Busting The Booby Traps: It’s Time We Let These Lactation Myths Go


Information about lactation is easier to find than ever thanks to social media and the internet, but it seems like so many incorrect myths are hard to get rid of. It wouldn’t be such a big deal if these myths didn’t put up unnecessary hurdles for parents in their lactation journeys. But these common booby traps do sabotage parents. As a physician specializing in lactation care, I don’t get upset when parents choose not to breast or chest-feed. I get upset when their option to make an informed decision is taken away by misinformation and mismanagement. And I hear these stories every darn day. It’s time we start busting the many booby traps and let these lactation myths go.

Sadly, there are countless lactation myths I hear daily. Every time I think that I’ve heard it all, someone tells me another one. But we have to start somewhere. So here are some of the most common booby traps I see getting in the way of moms I care for:

Lactation Myth # 1: Nipple pain is normal.

Busting The Booby Trap: Nipple pain is COMMON. This does NOT mean it is normal. Nipple pain is always a sign that something isn’t working properly with lactation. Sure, some discomfort in the beginning is common as the lactating parent and baby learn together. But true pain, especially if it continues despite help with positioning and latch, warrants rapid attention before things worsen and it’s harder to help! You do not need to sacrifice your nipples for the cause of breastfeeding. In fact, pushing through the pain instead of getting help may set you up for infections, problems producing milk, and a host of other complications. 

This does not mean that you are doing anything wrong as a mother or failing at breastfeeding if you can’t get the pain fixed easily. Not all problems are easy to solve quickly. But the right professional can help you understand what is going on and give you an idea of what to expect moving forward. Don’t let yourself feel brushed off. 

Lactation Myth # 2: Breastfeeding is natural, so it must be easy.

Busting The Booby Trap: Yes, I’ve heard this one many times. I was even told this myself when I was going through my own lactastrophe. Some people asked why I needed a lactation consultant – I mean, the problems will get better on their own, right? I have more than learned the stark reality of how untrue this statement is since then. 

It was so demoralizing to feel like I must be doing something wrong because the problems weren’t improving. It took years for me to reconcile that emotional pain. I now realize I needed a level of specialty care for complex lactation problems that just wasn’t easy to find. I don’t want other parents to suffer as I did, so I spent many years learning to become the physician I desperately needed but couldn’t find back then. 

Lactation Myth #3: If your baby is at the breast, they are getting milk.

Busting The Booby Trap: Nope. Turns out, some sucking transfers milk. Some sucking doesn’t. And some babies are just plain sucky at sucking. Those cases can be super complicated to tease apart and often have many underlying factors. 

It’s so helpful for parents to learn how to tell if their baby is sucking and actually swallowing milk or just spending time at the breast. Next time your baby nurses, take a look and see if you can tell the difference. Videos are also a great way to practice identifying this.

Sucking that isn’t actually removing milk from the breast looks like short, more rapid, and shallow sucks. Sucking that is transferring milk to the baby’s mouth has a more rhythmic quality, with the jaw dropping while milk pours in. 

It takes time to learn the difference but knowing this can help you determine if you need more help. For example, if your baby is spending 90 minutes ‘feeding’ and then eating again 30 minutes later around the clock, you can watch for the sucking types during those feeds. If you realize most of that time is spent with shallow sucks and much fewer deep jaw dropping sucks, then you might want to get checked by an experienced lactation care professional.

Lactation Myth #4: Pump and dump

Busting The Booby Trap: Yes, occasionally it’s not safe to give breastmilk to your baby while taking a medication or having a procedure or imaging study. But it is absolutely tragic how often this advice is given incorrectly to lactating parents. Most of the time it is actually safe to use the breastmilk. Or it is possible to choose an alternative care option that is safer. But how is your physician or other care provider supposed to know the difference? Many of the usual medication resources doctors use to guide care decisions state to ‘pump and dump’ without this being necessary. It turns out there are actually good evidence-based resources to better help make these decisions. Be sure to print this article and get this website to your favorite medical professionals. Let’s get the message out and trash the pump and dump!

Lactation Myth #5: Massaging your breasts fixes plugged ducts and other problems

Busting The Booby Trap: I see countless moms in my clinic with bruised and tender breasts. They have been told they need to use vibration, firm massage, hairbrushes, and other devices to help get “plugs” or blockages out of their breasts and prevent mastitis. They are also often pumping and pumping in an effort to “fully empty the breast”. They often end up getting chunky substances out of their breasts, further perpetuating the idea that this was the plug and they succeeded in mashing it out.

The anatomy of breast tissue is fascinating. It turns out that’s not really how the breast works! In fact, firm massage and application of all these devices to the breast likely often worsen the swelling and inflammation that is the underlying problem, to begin with. Instead, you are better doing a much gentler form of hands-on treatment called lymphatic drainage, sometimes also called therapeutic lactation massage. One of the keys to this type of therapy: the touch is as light as if you were stroking a cat. If it causes pain, you are pushing too hard. 

As it turns out, there are too many booby traps and lactation myths to include in one post. So many parents have their own lactstrophes and stories of booby sabotage. If you are struggling, keep reaching out for help. If one type of lactation professional isn’t able to provide the care you need, then it may be time to call on another with different training. Now go out and spread the booby trap-busting truth to everyone you know. Collectively we can help each other – when we know better, we can do better.