Breast Milk: Fact vs. Fiction

When the topic is breast milk, not all mom chats are exactly accurate. We've asked a few of our go-to experts to clarify the truths and identify the biggest misconceptions about liquid gold.

THE MYTHS

Newborns need formula until a mother’s milk "comes in." Not so, says Dr. TJ Gold of Tribeca Pediatrics. “Until the milk flow starts, your body produces colostrum, which is rich in calories and nutrition and all your baby needs.”

Breast-fed babies feed more often than formula-fed babies because they’re not getting enough milk. “Breast milk is digested more easily than formula, so babies will tend to feed more often because they get hungry a bit sooner,” says Dr. Gold. “This does not mean you have a low milk supply.”

You have to “pump and dump” after you drink alcohol. Good news on this front. “Alcohol isn’t stored in breast milk,” says Hillary Irwin MS, RD, and owner of Simply Beautiful Mom. “It peaks in your blood and milk 30 minutes to 1 hour after consumption and will leave your milk at the same rate it leaves your bloodstream.” Rather than throwing away precious breast milk, simply time your beverage of choice wisely. “Wait at least 2 1/2 hours before nursing again, or you can dip a test strip from the drugstore into your milk to ensure it's untainted.”

Large breasts make more milk than small breasts. Wendy Haldeman MN, RN, IBCLC and co-founder of The Pump Station & Nurtury says size doesn't matter. “What makes a breast large is fat or adipose tissue. What creates milk is glandular tissue. Smaller breasted women can very well have more glandular tissue than larger breasted women and may often create a larger milk supply.”

THE FACTS

Formula is not the same as breast milk. “Mother’s milk contains important maternal molecules that protect against infection and inflammation while nourishing your baby,” says Dr. Gold. “It’s full of proteins, fats, iron, and lactose—all components for healthy development, plus infection-fighting living cells that just cannot be added to formula.”

Breast-fed babies can sleep just as many hours as formula-fed babies. A misconception exists that formula-fed babies are better sleepers than their nursing counterparts. However, “After the first several weeks, breast-fed babies (on average) are actually sleeping the same amount as formula babies,” says Dr. Gold. “An infant can sleep through the night no matter how you choose to feed them. Sleep training works for both.”

A healthy diet should produce plenty of milk. “While it’s true that you burn an extra 300-500 calories [per day] while nursing, this doesn’t mean you need to consume extra calories to keep up your milk supply,” says Irwin. “Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet with a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains and healthy fats. Drink plenty of fluids, and get as much rest as possible.” That said, if you find yourself hungrier than normal, don’t deprive yourself—just add in healthy snacks whenever you need a boost. “Dipping below 1,500 calories may put your milk supply at risk,” Irwin adds.