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The REAL Truth about Breastfeeding

Who can and cannot breastfeed?

Despite the fact that musician Gwen Stefani and actress Courtney Cox juggled busy schedules in their thriving careers, they both managed to nurse their children for over a year. Many people think that moms can't breastfeed if they work or are on medication. Once again, these misconceptions are a result of a lack of knowledge about breastfeeding. Here's the REAL truth about who can breastfeed.

So, who CAN breastfeed?

Moms that work

Working, breastfeeding moms are protected by labor laws that allow pumping at work. Federal law mandates that companies provide:

  • a room other than a bathroom for breastfeeding mothers to pump in private for companies of 50 employees or more
  • refrigerated storage facilities for expressed milk
  • paid breaks during which moms can pump.1,2

Even though a mother's return to work traditionally meant an end to breastfeeding, new laws encourage working moms to continue breastfeeding. Check your state laws (ours, Indiana, has similar rules for businesses with 25 or more employees).

Moms who are on medication

This may come as a surprise, but most medications are safe for breastfeeding, with a few exceptions, such as chemotherapy and radioactive drugs.3-5 Doctors will modify medications for breastfeeding mothers so that their children won't be harmed.

Resources such as this online site provide quick guidelines about common medications.

However, more research examining the short- and long-term effects of drugs on breastfeeding infants is needed.4

Moms who take birth control

Breastfeeding on demand delays fertility.6 Mothers are encouraged to wait at least 6 weeks after they give birth to start taking a low dosage birth control to prevent low milk supply. Mothers should collaborate with their doctors to determine other options, such as progestin-only contraceptives, which may have less of an effect on milk supply than estrogen-containing contraceptives.7

Moms who have had cosmetic breast surgery

Breast implants and reductions can affect future milk production by damaging nerves and ducts, but it is still possible to breastfeed if the damage is not very extensive.8-10 Your baby's weight gain should be closely monitored in the first few weeks if you've had some sort of breast augmentation surgery, however. Remember, too, that you can mechanically supplement breastmilk with more breastmilk at the time of suckling to ensure that your baby gets the best nutrition. Ask your lactation consultant.

Moms who wish to give partners, friends, and family a chance to bond with the baby

Though many partners, family members and friends of breastfeeding mothers report frustration at not being able to soothe or bond with an infant in the same way that mothers can, there is still much they can do to be supportive of both baby and mother.11 Breastfeeding mothers need much support, so the best thing family members and friends can do is to offer their unconditional support and help, which can involve caring for the baby in ways other than feeding. The father and other family members can play an active role in helping to keep his wife and, in turn, his infant healthy. Family members can respond promptly to the baby's needs, hold the baby skin to skin, and play with the baby--all things the child needs for optimal development.

The father can bathe the infant and sleep close to both baby and mother at night. Fathers can also help their wives by feeding the infants expressed milk when necessary.11

Moms who think it's normal to experience pain while breastfeeding

Though it is common to experience a bit of nipple pain in the first few days of breastfeeding, breastfeeding should not hurt. A mother's breasts may also hurt for the first few days because of engorgement. This pain should subside once her body becomes accustomed to how much milk she must produce to meet her baby's needs. If breastfeeding continues to hurt after the first few days or even weeks, your body may be signaling for you to adjust something.12 It is always good to get some advice from a lactation consultant.

With help and support, 99% of mothers can breastfeed successfully!

NOTE: Co-authors are Elizabeth Ledden and Stephani Sieswerda


Post #1 discusses why you should care about breastfeeding, no matter who you are.

Post #2 discusses assumptions about infant formula that are wrong.

Post #3 discusses myths about infant formula.

Post #4 discusses the TREMENDOUS benefits of breastfeeding.

Post #5 addresses myths about breastfeeding.

**Check out our YouTube video on breastfeeding vs. formula.**

Post #6 discusses real truths about breastfeeding.

Post #7 provides links to resources for breastfeeding.

Post #8 summarizes the prior posts' main messages in blunt terms.

Post #9 responds to critics of #8.


1) Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 §7, 29 U.S.C. §207 (2010).

2) Senate Enrolled Act No. 219, SECTION 2. IC 5-10-6-2, SECTION 4. IC 22-2-14, Sec. 87.2. IC 22-2-14-2

3) Auerback, K. (1999). Breastfeeding and maternal medication use. Journal of obstetric, gynecologic, and neonatal nursing, 28(5), 554-563.

4) Ito, S. & Lee, A. (2003). Drug excretion into breast milk-Overview. Advanced Drug Delivery Reviews, 55, 617-27.

5) American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Drugs. (2001). The transfer of drugs and other chemicals into human milk. Pediatrics, 108(3), 776-89.

6) Howie, P., McNeilly, A., Houston, M., Cook, A., & Boyle, H. (1982). Fertility after childbirth: Post-partum ovulation and menstruation in bottle and breast feeding mothers. Clinical Endocrinology, 17(4), 323-32.

7) Adams, D.M. (2000). Breastfeeding and oral contraceptives: Exploring opinions and options. AWHONN Lifelines, 4(3), 45-7.

8) Hurst, N. (1996). Lactation after augmentation mammoplasty. Obstetrics and gynecology, 87(1), 30-34.

9) Michalopoulos, K. (2007). The effects of breast augmentation surgery on future ability to lactate. The Breast Journal, 13(1), 62-7.

10) Chiummariello, S., Cigna, E., Buccheri, E., Dessy, L., Alfano, C., & Scuderi, N. (2008). Breastfeeding after reduction mammoplasty using different techniques. Aesth Plast Surg, 32, 294-7.

11) Goodman, J. H. (2005). Becoming an involved father of an infant. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, & Neonatal Nursing, 34(2), 190-200.

12) Tait, P. (2000). Nipple pain in breastfeeding women: Causes, treatment, and prevention strategies. Journal of Midwifery & Women's Health, 45(3), 212-5.