Breastfeeding and everyday life

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Many breastfeeding moms have questions. Do you need to avoid certain foods? Will physical activity affect how much breastmilk you make? Will the medicine you take affect your baby? Can you drink alcohol? Learn the answers to these questions and more.

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Do I need to avoid certain foods while breastfeeding?

Many new mothers wonder if they should avoid certain foods while breastfeeding, but the answer is no. For most breastfeeding moms, there are no foods you have to avoid. But you may find that some foods cause stomach upset in your baby.

Watch your baby for the symptoms listed below, which could mean your baby has an allergy or sensitivity to something you eat:

  • Diarrhea, vomiting, green stools with mucus and/or blood
  • Rash, eczema (EG-zuh-muh), dermatitis, hives, dry skin
  • Fussiness during and/or after feedings
  • Inconsolable crying for long periods
  • Sudden waking with discomfort
  • Wheezing or coughing

Talk to your child's doctor if you notice any of these symptoms. If your baby ever has problems breathing, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.

If your baby is sensitive to a food you're eating, such as cow's milk, you may notice these signs of a reaction right away or several hours after breastfeeding. The symptoms may last up to a day. 

Write down what foods you eat and when you notice the symptoms in your baby to help you find out what foods are causing your baby's symptoms. You can then not eat these foods for two or three weeks to see if your baby's symptoms go away. Once you stop eating the problem food, your baby's symptoms should go away in one to two weeks. You may find that after a few months, when your baby is older, you can eat the food again without your baby having any symptoms.

What do I need to know about eating healthy while breastfeeding?

To eat healthy while breastfeeding:

  • Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated. A common suggestion is to drink a glass of water or other beverage every time you breastfeed.
  • Limit drinks with added sugars, such as sodas and fruit drinks.
  • Drinking a moderate amount (up to 2 cups a day) of coffee or other caffeinated beverages does not cause a problem for most breastfeeding babies. But too much caffeine can make a baby fussy or have trouble sleeping.
  • Some breastfeeding women may need a multivitamin and mineral supplement. Talk with your doctor to find out whether you need a supplement. Your doctor may recommend that you continue taking your prenatal vitamin while breastfeeding.
  • Visit ChooseMyPlate for moms. This site helps you choose foods based on your baby's nursing habits and your energy needs. The SuperTracker tool helps you plan and track your eating habits and physical activity.

Is it safe to smoke, drink, or do drugs while breastfeeding?

The short answer is no. When your baby gets all of his or her food from breastfeeding, the baby also gets what you eat, drink, and breathe. If you wouldn't want your baby to smoke, drink, or do drugs then you should not smoke, drink too much, or do drugs while pregnant or breastfeeding.

  • If you smoke, the best thing you can do for yourself and your baby is to quit as soon as possible. If you can't quit, it is still better to breastfeed, because it may protect your baby from respiratory problems and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Do not ever smoke near your baby,  and change your clothes to keep your baby away from the chemicals smoking leaves behind. Ask a doctor or nurse for help quitting smoking. Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) or chat online with a quit smoking counselor for free.
  • Do not drink alcohol in large amounts. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), an occasional drink is fine. The AAP recommends waiting two or more hours before nursing.1 You also can pump milk before you drink to feed your baby later.
  • It is not safe for you to use any illegal drug. Drugs such as cocaine, marijuana, heroin, and PCP can harm your baby. Some reported side effects in babies include seizures, vomiting, poor feeding, and tremors.

Can a baby be allergic to breastmilk?

No. But babies can be sensitive to some foods you may eat. Research shows that what you eat affects your milk only slightly.1 Babies love the flavors of foods that come through the milk. Sometimes a baby may be sensitive to something the mother eats, such as eggs or milk and cheese.

Does my breastfeeding baby need more vitamin D?

Maybe. Vitamin D is needed to build strong bones. All infants and children should get at least 400 International Units (IU) of vitamin D each day.2

To meet this need, your child's doctor may recommend that you give your baby a vitamin D supplement of 400 IU each day. This should start in the first few days of life. You can buy vitamin D supplements for infants at a drugstore or grocery store.

Even though sunlight is a major source of vitamin D, it is hard to measure how much sunlight your baby gets, and sun exposure can be harmful. Once your baby is weaned from breastmilk, talk to your baby's doctor about whether your baby still needs vitamin D supplements. Some children do not get enough vitamin D from the food they eat.

Does my breastfed baby have special needs if I am vegan?

If you follow a vegan diet or one that does not include any forms of animal protein, you or your baby might not get enough vitamin B12.

In a baby, B12 deficiency can cause symptoms such as:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Slow motor development
  • Being very tired
  • Weak muscles
  • Vomiting
  • Blood problems

You can protect your and your baby's health by taking vitamin B12 supplements while breastfeeding. Talk to your doctor about your vitamin B12 needs.

Will physical activity affect my breastmilk?

An active lifestyle helps you stay healthy, feel better, and have more energy. It does not affect the quality or quantity of your breastmilk or your baby's growth.

Follow these tips to help you be more comfortable when working out while breastfeeding:

  • Wear a comfortable support bra or sports bra and nursing pads in case you leak during exercise.
  • Pump or breastfeed before you work out.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Be sure to talk to your doctor about how and when to slowly begin exercising following your baby's birth.

For more information on fitness, visit our Fitness and Nutrition section.

Can stress affect breastfeeding?

Yes. Stress can make you more likely to get sick or have trouble sleeping, stomach problems, headaches, and mental health problems. But breastfeeding can help mothers relax and cope with stress better. Skin-to-skin contact with your baby often has a soothing effect.

Take these steps to help lower stress while breastfeeding:

  • Get the facts. The first few weeks of breastfeeding are the hardest, but it does get easier. Learn all you can about the benefits of breastfeeding and how to make it work for you to help you get through the rough spots.
  • Relax. Try to find a quiet, comfortable, relaxing place to nurse. This will help make breastfeeding more enjoyable for you and your baby. Use this time to bond with your baby, listen to soothing music, meditate, or read a book.
  • Read aloud to your baby. Your baby grew inside of you for nine months hearing your voice. Your voice is familiar and soothing to your baby.
  • Sleep. Your stress could get worse if you don't get enough sleep. With enough sleep, it is easier to cope with challenges and stay healthy. Try to sleep whenever possible.
  • Surround yourself with supportive people. It really does take a village to raise a child. Read these suggestions on how your family and friends can help support your breastfeeding goals.
  • Get moving. Physical activity improves your mood. Your body makes certain chemicals, called endorphins, when you exercise. These relieve stress and improve your mood. If you are a new mother, ask your doctor when it is okay to start exercising after childbirth.
  • Don't deal with stress in unhealthy ways. This includes drinking too much alcohol, using drugs, or smoking, all of which hurt you and your baby. It is also unhealthy to overeat regularly to cope with stress.
  • Get help from a professional if you need it. A therapist or counselor can help you work through stress and find healthy ways to deal with problems. Medicines can help ease symptoms of depression and anxiety and help promote sleep. But not all medicines are safe to take while breastfeeding. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist before taking any medicine. Read more about stress in our Stress and mental health section. Read more about medicines that are safe to take while breastfeeding.

Can I take medicines if I am breastfeeding?

You can take certain medicines while breastfeeding, but not all. Almost all medicines pass into your milk in small amounts. Some have no effect on the baby and can be used while breastfeeding. Always talk to your doctor or pharmacist about medicines you are using and ask before you start using new medicines. This includes prescription and over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, and dietary or herbal supplements. For some women with chronic health problems, stopping a medicine can be more dangerous than the effects it will have on the breastfed baby.

You can also search for your medicine in the LactMed database to find out if your medicine passes through your breastmilk and any possible side effects for your nursing baby.

Can I breastfeed if I am sick?

Some women think that they should not breastfeed when they are sick. But most common illnesses, such as colds, flu, or diarrhea, can't be passed through breastmilk. In fact, the antibodies in your breastmilk will help protect your baby from getting the same sickness. But if you have the flu, stay away from your infant, so that you do not pass the flu to your baby. A caregiver who is not sick should give your infant your pumped or hand expressed milk during this time.

Your doctor may tell you not to breastfeed if you:

Will my partner be jealous if I breastfeed?

Maybe. Talk to your partner about his or her worries before you have the baby. Talk together about ways your partner can get involved in breastfeeding..

Before birth:

  • Talk about the types of support you will need to give your baby only breastmilk for the first six months of life. Breastfeeding may look like something only a mother can do, but moms who have the most success at breastfeeding get support from their partners. After your child is born, the best way for a partner to support your breastfeeding efforts is by being there for you.
  • Having a partner who understands the benefits of breastfeeding can make it more likely that you will be able to breastfeed exclusively for the child's first six months. Share information from this website, or other places, about the health benefits of breastfeeding.
  • Breastfed babies get sick less often, which means you or your partner will not have to take time off of work as much. Breastfeeding also saves families money (because there is no formula to buy). Breastfeeding is also more convenient. Encourage your partner to join you for a birthing, breastfeeding, and/or new parenting class. Classes are available through the hospital, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's WIC program, or other organizations.

Your partner can support you by:

  • Bringing your baby to you at night for a feeding
  • Changing your baby's diaper after a feeding
  • Lying skin-to-skin with the baby after a feeding

Do I have to restrict my sex life while breastfeeding?

No, but you may have to make some adjustments to make sex more comfortable if you have the following:

  • Vaginal dryness. Some women experience vaginal dryness right after childbirth and during breastfeeding. This is because estrogen levels are lower during these times. If you have vaginal dryness, you can try more foreplay and water-based lubricants.
  • Leaking breasts. You can feed your baby or express some milk before lovemaking so your breasts will be more comfortable and less likely to leak. It is common for a woman's breasts to leak or even spray milk during sex, especially during her orgasm. If this happens, put pressure on your nipples or have a towel ready to catch the milk.

Do I still need birth control if I am breastfeeding?

Yes. Your doctor will probably discuss birth control with you before you give birth. Breastfeeding is not a sure way to prevent pregnancy, even though it can delay the return of normal ovulation and menstrual cycles. Talk with your doctor about birth control choices that you can use while breastfeeding.

Does my breastfed baby need vaccines?

Yes. Vaccines are very important to your baby's health and are safe. Almost all insurance plans, Medicaid, and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) cover a child's vaccination with no copay or coinsurance. Breastfeeding may also help your baby respond better to certain immunizations that protect your baby. Follow the schedule your doctor gives you and, if you miss any vaccines, check with the doctor about getting your baby back on track as soon as possible.

Breastfeeding while the shot is given to your baby or right afterward can help relieve pain and soothe an upset baby.

Learn more about vaccines for infants and children.

Is it safe for me to get a vaccine when I'm breastfeeding?

Usually. Breastfeeding does not affect the vaccine, and most vaccines are not harmful to your breastmilk. However, vaccines for smallpox and yellow fever can be passed through breastmilk. If possible, do not get these vaccinations while breastfeeding and talk to your doctor.

Did we answer your question about breastfeeding?

For more information about breastfeeding and taking care of yourself, call the OWH Helpline at 800-994-9662 or check out the following resources from other organizations:

Sources

  1. American Academy of Pediatrics. (2012). Breastfeeding and the use of human milk. Pediatrics; 129(3): e827-e841.