Breastfeeding has multiple health benefits for both baby and mother in the first six months of an infant’s life. However, myths persist that discourage some women from doing so. Mediclinic lactation specialist PN Candice Amorim has answers to five of the most common.

Breastfeeding is of course the most natural way to feed your baby. It’s an opportunity to give your baby an excellent start in life, but some new moms are dissuaded from even trying. So, before you listen to the naysayers and decide breastfeeding is not for you, first consider the benefits of breastmilk for both you and your child:

  • Breastmilk is readily available, at the correct temperature, and requires no preparation.
  • It is suited specifically to each baby and has immune-boosting properties.
  • It is soothing and helps mother and babe to bond.

If this isn’t reason enough to convince you to breastfeed, you may have been led to believe one or more of the breastfeeding myths below:

Myth 1: Breastfeeding is painful

“One of the most common misconceptions that women have about breastfeeding is that it is painful, but if done correctly, it shouldn’t be,” explains Candice Amorim, a professional nurse (PN) and lactation specialist at Mediclinic Panorama. “It’s normal for a woman’s nipples to be sensitive when she starts breastfeeding. This initial discomfort and sensitivity will lessen over time. If you feel stabbing pain and a pinching feeling during breastfeeding, the baby needs help to relatch properly, and a lactation specialist or midwife can assist.”

Myth 2: I’ll have to limit my diet

Some women think breastfeeding requires a drastic change in diet so as not to upset their baby’s tender digestive system, for example, avoiding such foods as tomatoes, onions and broccoli. “When you’re breastfeeding, you can keep eating what you ate during pregnancy as the baby will have become familiar with these tastes in utero,” explains PN Amorim.

“Breastfeeding moms should follow a healthy, moderate diet but limit caffeine, sugar and alcohol. These can be taken, but in small quantities, and directly after a feed so that by the time of the next feed, such stimulants are no longer in the mother’s system. Otherwise, there are no limits to what new moms can eat.” You may also resume eating foods like sushi, cold meats and unpasteurised dairy, such as soft cheeses. These are not recommended during pregnancy due to the possibility of high levels of mercury in the raw fish that can cause birth defects, and the risk of food-borne illnesses, such as listeriosis.

Myth 3: I can’t breastfeed if I’m ill

When a mother is ill, her body produces antibodies to fight the infection and these antibodies are passed on in the breastmilk, protecting the baby from becoming ill. “If you have a cold or flu, your baby won’t necessarily get it because your breastmilk contains antibodies specific to the type of illness you have,” explains PN Amorim.

“Many women believe that if they’re sick and on medication, they shouldn’t breastfeed. Of course, it depends on what kind of illness and medication are involved, but with basic infections like cold and flu, you can still breastfeed.” While a number of medicines are safe to take while breastfeeding, new mothers should always check with their healthcare professional. Some drugs, such as those prescribed for certain psychiatric illnesses, may not be advised while breastfeeding.

Myth 4: I can’t exercise while breastfeeding

Some women have been told that exercising will affect the taste of their milk, but this is untrue, says PN Amorim. “It’s in fact healthy for new mothers to exercise moderately. It boosts the milk supply too, as long as you stay hydrated. Being physically active is also great for a new mom’s mental state. Those first few months of breastfeeding can make women feel isolated. Exercise can make you feel much better, even if it’s just a walk around the block in the fresh air.” Breastfeeding need not be isolating, and there’s no need to be shy of breastfeeding among friends and family.

Myth 5: I haven't got it right so I might as well give up

Women are often led to believe that if they haven’t got breastfeeding right in the first few weeks, they won’t be able to breastfeed in future. “It can take about six weeks for mother and baby to find their rhythm with breastfeeding, so on the contrary, new moms should be encouraged to persist,” says PN Amorim.

“Breastfeeding is a relationship between mother and baby and, as the baby grows, their feeding needs change too. In the first three or four days, a woman’s breastmilk consists mostly of antibody-rich colostrum, a concentrated form of milk that is perfect for introducing fluid to the infant. About 72 hours after birth, the milk comes in, and the more regularly a mother feeds, the more milk is produced.”