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

  • 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 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.
  • Smoke outside your home and away from your baby, if you need to smoke. 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 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 women avoid sore or cracked nipples by expressing a few drops of breast milk and gently rubbing them on their nipples after nursing. Other women find that applying a small amount of modified lanolin after feeding helps. It can also help to:

  • Avoid washing your nipples with soap.
  • Avoid using cream on your nipples unless recommended.
  • Use cotton breast pads.
  • Avoid plastic liners.

To prevent blocked milk ducts

If you notice a firm lump in your breast that hurts when you touch it, you may have a blocked or plugged milk duct. This can happen when milk doesn't drain adequately. You can continue nursing, and in fact, it helps to continue nursing if you have blocked ducts.

Other things you can do are:

  • Wear a nursing bra.
  • Avoid underwire bras.
  • If you wear a regular bra, flip it under, not over your breast while nursing.
  • Change your baby's feeding position.
  • Ensure your baby has a good latch on your breast.
  • Let baby finish feeding at one breast before switching.
  • Avoid wearing tight clothing.
  • Rest often.

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 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?