• Sun, Dec 20 2009

Breastfeeding and Dehydration

Welcome to the December Carnival of Breastfeeding! This month the participants listed at the end of this post share their thoughts on “Taking Care of Yourself during the Holidays.” First I share the recommendations for fluid intake, how and at what point dehydration might affect breastfeeding, and the danger of over-hydrating.

glass-of-waterAfter I moved to California I quickly realized how easy it was to become mildly dehydrated in the hot summer months if I didn’t pay attention to getting enough water and other fluids to drink. However, it’s also all too easy for breastfeeding mothers to get dehydrated in the cold months with the dry indoor air from furnace heating. Mothers of newborns in particular need to watch out for early signs of dehydration simply because new mothers can get so busy caring for a newborn that they neglect their own needs.

Recommendations for Fluid Intake for Breastfeeding Mothers

When it comes to fluid intake for breastfeeding mothers, the mantra is “drink to thirst.” That means that a woman should drink enough water to stave off thirst, and not drink in excess of thirst in the mistaken belief that she needs the extra water or that more water will boost her milk supply. How do you know whether you are getting enough? If your urine is pale yellow, then you are getting enough fluids. If your urine is a dark, concentrated yellow, then up your fluid intake. In addition to water, fluids such as milk and juice also count, but keep in mind that fluids with caffeine (tea, coffee, certain colas) can actually have a dehydrating effect. So make sure to balance the types of fluids and get enough water to keep yourself adequately hydrated.

How and When Dehydration Might Affect Breastfeeding

The good news is that dehydration would have to reach severe levels before it would even affect milk supply at all. The Breastfeeding Mother’s Guide to Making More Milk says:

A pervasive myth in many cultures is that not drinking enough water causes low milk supply. While it’s true that life-threatening, severe dehydration may cause you body to cut back on milk production, the mild dehydration that most of us operate under does not. An old but still valid study from 1939 reported that nursing mothers who were given one liter less of water a day than was recommended continue to produce plenty of milk.

So what’s the danger in becoming mildly dehydrated? If the nursing mother (any mother!) gets dehydrated, it can affect her energy level, mood, and ability to care for her nursling. If you find yourself becoming particularly run-down and overwhelmed, it’s a good idea to sit down and have a glass of water and a snack. You might be surprised how that simple step boosts your mood! It can help to keep a glass of water by your bed and your other usual nursing locations. Have easy snacks at the ready too — carrot sticks, raisins, apple slices.

The Danger in Over-Hydrating

One study showed that consuming 25 percent more fluids than the “drink to thirst” recommendation led to a decrease in milk supply. I also learned from lactation consultant Linda Wieser at the LLL area conference that drinking more than 80 ounces of water per day can reduce a woman’s potassium levels and have a negative impact on milk supply. The Breastfeeding Mother’s Guide to Making More Milk explains:

The body’s reaction to excessive water intake (well beyond thirst) is to dump the excess fluid through the urine in order to maintain the proper electrolyte balance. Water is diverted away from the breast, and lower milk volume can result.

Your Experience

Have you noticed that your fluid intake affects your energy level and mood? Do you have any tips to share to help breastfeeding mothers get enough fluids?

Other Carnival Entries

Cave Mother: A Mother’s Christmas
Mama Knows Breast: A Breastfeeding Poem: Twas the Breastfeeder’s Nighttime
Chronicles of a Nursing Mom: Don’t Forget the Pump!
Accidental Pharmacist: Motherhood Statement
Hobo Mama: Breastfeeding and the holidays: How to take care of yourself
Mommy News & Views: The Holidays And Being A Breastfeeding Mom
The Adventures of Lactating Girl: Breastfeeding and Holidays
Happy Bambinos: How to Take Care of Ourselves during the Holidays
Breastfeeding Moms Unite!: Caring for a High-Needs Baby during the Holidays
Breastfeeding Mums: Looking After Yourself During the Holidays: 7 Tips for Breastfeeding Mothers
Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog: Taking Care of Yourself and Your Baby during the Holidays

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  • http://www.accidentalpharmacist.blogspot.com Kelly

    Good advice – the last thing a nursing mom needs is to worry about dehydration. This is also great because it doesn’t mention the mythical 8 glases/day of water recommendation. My only advice is that fluid is fluid. While water is best, get what you can: fruits have fluids, as do soups (go for low sodium), coffee/tea (decaf is best), juice and milk.

  • http://www.breastfeedingmomsunite.com Melodie

    This is fantastic advice. I never really thought of how over-hydrating can negatively affect breastfeeding but that makes so much sense. Thnaks for this stand-out post.

  • http://fabnaima.blogspot.com Jenny

    One of my breastfeeding counselors also told me that overhydrating can indeed affect milk supply. However, at work, I do tend to forget to drink water so I have a 1.5L bottle sitting at my table which I fill up as soon as I get to work and drink throughout the day.

  • http://www.HoboMama.com Lauren @ HoboMama

    Wow, I had no idea that overhydrating could decrease milk supply! Thanks for the info. I tend to drink to thirst, but I am pretty thirsty! I just try not to make any sort of goal for myself, just keep drinks handy for when I want them.

    Your first point about dry, indoor air reminded me — we stayed at a long-term hotel for several months when we moved to a new city (this was long before having a baby), and I went to a health clinic for something unrelated and they commented with concern on how diluted my urine was. One thing led to another, and I had a bunch of tests, but nothing conclusive. I told them I was just exceedingly thirsty all the time, so I was drinking a lot because of that. Then we moved, and things calmed down and I gave up on the testing. We had a chance to return to the same hotel some time later, and I had the same experience. It was the forced hot air of the room’s heaters! Those close quarters, and that very dry heat. It was just drying out my mouth and making me feel thirsty. So there’s a travel tip for breastfeeding mothers — if you’re staying in a hotel, in particular, be aware that the room’s heat (most hotels are like this, I’ve found) can play havoc on your sense of thirst. I’m sure it could happen to babies, too, leading to increased nursing in that environment.

    Thanks for posting this, and enjoy your holidays!

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