Feeding your baby outside the womb doesn’t require quite the degree of dietary dedication or – monitoring – that feeding your baby inside the womb did. But for as long as you’re breastfeeding, you’ll need to pay a certain amount of attention to what goes into you in order to ensure that everything that goes into your baby is healthy and safe.
What You Eat
Tired of watching your diet like an expectant hawk? Here’s some news you’ll be happy to hear: compared to pregnancy, nursing actually makes minimal demands on your diet. The basic fat-protein-carbohydrate composition of human milk isn’t directly dependent on what a mother eats. In fact, all over the world, women produce adequate and abundant milk on inadequate diets. That’s because if a mother doesn’t consume enough calories and proteins to produce milk, her body will tap its own stores of nutrients to fuel milk production – that is, until those stores are depleted.
But just because you can make milk on an adequate diet doesn’t mean you should. Clearly, no matter how many nutrients your body may have stock-piled, the goal when you’re nursing should never to be deplete those stores – that’s too risky, setting you for a variety of health problems, including the potential later in life or osteoporosis. So be sure, and eat well.
What You Drink
How much do you have to drink to make sure your baby gets enough to drink? Actually, no more than you have to drink at any other time in your adult life. Nursing mothers do not have to drink any more than those eight daily glasses – of water, milk or other fluid – in order to ensure a good supply. In fact, too much fluid can actually decrease the amount of milk you make.
That said, most adults don’t drink their full fluid requirement every day, and nursing mothers are no exception. One way to make sure you drink your quota is to keep a bottle or glass of water close by when you’re nursing (which will be at least eight times a day at first); when your baby drinks, so should you. If you’re not drinking enough, your milk supply won’t tell you (it won’t decrease unless you’re seriously dehydrated), but your urine will; it will become darker and more scant. As a general rule, waiting until you’re thirsty to drink means you’re going too long without fluids. (You may be thirstier than usual after you deliver your baby, because of fluid loss and inadequate fluid intake during labour; replenishing those fluid is important for your health.)
What Medication You Take
Most Medications – both over-the-counter and prescription – don’t have an effect on the quantity of milk a nursing mother makes or the well-being of her baby. While it’s true that what goes into your body usually does make its way into your supply, the amount that ultimately ends up in your baby’s meal is generally a tiny fraction of what you ingest. Many drugs appear to have no effect on a nursing baby at all, others a mild, transient effect, and a very few can have a significance detrimental effect. But since not enough is known about the long-term effects of medications on the nursing infant, you’ll need to practice prudence when it comes to taking over-the-counter or prescription drugs while you’re breastfeeding.
All medications that pose even a theoretical risk to the nursing baby carry a warning – on the label, the packet, or both. When the benefits outweigh the possible risk, your doctor will probably okay the occasional use of certain drugs without medical consultation (certain cold medications and mild pain relievers, for example) and prescribe others when your health requires it. Like an expectant mother, a nursing mother does neither herself nor her baby a favour by refusing to take prescribed medication under such circumstances. Do be sure, of course, that any doctor who prescribes a medication for you knows that you’re breastfeeding.
For the most up-to-date information on which drugs are believed safe during lactation and which aren’t, check with your child’s doctor or health visitor. The most recent research indicates that most medicines (including paracetamol, ibuprofen, most sedatives, antihistamines, decongestants, some antibiotics, antihypertensives, antithyroid drugs and even some antidepressants) are compatible with nursing. Some, however, including anticancer drugs, lithium and ergots (drugs are used to treat migraines) are clearly harmful. Others are suspect. In some cases, a medication can safely be discontinued for the duration of nursing; in others, it is possible to find a safer substitute. When medication that is not compatible with breastfeeding is needed short-term, nursing can be interrupted temporarily (with breasts pumped and milk discarded). Or dosing can be timed for just after nursing or before baby’s longest sleep period. As always, take medicines – and that includes herbal and supplements – only with your doctor’s approval.
What You Should Avoid
Though nursing mothers have considerably more leeway when it comes to their diet and their lifestyle than pregnant women do, there are still a number of substances that are smart to avoid – or at least, cut back on – while you’re breastfeeding. Many are ones that you’ve probably already weaned yourself off of in preparation for or during pregnancy.
- Nicotine. Many of the toxic substances in tobacco enter the bloodstream and eventually your milk. Heavy smoking (more than a pack a day) decrease milk production and can cause vomiting, diarrhoea, rapid heart rate and restlessness in babies. Though the long-term effects of these poisons on your baby aren’t known for sure, one can safely speculate that they aren’t positive. On top of that, it is known that secondhand smoke from parental smoking can cause a variety of health problem in offspring, including colic, respiratory infections and an increase in the risk of SIDS. If you can’t stop smoking, your baby’s still better off being breastfed than being bottle-fed; do, however, new cutting back on the number of cigarettes you smoke each day, and don’t smoke just before breastfeeding.
- Alcohol. Alcohol does find its way into your breast milk, though the amount your baby gets is considerably less than the amount you drink. While it’s probably fine to have a few drinks a week (though no more than one in a single day), you should try to limit your consumption of alcoholic drinks in general while nursing.
- Heavy drinking has other drawbacks as well. In large doses, alcohol can make baby sleepy, sluggish, unresponsive and unable to suck well. In very large doses, it can interfere with breathing. Too many drinks can also impair your own functioning, making you less able to care for, perfect and nourish your baby, and can make you more susceptible to depression, fatigue and lapses in judgment. Also, it can weaken your let-down reflex. If you do choose to have an occasional drink, take it right after you nurse, rather than before, to allow a couple of hours for the alcohol to metabolize.
- Caffeine. One or two cups of caffeinated coffee, tea or cola a day won’t affect your baby or you – and during those early sleep deprived postpartum weeks, a little jolt from your local coffee bar may be just what you need to keep going. More caffeine probably isn’t a good idea; too many cups could make one or both of you jittery, irritable and sleepless. Caffeine has also been linked to reflux in some babies. Keep in mind that babies can’t get rid of caffeine as efficiently as adults, so it can build up in their system. So limit your caffeine while you’re breastfeeding, or switch over to or supplement with caffeine-free drinks.
- Herbs. Although herbs are natural, they aren’t always safe, especially for breastfeeding mothers. They can be just as powerful – and just as toxic – as some drugs. Like drugs, chemical ingredients from herbs do get into breast milk. Even herbs like fenugreek can have a very potent effect on blood pressure and heart rate when taken in large doses. In general, little is known about how herbs affect a nursing baby, because few studies have been done. Play it safe and consult with your doctor before taking any herbal remedy.