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Breastfeeding myths in the African-American community

New moms get a lot of baby advice. Although people usually mean well, not all of their advice is based on fact. Myths about breastfeeding are common, and the decision to breastfeed as an African-American woman can be complicated. The fact is that breastfeeding is a healthy way to feed your baby. The decision to breastfeed is a personal one.

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Myth: African-American women today don’t need to breastfeed.

African-American mothers breastfeed their children at lower rates than women of other races. The reasons behind this difference are complex and are a result of history, social barriers to breastfeeding, and lack of support.  But the truth is that today the majority of women start out breastfeeding, regardless of race, income, or family history.

If you cannot find breastfeeding support and assistance in your family, go online to find a supportive community. Google “black breastfeeding support” to find information for your area. Look at YouTube videos for tips and tricks. Connect with others on social media who know what you’re going through.

Deciding to breastfeed your child is a very personal decision that you do not need to justify to anyone. The truth is that breastfeeding is the healthiest start for your baby, and the longer you can breastfeed your baby, the healthier he or she will be.

Myth: Everyone uses formula.

When you see a mom feeding her child a bottle, you probably can’t tell right away if it’s formula or breastmilk. And some women breastfeed their babies so discreetly in public that you might not even notice. It may seem like everyone uses formula because formula is more visible than breastfeeding.

According to the latest Breastfeeding Report Card by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, four out of five women in the United States — regardless of race or income — start out breastfeeding.1 Among African-American women, more than two out of every three moms start out breastfeeding,1 up from one out of every three moms in the 1970s. Research over the past 40 years has proven that mother's milk is an inexpensive and healthy choice for babies.2

 

Myth: Formula has more vitamins than breastmilk.

In fact, the opposite is true. Formula cannot match the nutrients and vitamins in breastmilk. Breastmilk also has antibodies, which can only be passed from your body to your baby. This is what helps protect your baby from getting sick. Breastmilk is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization. Breastfeeding is a great choice to ensure your baby's nutrition.

Myth: Formula feeding is easier than breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding may seem hard at first and take some getting used to, but breastfeeding gets easier the more you do it. Breastfeeding can be more convenient than formula and is a great timesaver. Unlike formula, breastmilk doesn't need any sterilizing, measuring, mixing, or heating. And you don't have to worry about packing supplies to bring when you go out, or about finding the right formula, bottle, and nipple in the store.

Myth: Formula feeding is cheaper than breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding can actually save a family up to $1,500 in a baby’s first year alone.2 Even when moms receive benefits from programs such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), which provides supplemental foods to low-income women and their babies, moms who breastfeed exclusively get better financial benefits for a full year (versus six months or less for formula-feeding moms).

Myth: Breastfeeding makes your breasts sag.

Actually, it's pregnancy that stretches the ligaments of your breast tissue, whether you breastfeed or not. Age, genetics, and the number of pregnancies you’ve had also play a role.

Myth: If your breasts are too small, you can’t breastfeed.

Size and shape of breasts do not affect ability to breastfeed and have nothing to do with how much milk a woman actually makes. This includes women with large areolas (the area around the nipple), flat nipples, and even women who've had breast surgery. (If you’ve had a massive breast reduction, milk ducts and glands might have been removed, which means you may make less milk.)

Myth: If your breasts are too large or you’re plus size, you can’t breastfeed.

Women of all sizes can successfully breastfeed. So if you’re a larger mom-to-be, you should not let the size of your breasts automatically rule it out. If you’re big breasted, it may take some extra patience or some help from a lactation consultant. Depending on the size of your breasts, you may need a little more practice to find a breastfeeding hold that works for you and your baby. But with the right help and support, you can do it.

Myth: You won’t be able to make enough milk.

Moms almost always make enough milk to feed their babies. Your baby is probably getting more than you think at each feeding. A newborn’s stomach is only the size of an almond. If you eat in a healthy way, drink water, and nurse often, your milk supply should be plentiful. If you have any concerns about your milk supply or your child’s weight, check with your baby’s doctor or nurse.

Myth: Your milk will turn sour or dry up.

A woman's body can do many amazing things, but curdling milk inside your breasts isn’t one of them. Although it’s true that through breastfeeding your baby gets a taste of everything you’ve eaten, there isn’t a direct line from what goes in your mouth to what goes in your baby’s. Breastfeeding moms don't need a special diet and do not need to drink milk to make milk.

And don't worry about your milk drying up; breastfeeding is about supply and demand. As long as you’re breastfeeding (or pumping) regularly, your body will make more milk. Only if you stop breastfeeding, skip feedings, or start supplementing with formula will your milk production go down.

Myth: You need to supplement, because your baby seems hungry or is crying all the time.

When you breastfeed on demand, your baby stays satisfied. Remember, newborn tummies are tiny, so they fill up fast, empty, and then need to be filled up again.

What does a hungry baby look like? Look for your baby’s hunger cues — head turning toward the breast, fist gnawing, or lip smacking. Crying due to hunger is a grumpy baby’s last resort when someone missed his or her earlier hunger signs. Also realize a baby cries for reasons other than hunger — sleepiness, feeling gassy or sick, having a dirty diaper, or just needing to be held. Trust that your breastmilk provides all the nutrients, protein, and hydration your baby needs for the first six months of life. No supplements or cereals are needed.

If your baby is crying for hours and hours and you are not able to comfort him or her, it could be a sign of colic. Check with your baby’s doctor or nurse.

Myth: Bigger babies are healthier babies.

The idea that big, chubby babies are healthier babies is not necessarily true. Every baby grows at his or her own pace, which is checked at every well-baby visit by a doctor or nurse. Breastfed babies know how to self-regulate, which means they stop eating when their tummy is full, not when the bottle is empty. If you are concerned that your baby is too skinny or too big, check with your baby's doctor or nurse.

Myth: Breastfeeding spoils a child.

After spending nine months growing inside you, it's completely natural for a baby to be attached to his or her mother and vice versa. Newborns don't need to learn to fend for themselves at such a young age. Breastfeeding provides a unique bond with your child that can last a lifetime. And research shows that breastfed children grow up to be confident and self-sufficient when parents meet their needs.

Myth: Breastfeeding hurts.

The truth is that breastfeeding is not supposed to be painful. In fact, pain is usually a red flag that something is wrong. While a baby's latch can be strong, it's not actually biting, not even when the baby is cutting teeth. As with any new skill, there is an adjustment period. Read our Learning to breastfeed section so you can know what to expect.

Myth: You can’t breastfeed in public.

The court of public opinion seems to carry more weight than actual laws on the books: In most states, the law allows you to nurse wherever you and your baby have a legal right to be. Although the laws don’t say you have to be covered up, there are, of course, ways to breastfeed discreetly if that makes you more comfortable.

Myth: Breastfeeding is not for me.

Some women feel uncomfortable with the idea of their breasts making milk for a child, and others have heard negative comments about breastfeeding in the past. Some women are just overwhelmed with the idea of breastfeeding on top of caring for a newborn.

While there are many benefits to breastfeeding, it’s okay if you decide not to breastfeed. As a new mom, you deserve support no matter how you decide to feed your baby. We want to make sure all women have information and support to make an informed decision about breastfeeding.

Sources

  1. Rates of Any and Exclusive Breastfeeding by Socio-demographics among Children Born in 2014. National Immunization Survey. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2017.
  2. Office of the Surgeon General. (2011). The Surgeon General's Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding. Rockville (MD).