Lifestyle and Breast Milk

The following information is written for women who are breastfeeding, or are pregnant and considering breastfeeding their baby.

A woman's lifestyle, including diet and other behaviors, can have an affect on her breast milk, and therefore on her baby. It's important for all nursing mothers to take care of themselves so they can provide the best care to their babies. This includes getting enough rest and proper nutrition so you have enough energy to take care of your baby and avoid illness. Some women think that when they are sick, they should not breastfeed. But, most common illnesses, such as colds, flu, or diarrhea, can't be passed through breast milk. In fact, if a mother is sick, her breast milk will have antibodies in it. These antibodies will help protect her baby from getting the same sickness. Here are some other lifestyle issues that affect breast milk:


A few viruses can pass through breast milk. HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is one of them. Women who are HIV positive should not breastfeed. Also, women with Hepatitis C may be able to transmit the virus through breast milk, but it is not certain. However, bleeding or cracked nipples on the breast of a woman with Hepatitis C puts a breastfeeding infant at higher risk for getting the virus.



Breastfeeding mothers who have generally good diets produce healthy breast milk for their babies, even when they don't eat well at times. But, chronically undernourished women who have had diets very low in vitamins and minerals, and low stores in their bodies may produce milk that is lower than normal in some vitamins, especially vitamins A, D, B6, or B12. These breastfeeding mothers can help the vitamin levels in their milk return to normal by improving their diets or by taking vitamin supplements. It is recommended that nursing mothers take in about 2700 calories every day (about 500 calories more than a non-pregnant, non-nursing woman).


Many women think they have to drink a lot of fluids to have a good milk supply. This is actually untrue. A nursing woman does, however, need to drink enough fluids to stay well hydrated for her own health and strength to give her baby the best care she can. Always drink when you are thirsty, which is your body's signal that you need fluid. You can make it easy to remember to get enough fluid, if you drink a glass of water or a nutritious beverage (milk or juice) every time you feed your baby.


Many breastfeeding women wonder about how caffeine will affect their baby. Results from studies show that, while excessive caffeine intake (more than five 5 ounce cups of coffee per day) can cause the baby to be fussy and not able to sleep well, moderate caffeine intake (fewer than five 5 ounce cups) usually doesn't cause a problem for most breastfeeding babies.


Sometimes a baby may have a reaction to something the mother eats (like spicy foods, foods that can cause gas, or dairy products). Symptoms of an allergy to something in the mother's diet include diarrhea, rash, fussiness, gas, dry skin, green stools with mucus, or the baby pulling up his/her knees and screaming. This doesn't mean the baby is allergic to the mother's milk. If the mother stops eating whatever is bothering her baby, the problem usually goes away on its own.

Here's how to tell if something you are eating is upsetting your baby:

It takes about two to six hours for your body to digest and absorb the food you eat and pass it into your breast milk.

  • So, if you eat dinner at 5:00 P.M., and your baby shows the symptoms listed above around 9:00 P.M., think about what you ate for dinner. To be sure if those foods are causing the problem, you will have to eat them again and see if he/she has the same reaction.

  • If your baby seems very fussy, try keeping a record of what you eat and drink.

  • Bring the record to your health care provider to talk about a possible link between certain foods and your baby's symptoms.

  • If you think a particular food is causing a problem, stop eating it for a while and see if your baby reacts better. You can always try later to introduce that food again into your diet in small amounts. If your baby doesn't seem to react to it anymore, you could add more the next time.

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