Keeping Your Breasts Healthy: Breastfeeding

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How can I stay healthy while I breastfeed my baby?

Meeting the demands of a baby can make it challenging to care for yourself. The basics of good health, eating well, drinking plenty of fluids and getting enough rest are always important for good health, and equally so when you are feeding and caring for your baby.

Here are some of the ways you can stay healthy while nursing:

Eat and drink well.

  • Most mothers feel hungrier while they are breastfeeding.  It’s best to “eat to hunger” – trust your appetite and choose nutritious foods that will help you feel energetic.
  • Eat a variety of foods from Canada's Food Guide to Healthy Eating. Choose servings from the middle to high range of recommended daily servings. This eating plan will provide your baby with nutrients needed for healthy growth and development and the energy you need to take care of yourself and your baby.
  • Some foods may affect the flavour of your breast milk but you don't have to avoid any particular foods. If you think your baby is reacting to something you ate, avoid it for a few days and try again. If you have a family history of allergies, seek advice from your doctor or a dietitian.
  • Do not diet. Your body needs more calories now, not less. The weight you gained during pregnancy now provides your body with energy to make breast milk. Give your body time to readjust from being pregnant. Breastfeeding helps to shrink the uterus to its pre-pregnancy size.
  • Drink lots of fluids. Limit your caffeine and sugar intake. Healthy drink choices are water, milk and fruit and vegetable juices. Try having a glass of water every time you nurse to replace the liquid your baby has nursed.

Rest well.

Like eating well, getting enough rest is necessary to give you energy. Feeling tired is a normal response to giving birth and adjusting to new responsibilities at a time when your hormone levels are adjusting from pregnancy to a post-pregnancy state.

 New moms feel tired for many other reasons too, such as:

  • doing too much too soon;
  • lack of rest;
  • not having time enough to eat and drink well; and
  • not having enough help with housework and child care.

 Increase your amount of rest by:

  • sleeping in the same room with your baby;
  • lying down or sleeping when baby is sleeping;
  • asking for help with chores and childcare; and
  • nursing more during the day and less at night, if possible.

Is there anything I should avoid while breastfeeding?

Everything you consume may be passed to your baby through your breast milk. While you are nursing, it’s best to:

  • Avoid heavy alcohol consumption. If you have an occasional drink, delay nursing for two hours per drink.
  • Avoid smoking and being around others who are smoking while you are nursing. Nicotine passes through breast milk and both nicotine and second hand smoke are harmful to you and your baby.  It is important to know that rates of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) are higher in babies whose mothers smoke.
  • If you do smoke, do so outside your home and away from your baby. Breastfeed before you smoke to reduce the amount of nicotine passed on to your baby.
  • Be cautious about which medications you take. Talk with your doctor, midwife or pharmacist about any medications you are prescribed and mention that you are breastfeeding. Most medications are safe to take while breastfeeding but some are not. Herbs can act like drugs and affect you and your baby. Learn which ones are compatible with breastfeeding.

Do I have to take special care of my breasts while breastfeeding?

There are several things you can do to avoid common problems associated with breastfeeding.

To prevent sore or cracked nipples:

Some nipple soreness can be normal in the early days of breastfeeding but it should typically go away once your milk comes in and you and your baby have learned to breastfeed.  One of the most important ways to prevent sore nipples is to make sure your baby is positioned and latched-on well at the breast.  If you have intense nipple pain or soreness that does not go away, it can mean that some adjustments to positioning and latch need to be made.  It’s best to get help from a breastfeeding professional in your community – a public health nurse, a lactation consultant, your doctor or midwife.  Another good resource is your local La Leche League chapter.

If you do have cracked nipples and you are working on adjusting the positioning and latch, you might find some relief by expressing a few drops of breast milk and gently rubbing them on your nipples after nursing. Some women find that applying a small amount of lanolin after feeding helps. To promote healing, it is best to avoid washing your nipples with soap (it dries the skin) and avoid using lotions and creams on your nipples, unless recommended by your health care provider.  Keep the nipples dry between feeds by using cotton nursing pads, avoiding synthetic ones.

 To prevent blocked milk ducts and mastitis:

If you notice a firm lump in your breast that hurts when you touch it, and you do not have a fever, you may have a blocked or plugged milk duct.  If you have a firm and tender lump on your breast and you also have a fever and/or flu-like symptoms, you may have a breast infection – mastitis.  With mastitis, the breast is also often red, hot and swollen.  If you think you have mastitis you should contact your doctor or midwife as soon as possible; in some cases, anti-biotic treatment needs to be started as soon as possible. 

Both Thismastitis and blocked ducts can happen when milk doesn't drain from the breast adequately. This can happen if there are persistent problems with the baby latching on, if the baby is feeding infrequently or missing feeds, if you feed from one breast more often than the other, or if there is pressure on your breast from tight fitting clothing or a restrictive bra.

For both blocked ducts and mastitis it’s best to care for your breasts with heat and gentle massage.  It’s important to get lots of rest, and above all, feed frequently, particularly on the affected side. You can continue nursing, and in fact, it helps to continue nursing if you have blocked ducts.

Here are some self-care tips:

  • Wear a nursing bra.
  • Avoid underwire bras.
  • Loosen constrictive clothing, including your bra. If you are more comfortable wearing a bra, choose one that is a size larger or one that does not have underwire.
  • If you wear a regular bra, flip it under, not over your breast while nursing.
  • Make sure the baby is well positioned at the breast and latches on correctly.
  • Change your baby's feeding position. Vary nursing positions throughout the day.  At least once during each feed, position the baby so that the jaw points towards the plug.
  • Let baby finish feeding at one breast before switching in order to empty the breast sufficiently.
  • Avoid wearing tight clothing.
  • Rest often.  If possible, go to bed with your baby, nurse often, and stay in bed until you feel better.  If this is not possible, spend an hour or two relaxing with the baby at your breast and your feet up.

To prevent mastitis

If untreated, plugged ducts may lead to mastitis, a breast infection. You may notice flu-like symptoms like fever, chills and headache. Your breast may be red and hot to touch. Talk to a health care professional about how to treat mastitis. You can avoid mastitis by:

  • nursing regularly and frequently;
  • expressing or pumping your milk if a feeding is missed;
  • washing your hands after diaper changes, using the bathroom and before touching your breasts; and
  • changing bra pads frequently.

If you need help with breastfeeding, talk to your doctor, midwife or a public health nurse or check out the supports for new mothers in your community. Lactation consultants specialize in breastfeeding support and are found in most cities.

Where Can I Go For More Information?

 

 

This FAQ may provide medical information, but is not meant to be a substitute for medical advice. When you have questions about your health, it is always advisable to ask a health care practitioner.

Revised September 2013.