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Is breast-feeding healthier? 15 myths revealed

Does it hurt? Am I allowed to drink alcohol? Health writer Suzanne Schlosberg, author of "The Essential Breastfeeding Log," and Suzanne Fredregill, author of "The Everything Breastfeeding Book," separate fact from fiction.
/ Source: Cookie.com

Will it make my boobs sag? Am I allowed to drink? The author of "The Essential Breastfeeding Log," health writer Suzanne Schlosberg, and the author of "The Everything Breastfeeding Book," breast-feeding educator Suzanne Fredregill, set the record straight.

Myth #1: Breast-feeding is easy (False)
Suzanne Schlosberg: It's true that for many women, breast-feeding is a breeze and a joy from the get-go; their babies latch on within minutes of birth, and a calmness fills the mother and seems to flow into the baby. But for others, those first few weeks, maybe even more, can be a maddening struggle. A newborn might fall asleep on the job, lick your nipple instead of suck, or clamp her mouth shut. Ouch! Almost all of the time, things will work out, but Mom may have to get help from a lactation consultant and be persistent and patient. It took my twin boys six weeks to get the hang of it, and I wanted to quit several times.

Myth #2: Breast-feeding hurts (False)
Suzanne Fredregill: Breast-feeding might feel uncomfortable in the beginning, but it does not hurt. Any sensation other than a gentle tug might indicate that your baby isn't latched on right. The guidance of a good lactation consultant can help you correct the problem. If your baby bites you, your own startled response will probably be enough to make him stop. If that doesn't do the trick, remove him from your nipple and firmly tell him, "No biting." Be consistent. If he does it again, stop nursing.

Myth #3: Babies only need to breast-feed for the first six months to obtain the necessary nutrients (False)
Fredregill: The World Health Organization and the America Association of Pediatricians suggest exclusive breast-feeding for the first six months, and then however long you are comfortable nursing after that.

Schlosberg: Even if you plan on exclusively breast-feeding, it's a good idea to introduce a daily bottle of pumped breast milk once breast-feeding is well established — usually when your baby is two or three weeks old. This way you give yourself a break and let someone else feed your baby (again, using pumped breast milk). Then, at 6, 12, 16, or 24 months, whenever you decide to wean your tot, she will know how to get a drink from something other than you.

Myth #4: Breast milk–fed babies are healthier than formula-fed babies (True)
Fredregill: Human milk is the healthiest choice you can make for your baby. Some research suggests lifelong benefits and protection against diabetes, certain cancers, and other illnesses.

Myth #5: Eating certain foods and caffeinated beverages can affect your baby (Rarely true)
Schlosberg: It's a myth that nursing moms need to stay away from onions or broccoli or spicy foods. Some moms swear that cutting out dairy or garlic or wheat or mangoes or any other food under the sun makes their baby less fussy or gassy, and that may be true for some babies. But in most cases, there's no reason to avoid certain foods unless you suspect a problem. It's a rare baby who has true food allergies, though there are some tots who can't tolerate dairy or soy. Offering your baby a variety of foods may be a good thing. Some studies suggest that the more varied a mother's diet and the longer she breast-feeds, the less picky her baby will be later on. Don't sweat your daily latte: Caffeine is approved by the American Academy of Pediatrics for use in breast-feeding mothers.

Myth #6: You can't drink alcohol during the breast-feeding stage (False)
Schlosberg: A glass of wine or a beer is fine. Moderation is the key. No need to pump and dump unless you've overdone it.

Fredregill: While some doctors might suggest a glass of wine to help mothers with a slow letdown, others hold to a no-alcohol rule. If you're going to drink, it should be lightly and right after you've nursed. Alcohol clears from your breast milk at about the same rate it clears from your bloodstream.

Myth #7: Exercising can change the taste of your milk (Rarely true)
Fredregill: Don't let exercising stop you from nursing. Only excessive, exhaustive exercise seems to have any effect on the taste of breast milk, and only some babies seem bothered by it. One study suggests that the effect seems to pass after an hour.

Myth #8: Mothers with postpartum depression have emotional trouble with breast-feeding (Rarely true)
Fredregill: Much research shows breast-feeding actually decreases the incidence of postpartum depression. The hormone prolactin, produced in Mom's body when baby nurses, acts like a natural tranquilizer. That's why for some women, postpartum depression doesn't become an issue until weaning. However, there are some who are diagnosed with [postpartum depression] who may have to take an antidepressant. Talk to your doctor about safe medications.

Myth #9: Breast-feeding can cause premature labor (True)
Fredregill: Nipple stimulation can cause contractions in later pregnancy. If a mom-to-be is at higher risk of early labor or is having contractions, it is best to follow the advice of her midwife or ob-gyn.

Myth #10: All birth-control pills are a danger to your infant (False)
Fredregill: Many birth-control pills don't present any risk, but refer to your health care provider for more information. Many medications are safe, many are untested, and some are hazardous.

Myth #11: Breast-feeding can help you lose weight (True)
Schlosberg: Your body burns a whopping 500 calories a day in the production of breast milk, yet research shows that in the first three months postpartum, nursing moms don't actually lose more weight than bottle-feeding moms. It's largely because nursing moms tend to be more sedentary in the first few months; just think about how many hours a day you spend sitting and breast-feeding! It's also because they tend to eat more due to high levels of prolactin, a breast milk–production hormone that also stimulates appetite. After about three months, prolactin levels typically decline — even if you're exclusively breast-feeding — so your appetite may decline, too.

Myth #12: Breast-feeding on one breast more than the other can cause you to become lopsided (True)
Fredregill: Yes, but often Mom is the only one who notices, and it's not permanent. Most breasts develop differently during puberty anyway. If you only feed on one side, you will produce more milk on that side. Supply and demand.

Myth #13: You can't breast-feed with implants (False)
Fredregill: You can breast-feed with implants as long as the ducts have not been cut and the nipple is left undisturbed.

Myth #14: Your breast size will determine whether or not you can breast-feed (False)
Fredregill: No matter what size your breasts are, you can breast-feed.

Myth #15: Breast-feeding causes your breasts to sag (False)
Fredregill: Breast-feeding does not make your breasts sag — heredity, pregnancy, and age do that.