Booby Traps Series: Six breastfeeding myths you might hear at the doctor’s office

Written by Tanya Lieberman, IBCLC

Best for Babes Booby Traps Series Breastfeeding MythsThis is the 56th post in a series on Booby Traps, made possible by the generous support of Motherlove Herbal Company.

Why there so many breastfeeding myths, I don’t know.  But I do know that our health care providers, who typically get poor or no training in breastfeeding management, are not a whole lot less likely to perpetuate them than anyone else.

Here are several breastfeeding myths  which I have heard directly from providers, or reported to me by moms.  There are many, many more.  Feel free to leave ones you’ve heard from your providers in the comments!

“Pumping will tell us how much milk you’re making.”  A number of women have reported this one to me, having been sent home to pump or told to pump in the office (lovely) to “measure” their milk supply.  Pumping output may have nothing to do with how much milk a baby is getting at a feeding, as my friend who successfully nursed twins but was never able to pump any milk will tell you. The truth, which most pumping moms can tell you and research confirms, is that pumping output can vary widely in comparison to breastfeeding.  Not a great basis for evaluating milk supply and intake.

Best for Babes Motherlove Booby Traps Series Breastfeeding Myths“Breastfeeding was painful for her because she’s light skinned.”  I thought that this one had died out a while back, but I heard it directly from a provider a few years ago.

“She started waking more at night?  Probably time to start rice cereal in a bottle.”  This one was reported to me in person by a mom whose 4 month old perfectly healthy exclusively breastfed baby was waking more at night, probably due to teething.  Not only does this advice conflict with the AAP’s exclusive breastfeeding recommendation, starting solids to make babies sleep longer doesn’t work. Breastfeeding Answers Made Simple explains, “This popular belief appears to have no basis in fact.  Two studies found no difference in the sleep patterns of babies after solids, such as cereal, were started.  About the same number of babies began sleeping more at night whether they received the solids or not.”

“Feeding frequently can hurt you.  Why don’t you feed her less?”  I heard this from a family member, whose pediatrician told her to feed less despite the fact that she was not experiencing any pain.  If all else is well (no pain due to a bad latch, thrush, infection, biting, etc.), feeding frequently in itself shouldn’t cause pain.

“He’s fussy?  It’s probably because you’re eating…”  This one came from a visiting nurse who was caring for a friend of mine.  The nurse told her to avoid chocolate because it would cause fussiness in the baby.  You may have heard the same about “gassy” foods, citrus, garlic, etc.   Breastfeeding Answers Made Simple explains, “Fussiness and gassiness are normal during the newborn period and are unlikely to be caused by something in the mother’s diet…Even when a baby does react to a food in the mother’s diet, the specific food that causes a reaction will vary from baby to baby.  So telling all breastfeeding mothers to avoid the same foods will do no good.”

“After a year, breast milk has no real nutritional or immunological value.”  This one I’ve heard reported my moms online a number of times, and it never ceases to amaze me.  My favorite response:  Does spinach spontaneously change from nutritious to junk food?

Best for Babes Booby Traps Series Breastfeeding Myths

Unfortunately, this is just a small sampling of the myths moms sometimes hear presented as truth from their health care providers.  What breastfeeding myths have you heard in your provider’s office?


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29 Comments | Last revised on 09/19/2012

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29 Responses to Booby Traps Series: Six breastfeeding myths you might hear at the doctor’s office

  1. My generally-awesome pediatrician told me that one about there being no nutritional value in breast milk after a year. Sigh. Thankfully I knew better, but what if she is telling that misinformation to another mom who has made it that far and isn’t sure if it’s worth continuing? It’s frustrating. Of all people, pediatricians should be better informed. Why don’t they meet with LCs and learn? Our doc never mentioned formula and seemed very pro-BF, just not as educated as she should have been.

  2. Jo says:

    I had low supply after several post birth complications. My GP told me to limit feeds to ten minutes a side and feed every 3 – 4 hours, so that my boobs have a chance to FILL UP!

  3. Julie says:

    I also have a generally awesome, pro-BFing ped doc, but she also gave me the “you can give her rice cereal if you want her to sleep longer” bit at my baby’s 4 month appointment. I blew off that bit of advice (thanks BfB!) but if I hadn’t done a ton of reading on my own I might have tried it.

    • wktwong says:

      My pedia told me the same thing at 4 mos. Seeing this was #2 and I knew better, I just smiled and thanked him (without following that advice). The following month he asked how we were with the cereal and I told him baby hated it and we will wait. Luckily he didn’t push any further. At this age (almost 6 months), it’s expected that they wake up to nurse!

  4. Angela Quinn says:

    My first pediatrician about 10 years ago told me at my sons one-year appointment that I should wean him because it was no longer socially acceptable for me to breastfeed him. He said I should go home that night and start him in some whole cow’s milk. I sputtered out the WHO recommendation of two years or longer and left his office and requested my records on the way out. Thank goodness I didn’t listen to him. A few months later in the allergist”s office my son went anaphylactic with 2 ounces of cows milk. Would have also been nice if he had recognized all the signs of a dairy allergy all along rather than blowing me off.

  5. Beth M. says:

    The pediatrician we saw when my daughter was 6 months told me that “Breastmilk does not contain iron, so all breastfed babies need iron supplements.” Fortunately I knew better and we switched docs ASAP. Another pediatrician in town told my friend that if she got pregnant again she had to wean her daughter immediately.

    • Liz B says:

      It is true that breastmilk is low in measurable iron, but the iron in breastmilk is easily absorbed. For some babies, particularly those who didn’t have the benefit of delayed cord clamping at birth, starting iron rich foods or an iron supplement might be a good idea.

  6. Cynthia says:

    I have heard baby doctors say that after you have 2 or 3 kids you can’t produce breast
    Milk. Tell that to Michelle Druggar from 19 kids and counting all her kids were breastfeed

    • rhondaas says:

      Actually her youngest that was born early and spent a great deal of time in the NICU didn’t get to BF for very long…if I am not mistaken they led her to believe that the baby would do better on formula…cuz nothing says healthy like something made in a factory…I do have a theory..why out of all 19 her one baby could not “take” her milk? I long ago believe formula companies have too much control on doctors…keep kids sick…we keep you in business….we already know about so many unethical practices going on with hospitals and formula…so out of the 19 kids this one baby had way MORE media coverage…lets use this one baby for one more chance to DEbunk the power in Breastmilk…

      • kelleh says:

        Baby Josie had to be put on lactate free food as she was severely lactose intolerant. Being a micro premie led her to having digestional issues. This is why the baby was taken off breast milk and it was also explained in the subsequent media coverage. Please do not judge on half information, its misleading and counter productive.

  7. I was told by a PA at my endocrinologist’s office that I had to stop nursing IMMEDIATELY because I was pregnant. According to her, I was killing my unborn baby because the nutrition would go to my milk first. I didn’t stop. The next time I saw her, i was grateful to hear that she had educated herself. She now has no problem with nursing while pregnant or tandem nursing as long as mama is eating well.

  8. Julia says:

    I heard the rice cereal one personally, but I don’t think it is a real booby trap in relation to me – I didn’t even think for a second that my son wasn’t getting enough breast milk from me ever, I just wanted a reason for why he wasn’t sleeping through the night. Truth is, he’s just a few days shy of 10 months now and he’s STILL not sleeping through the night and he eats 3 solid meals a day/nurses FREQUENTLY. He is also big for his age so I know he’s getting plenty. I guess some people will believe anything if they hear it from what they think is a well-meaning source, unless you’re me, who doesn’t like to be told I’m doing something wrong (because then I’ll try to prove YOU wrong). Haha.

  9. Kris says:

    I work as a lactation consultant in the hospital. We had a baby that wasn’t overly eager to eat and was breathing faster than normal. So, the Pediatrician said the baby needed to be “challenged”. I asked what that meant & the Ped said to feed the baby the bottle to make him eat and see if he could breath through it. Of course I was shocked to think that someone would think this an option. The ped said it as though it were scientific fact and common practice. As someone said, “breastfeeding sacrificed on the altar of ignorance”.

  10. Marie says:

    I was talking with a mom the other day who was given some advice by her pediatrician. She was concerned that her exclusively at-breast-fed two month old baby was spitting up too much. The doctor’s ‘solution’ was that she should start pumping her milk specifically so she could put it into a bottle with rice cereal, and that this thickening would help it stick better in baby’s stomach.
    Another mom visiting her OB’s office, after her baby was diagnosed with thrush at three weeks by the pediatrician, was told they can’t do anything to help her with internal breast pain, and “if it hurts why don’t you just stop doing that?”
    Better education should be mandatory.

  11. The first pediatrician I interviewed when I was pregnant with my first child asked if I was planning to breastfeed. When I said I was, he said, “Well, we recommend that you have some formula in the house. That way, if you nurse the baby and then he spits up, you don’t have to sit and listen to him cry while you wait for your breasts to fill back up.” Needless to say that is not the pediatrician I chose…

  12. Courtney says:

    My primary care physician was out so I had to see a covering doctor in the practice for a particularly nasty virus I had. I was nursing my then 16 month old and disclosed this during the examination when she talked of putting me on an antibiotic. Now, it’s already a stretch that I’d need an antibiotic for something viral (although this one was pretty bad and wasn’t going away so I thought perhaps the virus was large enough to warrant antibiotics) but she told me I had to stop breastfeeding to take it. I told her I wouldn’t be stopping but she cut me off and said breast milk has no nutritional value; no value at all, really, after one year of age. She looked disgusted as she recounted a story of a friend of hers nursing a 4 year old. “I told her she should know better, she’s a doctor, too! At some point you’re doing it for your own selfish reasons. You can’t keep them babies forever.” I was so ill I didn’t have it in me to educate her extensively so I boiled it down to this: “Well, you’re going to have to do a little extra work here and find an antibiotic that is breastfeeding-friendly because I’m not stopping, and even if I wanted to, I risk engorgement and mastitis if I stop cold-turkey.” I figured I’d appeal to her twisted logic and her warped sense of helping only me, the patient (not my kid). She shut right up and prescribed something safe. I checked it with Dr. Hale’s Infant Risk hotline and my local LC – both of which were disgusted with this doctors ignorance about the facts of breast milk and her rudeness at basically saying all women who nurse over one year are doing it to stunt the emotional growth of their children. It’s a shame that doctors think they have a right to dispense opinion as if it’s medical fact, twisting the truth when they need to. This woman clearly had a personal heeby-jeeby about nursing in general and was looking to put limits on it, and in came personal opinion. Add to it that when you’re at the doctor you’re most likely sick and vulnerable and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Thankfully, I was well-informed about nursing and properties of breast milk (and why I, personally, chose to ‘extend’ nurse) so I could navigate my way through that nonsense. Fun Fact: I went on to nurse my son until 4 years old, allowing him to self wean.

  13. Deborah says:

    When I went to my ob-gyn for a routine exam when my baby was about 6 months, she recommended a mammogram for me, since I’m over 40. I asked if my nursing would affect the results and she said, “probably… we’ll just do it when you wean.” When I let her know I wasn’t planning to wean any time soon – my goal at the time was 2 years – she appeared shocked and informed me that the American Pediatric Assn. recommendation was only 1 year (as if that was the maximum recommendation, not the minimum). That any MD would distort that recommendation in that way was a little bizarre to me.

    • Karen says:

      MY mother recently died of breast cancer, so at my first visit with my new doctor, (which occured only a short time after my mom’s passing) he recommended that I get a mammagram done as soon as possible. He knew of my children’s ages, but never even asked if I was breastfeeding. He just gave me the papers to get one. Thankfully I saw online that breastfeeding does affect mammagrams. The doctor doesn’t know it yet, but it will just have to wait until my next one (due in Nov.) is weaned!

    • Brooke says:

      Breast cancer risk decreases with each year of breastfeeding so she should have told you to keep doing it as long as possible.

  14. Becky says:

    After breastfeeding four of my own kids and two nephews, as well as donating and helping dozens of other moms with breastfeeding, I was shocked with our NICU stay with our youngest son. (He had some postpartum breathing issues as he apirated fluid and in rescusitation had a small hold blown in h is lung. So not a preemie by any means) but everything I was told there flew in the face of everything I ever knew about breastfeeding. From the fact that “babies don’t like the taste of colostrum” to the fact that “it wasnt good fot either of us to nurse less than every three hours.” And “his own immune system kicks in at six months, so it doesn’t matter if he gets breastmilk” and the ones I hated most; all my young nurses who had one baby giving me their ” well with my own” reasons breastmilk doesnt matter speaches. How many times I said “yes well, he is my fifth. I do know what Im doing here, I will call you if We need you.” I hated being rude but it was hard enough having a sick child , then to be told everything you had ever known was wrong… It was hard at the time to think of these things, but how many moms are defeated by a system that is supposed to keep a baby healthy?

  15. Krysti says:

    When my son was born, there were some complications and he had to stay in the NICU, but he was not a preemie. He is my first child and I was bound and determined to solely breastfeeding him. I couldn’t feed him for the first 2 days he was alive because they didn’t want him to…still not sure what that was about. Then, when they finally let him eat, I was having issues with him latching on. Fortunately, or so I thought, one of his primary nurses said she was a certified lactation consultant, and she told me that I was to only feed him for a maximum of 10 minutes and then if he was still hungry, then SHE’D give him some formula. And when I was finished feeding him, she would make me put him back in his bed and then leave the NICU immediately, essentially limiting my contact with my sick, newborn son to feeding only. Now that i think about it…the funny thing is, she never kicked my husband out…. 🙁 hmm. Also, she said that he’d be released sooner if he drank x-amount of cc’s, and since I was breastfeeding there was no way to tell how much he was getting so he’d end up staying longer. I was taken aback by her 10 minute “rule”, because I knew that didn’t sound right, but I bought into the cc excuse because I didn’t know any better. My son still ended up staying in the hospital for a week, but was fortunately removed from her care and placed into other nurses care in the NICU who supported me breastfeeding my son in one sitting for as long as he wanted to feed from me until he got full. Needless to say, I was not very happy with the way I or my son was treated by that one nurse, especially for her supposedly being a lactation consultant in the NICU, I can’t imagine what she’s telling other mothers. 🙁

  16. Cassandra says:

    As for the recommendation to pump to see how much milk your baby is getting… My baby is nine months old today. She still is on only breastmilk and only from my breast, not pumped and bottle-fed, because I stay home with her. A couple weeks ago she was supremely fussy and could hardly sleep, very unusual for her. She had been teething terribly so I figured that was it. Then I thought she might like chewing on a spoon and trying a bit of cereal so I got out my manual pump to get some for mixing. After four minutes on each breast I had barely enough milk to even cover the bottom of the pumping bottle… And I FREAKED OUT thinking that was the reason my baby was fussy – she wasn’t getting any milk!!! Luckily rather than consider formula I searched online for ways to increase milk supply in desperation (I have planned to breastfeed for at least two years, I did not want to give up without a fight). I found instead information about how pumping can yield little or no milk even if you are producing plenty of breastmilk for your baby because nothing is better at getting milk out of a breast than a baby. I then had to laugh at myself for freaking out so easily – this kid is nearly thirty pounds and the very picture of health. So no solids and no formula still. And four teeth broke through on top so now she is back to her happy self!

  17. Courtney says:

    1st baby was instructed to feed by the clock…
    2nd baby was 10lb 8oz…was told by the paed that he needed to be gaining 150mg a week (he was gaining that a day!) and the OB told me I better have a can of formula at home because “no-one can feed a big baby”…when I challenged him was told I would quit if I got gastro!?!

    When pregnant with no.2 the GP who confirmed the pregnancy told me to stop feeding no.1 straight away…when challenged her reason “it will be easier for you”.

    Allergist recommended soy formula?! at 13mths because I should want to?!

    These few examples are only the icing on the cake of the shit ‘advice’ I have gotten from health ‘professionals’

  18. Melissa Barron says:

    With my first (9lbs7oz boy) I ended up having a c-section due to his size. The hospital gave him formula while I was in recovery and we had a fight to BF after that (he ended up being half FF and half BF). With my second (6lbs12oz girl) our pediatrician told me that she wasn’t getting enough BM because I was tired and not producing enough and that I should supplement with formula… this from the same doctor who told me my son didn’t have thrush… it was milk stuck to his tongue. (Week later full blown thrush)… I completely ignored him and upped her feedings she was fine. Now number 3 (7lbs15.8ozs girl)is happily breastfeeding whenever she wants

  19. Melissa Barron says:

    Also, I live in Canada where BFing is protected federally… yet we still get harassed and asked to relocate. I even had my brother in law suggest I feed my daughter (baby 2) in a truck stop restroom. My mom’s already started asking when I’m going to switch baby 3 to a bottle (baby 3 is 2 months old)

  20. Amy says:

    I was told by my pediatrician at my baby’s 9 month check-up that I needed to practice using a sippy cup so that I’d be ready to switch him to cow’s milk when he turned one. While I’m not opposed to my baby having cow’s milk now that he’s a year, the idea that I should arbitrarily stop nursing just because he hit that milestone was frustrating. Even if it were true that the nutritional value of human milk for a baby decreases after a year, how does it make sense that a cow’s milk would be better for my baby than mine?

  21. Kelli says:

    When my 4th fully breastfed baby was 2 weeks old we had our first pediatrician appointment. She was born 5 weeks early, spent a week in the hospital but was several ounces over birth weight by this appointment. After asking if she was breastfeeding and how often (every 1-3 hours with no problems) she said “hmm, well, you might consider giving her a bottle sometimes to give her a break”.

    Really? A break? Because breastfeeding is so hard for her? I ignored the pedi and my daughter breastfed for 2.5 years.

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