Breastfeeding and Lifestyle Changes

If you've gotten the idea that breastfeeding requires a Spartan diet and perfectly healthy lifestyle, you can relax a little. If you're basically healthy and well nourished and take reasonable care not to put toxic substances into your body, your milk will probably be just fine. The following are some answers to common concerns.

Diet

Most women don't have to worry about eating a special diet when they're breastfeeding. Your body will take what it needs from you to create perfect milk for your baby, and though you may have heard that certain foods can cause gas and allergies in babies, for most women this isn't a problem. Still, you'll want to be sure to eat healthy, nutritious foods — and enough of them — while breastfeeding. You'll be using an extra 200 to 500 calories per day, and you'll need to replenish your body's stores of important nutrients. As mentioned previously, many new moms find themselves forgetting to eat. Have plenty of healthy, easy-to-grab snacks on hand for nutritious on-the-go noshing.

Medication

Medications do pass from your bloodstream into your milk, though often in very small amounts. Ask your care provider or lactation consultant about the safety of over-the-counter drugs like cough syrups and antihistamines. If you're taking medication for a chronic condition, you'll want to check to see if it's safe for breastfeeding, preferably before your baby is born. If the medication isn't considered safe for nursing babies or has been shown to reduce milk supply, it's possible that your health-care provider can prescribe a breastfeeding-friendly alternative.

Question

What can I take for a cold while breastfeeding?

Most prescription and over-the-counter cough syrups and cold medications are safe for use while breastfeeding. Decongestants containing pseudoephedrine have been shown to reduce milk supply in some women, so pay attention to your milk supply after taking a decongestant. If you notice a change, don't take another dose, nurse your baby, rest, and drink enough water — your supply should recover quickly.

If your doctor is not well educated about breastfeeding, he or she may recommend that you not breastfeed your baby if you're taking medication. But the many benefits of breastmilk, both for yourself and your baby, may outweigh the potential risk of a medication crossing into your milk. If it doesn't seem like your care provider is willing to work with you to make nursing your baby possible, it's a good idea to speak with a lactation consultant or find another care provider who's more supportive and knowledgeable.

Alcohol

You don't have to be a teetotaler to breastfeed. Though alcohol is completely off-limits during pregnancy, a nursing mother has a bit more freedom. Alcohol moves in and out of your milk about as quickly as it leaves your bloodstream, so a glass of wine you drink right after nursing will probably be long gone by the time your baby is hungry again. If you want to drink more than that, be aware that the alcohol will enter your milk and has the potential to make your baby dislike the taste or even cause health trouble, depending on her age, size, and how much alcohol you've had to drink. Also, some studies have linked frequent alcohol consumption with lowered milk supply and early weaning. But those party invitations on your refrigerator shouldn't keep you from breastfeeding your baby! Keep in mind that “pumping and dumping” is always an option if you'd like to indulge for a special occasion. Some moms keep a stash of pumped breastmilk in the freezer for just such an event.

Alert

All drugs you take pass through your milk to your baby and may affect your milk supply. Street drugs in your milk can be very dangerous to your baby. Babies have died from breastmilk laced with cocaine and heroin. Drug use — including alcohol — can also keep you from being an engaged, reliable mother.

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