is what helps protect your baby from getting sick. Breast milk is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization. Breastfeeding is a great choice to ensure your baby’s nutrition.

Myth: Formula feeding is easier than breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding may seem hard at first and take some getting used to, but breastfeeding gets easier the more you do it. Breastfeeding can be more convenient than formula and is a great timesaver. Unlike formula, breastmilk doesn’t need any sterilizing, measuring, mixing, or heating. And you don’t have to worry about packing supplies or finding the right formula, bottle, and nipple flow.

Myth: Formula feeding is cheaper than breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding can actually save a family up to $1,500 in a baby’s first year alone. Even when moms receive benefits from programs such as Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), which provides supplemental foods to low-income women and their babies, moms who breastfeed exclusively get better financial benefits for a full year (versus six months or less for formula-feeding moms).

Myth: Breastfeeding makes your breasts sag.

Actually, it’s pregnancy that stretches the ligaments of your breast tissue, whether you breastfeed or not. Age, genetics, and the number of pregnancies you’ve had also play a role.

Myth: If your breasts are too small, you can’t breastfeed.

Size and shape of breasts do not affect ability to breastfeed and have nothing to do with how much milk a woman actually produces. This includes women with large areolas (the area around the nipple), flat nipples, and even women who’ve had breast surgery. (Note: If you’ve had a massive breast reduction, milk ducts and glands might have been removed, which means you may produce less milk.)

Myth: If your breasts are too large or you’re plus size, you can’t breastfeed.

Women of all sizes can successfully breastfeed. So if you’re a larger mom-to-be, you should not let the size of your breasts automatically rule it out. If you’re big breasted, it may take some extra patience or some assistance from a lactation consultant. Plus-size women are more likely to have C-sections, which means your milk might come in a few days later. Depending on the size of your breasts, you may need a little more practice to find a hold that works for you and your baby. But with the right help and support, you can do it.

Myth: You won’t be able to make enough milk.

Moms almost always make enough milk to feed their babies. Your baby is likely getting more than you think at each feeding. A newborn's stomach is only the size of an almond. If you eat in a healthy way, drink water, and nurse often, your milk supply should be plentiful. If you have any concerns about your milk supply or your child's weight, check in with your baby's doctor or nurse.

Myth: Your milk will turn sour or dry up.

A woman’s body can do many amazing things, but curdling milk inside your breasts isn’t one of them. Although it’s true that through breastfeeding your baby gets a taste of everything you’ve eaten, there isn’t a direct line from what goes in your mouth to what goes in your baby’s. Breastfeeding moms don’t need a special diet and do not need to drink milk to make milk. And don’t worry about your milk drying up; breastfeeding is a simple case of supply and demand. As long as you’re breastfeeding (or pumping) regularly, your body will make more milk. Only if you stop breastfeeding, skip feedings, or start supplementing with formula will your milk production go down.

Myth: You need to supplement, because your baby seems hungry or is crying all the time.

When you breastfeed on demand, your baby stays satisfied. Remember, newborn tummies are tiny, so they fill up fast, empty, and then need to be filled up again. What does a hungry baby look like? Look for your baby’s hunger cues — head turning toward the breast, fist gnawing, or lip smacking. Crying due to hunger is a grumpy baby’s last resort when someone missed his or her earlier hunger signs. Also realize a baby cries for reasons other than hunger — sleepiness, feeling gassy or sick, having a dirty diaper, or just needing to be held. Trust that your breast milk provides all the nutrients, protein, and hydration your baby needs for the first six months of life. No supplements or cereal is needed. (Note: If your baby is crying excessively for hours and you are not able to comfort him or her, it could be a sign of colic. Check with your baby’s doctor or nurse.)

Myth: Bigger babies are healthier babies.

The idea that big, chubby babies are healthier babies is not necessarily true. Every baby grows at his or her own pace, which is monitored at every well-baby visit by a doctor or nurse. Breastfed babies know how to self-regulate, which means they stop eating when their tummy is full, not when the bottle is empty. If you are concerned that your baby is too skinny or too big, check in with your baby's doctor or nurse. 

Myth: Breastfeeding spoils a child.

After spending nine months growing inside you, it’s completely natural for a baby to be attached to his or her mother and vice versa. Despite what you’ve heard, newborns don’t need to learn to fend for themselves at such a young age. In reality, breastfeeding provides a unique bond with your child that can last a lifetime. And research shows that breastfed children grow up to be confident and self-sufficient when parents meet their needs.

Myth: Breastfeeding hurts.

The truth is that breastfeeding is not supposed to be a painful experience. In fact, pain is usually a red flag that something is wrong. While a baby’s latch can be strong, it’s not actually biting, not even when the baby is cutting teeth. As with any new skill, there is an adjustment period. Read Breastfeeding and baby basics, Common questions about breastfeeding and pain, and Breastfeeding checklist: How to get a good latch so you can know what to expect.

Myth: You can’t breastfeed in public.

The court of public opinion seems to carry more weight than actual laws on the books: In most states, the law allows you to nurse wherever you and your baby have a legal right to be. Although the laws don’t say you have to be covered up, there are, of course, ways to breastfeed discreetly if that makes you more comfortable. Get tips on how to breastfeed here.

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Content last updated: April 04, 2013.

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