Friday, December 30, 2011

Misconceptions About Breastfeeding

I read a comment on one of my favorite Facebook groups today that was disrespectful, misinformed and condescending towards breastfeeding women. Obviously, the person was trolling the page, most likely in hopes of starting a debate. I wanted to respond, to educate this person on breastfeeding, yet I did not. I do not feel it usually results in any good to engage in a formula versus breast milk debate with certain people. They want to believe that their opinions are right, and there is usually no changing their mind on anything. I do like to help those who are misinformed become better educated about breastfeeding, yet I try not to engage in battles with people who are obviously looking to start a debate. However, the comments this person made are things that I have heard before, so I wanted to address some of them. I am not posting this to say breast is best (breast is natural and normal), but I am hopeful that this helps educate some who have the wrong perceptions regarding breastfeeding.

Here are some common questions or comments I hear regarding breastfeeding, and my response to them.

Formula is just as good as breast milk and formula-fed babies are just as healthy. So, why do you even breastfeed?

My response to this became very long, so I have created a new post on this topic. To summarize, the health benefits, bonding, convenience, and components of breast milk are all reasons why I breastfeed.

Why can't you just schedule outings around feedings? Do you really have to go out when the baby needs to eat?

In reality, there is no set schedule for feeding a baby. Some babies do develop times they like to nurse, but others nurse throughout the day. Babies need to nurse at least 8 to 12 times per day during the early weeks (or about every two hours), which would make it very difficult to only go on outings when the baby has already been fed. Do you schedule outings around when you need to eat? Do you stop and grab a bite to eat or a drink when you are hungry or thirsty? I really see no difference between the two, a baby needs to eat--just like an adult. If we all sat at home, scheduling our outings around when we need to eat, when we would go anywhere? There is also the point that maybe the mother would like to wait until after the baby eats, but maybe she just ran out of diapers or maybe she had an appointment somewhere and had to bring the baby. Really, it does not matter why she is out with her baby, it is her right to go out and run errands or shop anytime she feels like it.

Why can't you just express milk in a bottle? Do you really have to breastfeed in public?

I think some people are unaware how much work it takes to express breast milk. You need to sterilize all of your pump parts and bottles. You then need to set aside time to sit down and pump enough milk, which could take a few minutes or an hour. You need to determine how much milk the baby will really need, and ensure you don't bring too much or too little.

If the mom pumps milk for the baby, she will then be missing a feeding while she is out. Unless she pulls out her pump and starts expressing milk. Or she could just nurse her baby, which will maintain her supply. Milk production works on supply and demand. While one missed feeding probably won't have a big impact on her supply, missing too many feedings could. There is also the point that the mom will become engorged and uncomfortable if she skips too many feedings.

A mom can either do all the work, just to pump milk for a bottle so no one is offended by a baby breastfeeding, or the mom can simply get the baby ready and leave. When the baby needs to eat, she can simply breastfeed with milk that is sterile, full of nutrients, and at the perfect temperature. Convenience is one reason moms choose to breastfed, and pumping is not very convenient for some moms.

Then there is the fact that some moms cannot pump that much breast milk, no matter how hard they try. A baby is much more efficient than a breast pump, which means the baby can remove milk from the breast easier than a mom can remove it with a pump. So, even if a mom wanted to pump milk to give the baby a bottle, she may not be able too.

There are also concerns over nipple confusion and flow preference, which can happen when a breastfed baby is given bottles or artificial nipples. More information: Read myth number 15.

Only poor women breastfeed, because they cannot afford formula.

While I am not rich, I am also not poor. I do think it is unfair to assume that women only breastfeed because they are poor and cannot afford formula. There are programs, such as WIC, that help pay for formula. Many women could choose formula if they wanted too, but many know the benefits of breastfeeding, and it is an informed, conscience decision they make. But yes, breastfeeding is more cost-effective. It does save money, but that is not the only reason I do it. I do it for the benefits, not only to save a dollar. Even if a woman did it to save money, why should it matter? Perhaps it is wrong to look for items on sale and to clip coupons too. Regardless of why a woman initially choose to breastfeed, most women discover just how beneficial breastfeeding is, which makes them want to continue breastfeeding even longer.

Formula helps you have your life back. When you breastfeed, you are always tied to the baby. You get to go out, work, go to college, etc. if you choose formula.

I would think that most breastfeeding women do feel that they have a life. Becoming a mother changes your life, and for some mothers, their new life becomes focused on their children. Some women are happy to stay at home with their children and not work. Perhaps the woman made a conscience decision to stay at home and not work, and it has nothing to do with the fact that she breastfeeds.

There are also women that do work or go to college while breastfeeding. Maybe they do express breast milk, so they can do other things when they cannot be near their baby. There are also women that work from home or go to college online. Many women that breastfeed are educated, so implying that women who breastfeed are unable to obtain degrees or work is merely an ignorant and incorrect assumption.

There is also a lot of emphasis put on "getting to go out." Where, I am not quite sure. A breastfeeding mother can continue to run errands and go shopping, with or without her baby. If she has a partner or babysitter, maybe she expresses milk and runs errands alone. If her baby is older, maybe she leaves the baby with a caregiver and goes out after the baby eats or during nap times. If she brings the baby out with her, she already has everything she needs, and she doesn't have to worry about packing bottles.

If the going out part is implied as getting to go out to bars, clubs or partying, I have different thoughts. I cannot speak for anyone besides myself, but I thought becoming a mother meant spending time with your children and raising those children. Some women need to work outside the home or go to college, but they are doing those things for the benefit of their family. Going out to clubs or bars is not something I think of as a regular occurrence during motherhood. If there are mothers that think they should be able to go out all the time and party, then that is their own prerogative. I think of going out as a special time, when maybe the mother and her partner go out for a date night or have time to reconnect. I do think it is important for the mom to go out, especially with her partner, to have time together and to reconnect. However, I do not think partying all the time is something that should be expected for any parent, whether she uses formula or breastfeeds.

Regardless, mother's can still "go out" when they breastfeed. It may take some planning to pump milk, pick a day or night, and find a suitable caregiver, but they are able to go out without their babies when they want too.

You can't eat certain foods or drink alcohol when you breastfeed. 

This is another incorrect assumption. There is no list of foods that breastfeeding mothers should avoid. There are no dietary restrictions. She should eat healthy and stay hydrated, but ultimately her body will continue to produce quality milk for her baby. In some cases, babies may develop an intolerance to certain foods in the mother's diet, but that doesn't mean a woman should never try to breastfeed. Some women do have to cut certain things out of their diets, like caffeine or cow's milk, but it is not the same for every woman or for every baby.

Alcohol is another thing that I have heard mentioned often. A woman can breastfeed and drink alcohol. If the mother has a newborn or her baby is under three months of age, she should avoid drinking alcohol. At this age, a baby's liver is immature and cannot metabolize alcohol as quickly as an older baby or toddler. After this point, the mother can have one or two drinks. If she knows she wants to have a drink or two, she should feed the baby first, and then have a drink. If the baby sleeps through the night, the mother can have a drink after putting the baby to bed.

Alcohol will peak in breast milk approximately 30 minutes to one hour after drinking, but this may vary depending on her size and if she has eaten anything or not. Alcohol passes out of breast milk, just as it does from the blood stream. There is no need to pump and dump, which I often hear recommended. Pumping the milk and throwing it away will not get the alcohol out of the milk faster if the alcohol is still in the mother's system. If a woman feels sober enough to drive, she is usually  sober enough to breastfeed. Still, drinking too much can have a negative affect on the baby, so women should limit their alcohol intake to one or two drinks.

(Reference: Bonyata, Kelly. "Breastfeeding and Alcohol." Kellymom. N.p., 01 Jul 2010. Web. 30 Dec 2011. <>)

If you're going to breastfeed in public, why can't you go out to your car, go in a bathroom, or at least use a cover?

It is very inconvenient to leave a store and go out to the car. A mother would have to either rush and pay for everything and run to the car, all with a crying baby that needs to eat, or she would have to put her things down and go out to the car and then come back in later to purchase the items. If she is at a restaurant, she would be leaving her table and food to go feed the baby. Why would a woman bother to leave somewhere and feed in the car, when she could just breastfeed the baby right where she is?

I once read an article that compared breastfeeding to bodily functions that you do in a bathroom, which means that both should be done in private. There is nothing similar about breastfeeding and bodily functions that are done in the bathroom. Things that are done in the bathroom are not sanitary, and hand-washing is usually involved (I hope). Breast milk is sterile and contains antibacterial properties; it is not something unsanitary or something that would require the mother to wash her hands after doing so.

As far as feeding the baby in the bathroom, would you eat in the bathroom? I doubt it, especially a public restroom. A public bathroom is contaminated with bodily fluids and germs from numerous other people. There is no suitable place to feed a baby, and it is simply disgusting.

As far as the cover, many women do use covers to help them breastfeed discretely. However, there are some reasons why a woman may not be able to use a cover. If it is hot in the store or they are out on a hot day, the baby would become overheated under a cover. Some babies dislike covers and refuse to nurse while covered. Some women prefer not using a cover, as they are able to latch their baby on easier or they just dislike using them. I wonder which some people would prefer, hearing a baby cry through the store or catching a glimpse of a quiet, content baby who is breastfeeding?

There are also laws in many states that protect a mother's right to breastfeed in public, so it continues to amaze me when women are told to leave public places or go sit in a bathroom.

Women who breastfeed in public are just flaunting their body.

I often hear the phrases "whipping it out" or "flaunting it." Neither accurately describes breastfeeding in public. I think most women that breastfeed do like to do so discretely, not necessarily to avoid offending anyone, but because of their own personal preference to not accidentally expose any skin in public. Many women wear nursing tops, buttoned shirts or layers to make breastfeeding in public easier. Once a baby is latched on, it is usually hard to tell if the baby is being breastfed or is simply snuggling with his or her mama. There may be a bit of skin shown, but nothing compared to the models on the cover of swimsuit magazines or the girls who wear low-cut tops and short skirts to the mall. To those who think women are exposing too much and it is "disgusting," I wonder if it is OK for women to walk around with cleavage showing, and if it is acceptable for women to wear low-cut tops that reveal even more skin? If a woman truly wanted to show off her body, she would dress that way. Breastfeeding a baby in public is about nourishing and comforting the baby, it is not sexual and it is not an attempt to show off any skin.

Women who breastfeed think they are better than than those who do not.

I think there are some extreme supporters of breastfeeding that may have given the implication that we all think that we are an elite, supreme class of people, and anyone who does not breastfeed is below us. Some women have so much passion for breastfeeding that they make it seem as though it is the ultimate and only way way to feed a baby. Of course, there are other ways to feed a baby, but breastfeeding is the natural way.

I was reading a post on a blog that I recently found, The Alpha Parent, which references a post made by the Analytical Armadillo. (In case you have never read either of these blogs, they are awesome, and I do recommend them).

In the posts made, we are told that "breast isn't best, it is normal." I have often thought about this, but never in the way it was presented in these articles. The entire concept that breast isn't best left me pondering the message that is being sent to women. Most women are bombarded with information during pregnancy; from friends, family members, books, doctors, the media, etc. Each touting that breast is best, so where does that leave formula? Formula is not "best," but it is still safe and generally acceptable. The message is that breast is best, but formula is OK too.

If we look at breast as being best, then it allows others to say that formula is an acceptable alternative. Feeding your baby by breast becomes something on a pedestal, which seems superior and mighty. The message that is sent is that breast is something extra and a bonus--not something necessary. We learn that feeding your baby by breast has advantages and benefits, but formula won't do any harm and it still provides the nutrients a baby needs.

In reality, formula is very different than breast milk, which I addressed in my post about the benefits of breastfeeding.

I don't think that every woman who breastfeeds tries to come off as judgmental, as many are simply knowledgeable about breastfeeding and want to share information. Although there are some women who can be judgmental, I do not think any woman should be insulted, degraded or made to feel guilty for the choices she makes regarding her children or the way she feeds them. I also do not feel that women who breastfeed automatically believe that are superior to everyone else. Breastfeeding women are educated on the benefits of breast milk, and they know that it is the normal and natural way to feed a baby. 

I do find that many people are incorrect about certain things regarding breastfeeding, which is why some breastfeeding moms try to share information, and then they are bashed for being a lactivist and judgmental. Yet, I find that some formula feeding moms are judgmental and insult breastfeeding mothers, which is ironic. How can you accuse another mother of being judgmental, when you are passing judgements yourself, on something you may know little about?

As for me, I am not the one to pass judgements on anyone. I do not look down on other mother's if they do not want to or cannot breastfeed. I will gladly share information, education and resources, but I try to avoid engaging in debates with those who are not open to seeing things a different way. I do look at both sides of an issue, and I know from personal experience why formula may be in the picture. I am also informed and educated about breastfeeding enough to know that it is normal and natural. If that makes me too pro-breastfeeding or a lactivist, then I suppose that is true.


  1. I wish people would understand that -- there is no "feeding schedule" -- there was no way I was going to make any of my kids wait until a certain time to eat if they were hungry earlier.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog, I'm a new gfc follower and also added you to my circles. I think I added you on Twitter (I'm so not good at it yet)...if I messed up, just send me an @ message lol

  2. some people are just not smart...nursing my babies worked totally for me my baby and my family...I was too interested in my baby to be interested in what people thought about me!

  3. Yes! The key is education and posts like this help so much. When I was nursing my babies I found the book, So Thats What They're For to be fantastic. It was helpful and real. It is tough the first few weeks and again you have to be educated to know how to get through but's cake. I could go on and on so I better just stop! Hopped in from the Tiggerific Blog Hop by the way. :)


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