Common myths about breastfeeding – and the facts

Posted on 8 February 2017

An independent lactation consultant who works close to Mediclinic Panorama says most moms can breastfeed successfully – but some persistent myths have convinced many new mothers otherwise.

Anelle Greyling is a professional nurse and lactation consultant at Panorama Breastfeeding Clinic near Mediclinic Panorama. She says while 97% of women will be able to breastfeed successfully, many new moms doubt their ability because of all the myths they’ve heard. Here Anelle debunks the myths and lists the facts.

*Myth: I should have litres of milk following the birth

‘In the first three to seven days, a mom won’t have milk as such,’ explains Anelle. ‘She will be producing colostrum, a concentrated and calorific “pre-milk” that contains antibodies and isn’t produced in high volume so the breats don’t fill up with milk yet.’ Colostrum provides suffient nourishment for your baby until you start producing larger amounts of milk – and is also the reason why most babies leave the hospital at a slightly lower weight than their birth weight. However, moms should take their babies in for regular weighing to check that they start picking up weight in the second week and are producing enough wet and dirty nappies.

#Fact: Breastfeeding shouldn’t be painful

It is normal for a mom to experience an initial sensitivity when baby latches, but this should subside in the first three weeks. If breastfeeding is painful, it is most likely due to incorrect latching or a nipple infection (something like thrush, which is very common). You can speak to your GP or gynaecologist about appropriate treatment for the underlying condition that is causing pain, and a lactation consultant can help you and your baby to improve latching.

*Myth: My milk is too weak

‘Breastmilk is always of high quality and can never be too weak,’ says Anelle. Breastmilk digests quickly, so breastfed babies want to feed often – every two to three hours. This may seem too frequent but is perfectly normal. Formula-fed infants usually feed every four hours, because formula is harder to digest.

#Fact: Breastfeeding aids the connection between mother and child

‘Breastfeeding provides the infant with comfort and nurture and creates a special bond of love between mom and baby. For mom, it builds confidence because no one else can feed her baby,’ says Anelle.

*Myth: My breasts don’t feel full anymore, so I don’t have enough milk

In the first two to three weeks after baby’s birth your milk production is regulated by hormones, so your breasts may feel full, but after this milk production settles and your breasts may return to normal. It does not mean that you are producing less milk – your body has just adapted to baby’s needs. However, your milk supply can decrease if you don’t feed often enough. ‘After the initial hormonal period, milk production depends on demand and supply. So the more you feed, the more your body will produce,’ says Anelle.

#Fact: I can eat more if I breastfeed

Your body burns 500 extra calories a day when you are breastfeeding, so yes, you can eat more unless you would like to lose weight. Breastfeeding is the natural way of losing weight after you’ve had a baby.

*Myth: I can’t express much milk so I can’t breasfeed successfully

‘The sucking mechanisms of the baby and the breast pump differ completely,’ Anelle explains. ‘It’s a fact that a baby gets more milk out of the breast than a breast pump is able to, so the amount you express is no indication of your production.’

#Fact: I can continue breastfeeding even when I go back to work

The World Health Organization (WHO) still recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, for the wellbeing and health of the baby. Moms who formula-feed often need more time off for a sick baby, so it makes sense for employers to accommodate new moms by providing a private area where they can express. And it’s law too – at least in the early days. According to the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, 1997, Section 87 (2), a breastfeeding mom is entitled to two extra breaks to express during the day until her baby is six months old. If we can educate employees and employers on this act, the work environment might change.

In the meantime, a mom can express during lunch and teatime – it only takes 10 to 15 minutes.

The breast pump needs to be sterilised only once a day, so that can be done at home in the evenings, and the bottles of milk can be kept in a cooler bag with ice bricks.

In cases where expressing is really not possible, it is still not necessary to stop breastfeeding. Moms can breastfeed in the mornings, nights and weekends, and baby can have formula when needed while the mom is at work.

*Myth: it’s easier to give formula

Formula is a short-term solution with long-term complications – constipation, allergies, more frequent colic, and the list goes on. Breastfeeding could be a short-term challenge, but offers definite long-term health benefits for the child – and the parents, who will have to pay fewer medical bills and take less time off work.

Breastfeeding becomes very easy from around six weeks. There’s no mixing of formula, waiting for water to cool down, washing and sterilising of bottles, or buying expensive formula. Night feeds are so easy when you breastfeed, it’s not even necessary to get out of bed – you can simply put baby on the breast and lie on your side.

#Fact: Breastfeeding will continue to benefit your child long after you’ve stopped

Breastfeeding your baby can prevent or reduce lifestyle diseases like diabetes, cancer and heart conditions in older age. ‘In a country like South Africa where childhood obesity and associated diseases are on the rise, we must keep educating parents on the health benefits of breastfeeding,’ says Anelle.

*Myth: My baby is walking so I need to stop breastfeeding

You can continue to breastfeed for as long as possible. When babies are on solids and eating three meals per day at about seven months old, they need less milk in any case and then it is even easier to breastfeed.

The official recommendation from the WHO is to exclusively breastfeed for the first six months, then to introduce solids but continue breastfeeding for two years and even beyond. Due to a lack of knowledge, previous generations did not realise the importance of breastfeeding and gave false reasons why women couldn’t breastfeed.


In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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