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
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
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,
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
Remember: 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