In general, nursing mothers produce breast milk of excellent quality. However, the amount of milk each woman produces may vary. Your physical well-being, your diet, and how much rest you get can affect your milk supply. The most important influences on milk production are how often you feed your baby (or pump your breasts) and how effectively milk is removed from your breasts.
Many women have questions about how they will need to change their lifestyles while nursing. They fear that they may be restricted in many ways. In fact, most women can follow these recommendations for successful breast-feeding:
- Follow the same guidelines for healthy eating that you followed when you were pregnant.
Eat a variety of foods at regular mealtimes and have healthy snacks if you are hungry between meals. Eat more fresh fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads and cereals, non-fat dairy products, and protein-rich meats, fish, poultry, and legumes. If you are on a vegetarian diet, you may need to increase the amount of vitamin B12 in your diet. Infants breastfed by women on a vegetarian diet may not get enough vitamin B12. Talk to your healthcare provider about this.
- Drink plenty of liquids each day.
Your body needs plenty of water to produce breast milk. Have a glass of water each time you sit down to nurse. If you feel thirsty, make sure you drink more.
- In general, you can eat any foods.
Breast-fed babies are not allergic to their mother's milk, but they can react to substances in the mother's diet that appear in breast milk. Signs that your baby is bothered by something you ate include: crying, stuffy or runny nose, vomiting, diarrhea, cough, or rash on the cheeks or around the bottom.
If a certain food or drink seems to upset your baby, avoid that substance for a couple of weeks before trying it again. The most common foods in a mother's diet that cause allergic symptoms in nursing infants are cow's milk and other dairy products, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, eggs, fish, shellfish, and soy. Often, the food that causes a reaction in your baby is a regular part of your diet.
If you think your baby is having a reaction to certain foods, talk to your healthcare provider. Do not eliminate a major food group (such as dairy or wheat products) from your diet unless your provider or dietician agrees. They can suggest other foods that will give you the same nutrients as the foods that bother your baby.
- Keep taking your daily prenatal vitamins.
Remember that vitamin and mineral supplements do not take the place of food. It is important to eat a healthy diet with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Don't drink more than 2 cups a day of coffee, tea, cola, or other drinks that contain caffeine.
Caffeine passes into your breast milk and can make your baby fussy.
- It is best to avoid alcohol while you are breast-feeding, just as you did during your pregnancy.
Alcohol is passed into human milk. Any heavy drinking or daily drinking of even small amounts of alcoholic beverages could hurt your baby. Moderate to heavy drinking (2 or more alcoholic drinks per day) can harm the baby's motor development. It also can interfere with the let-down reflex and cause slow infant weight gain. Once in a while, a beer or glass of wine is probably OK, but you should not have more than 1 or 2 a week. Do not breastfeed for 2 hours after you have alcohol. If you have a hospitalized premature or ill newborn, DO NOT drink ANY alcohol.
- Do not smoke.
The breakdown products from nicotine can pass to your baby in your milk. If you cannot stop smoking, try to cut down. If you must smoke, do it after nursing your baby. Above all, do not smoke in the car with your baby, in the same room as your baby, or even in the house. Breathing your exhaled smoke can hurt your baby. Smoking also may decrease your milk supply, make your baby more fussy, and decrease the time your baby sleeps.
- If you need to take any medicine, including nonprescription drugs, check with your healthcare provider, lactation consultant, or pharmacist.
You need to make sure that the drug is safe for nursing babies.
- Never use illegal or street drugs while you are nursing.
Drug abuse by nursing mothers is very dangerous to breast-fed babies.
- Check with your healthcare provider before you start a program to lose weight.
Your body uses the fat stored during pregnancy to make breast milk. This is the reason most breast-feeding mothers can lose several pounds each month. However, a strict weight-loss diet can decrease your milk supply. Attempts to lose weight should be supervised by your healthcare provider while you are breast-feeding.
Written by Marianne Neifert, MD, and the clinical staff of The Lactation Program, Rose Medical Center, Denver, CO. 303-377-3016.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2009-12-10
Last reviewed: 2009-11-22
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes
available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical
evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a health care professional.