Breastfeeding is one of the most natural, bonding, and critical activities humans and other mammals engage in. It also can be challenging at times, especially for women in today’s high-stress, high-tech society. Work and family responsibilities, nutritional options, environmental stressors, and other factors must be considered when making the choice to breastfeed as safely and naturally as possible. Fortunately there are many tips and guidelines women can latch onto (pun intended) when learning the ins and outs of healthy breastfeeding.
Pay attention to your diet. Human breast milk is a true wonder of nature, chock full of essential nutrients for a growing infant. However, what you eat also shows up in your milk, and so is passed on to your baby and can cause digestive upset. Infants most often react to chocolate, citrus juices and fruits, kiwi, strawberries, pineapple, cruciferous (gassy) vegetables, bell peppers, cucumbers, cherries, prunes, and spices (e.g., garlic, curry, chili pepper, and cinnamon).
Read about the best foods for breastfeeding
Limit caffeine. This includes caffeine found in coffee, tea, some soft drinks, and over-the-counter medications. One cup of coffee daily may be okay, but more can have an impact on an infant’s sleep and also acts as a diuretic for you which can affect your level of hydration and milk supply.
Stay hydrated. Breast milk production significantly increases a mother’s water needs, so it’s critical to stay well hydrated. Consume more than the recommended eight 8-ounce glasses daily and increase it to 12 glasses. You will know if you are drinking enough water if your urine is clear or nearly clear.
Avoid alcohol. The ideal scenario is to avoid alcohol completely when breastfeeding. If you do drink, limit it to one, because more than one increases the level of alcohol in your bloodstream enough so that it can get into your milk supply. If you do drink alcohol, wait for at least two hours per drink before you breastfeed again.
Beware of health care products. According to the National Resources Defense Council, women who are breastfeeding need to avoid certain chemicals found in various health care and cosmetic products because they are absorbed by the skin, can reach the bloodstream, and may get into your milk. These include aluminum, parabens, phthalates, triclosan, petroleum and petroleum products. Shampoo, shower gels, deodorants and antiperspirants, hand and body lotions, nail polish, foundation and other makeup are examples of products that harbor these ingredients. Look for organic products that are free of these chemicals. You also may want to try your hand at DIY health care products and cosmetics.
Relax! Infants can sense a mother’s stress and tension, so strive to be as tranquil and present as possible before and during breastfeeding. Your milk also will flow easier if you are stress-free.
Check your nursing pads. Infants should have a chemical-free nursing experience, but some nursing pads are made with polyethylene and chlorine. To help ensure your infant is not exposed to these chemicals, choose nursing pads that are polyethylene- and chlorine-free and made without perfumes, dyes, or glue. [Editor’s Note: Natracare, our partner, makes nursing pads that are made of natural materials and are biodegradable.]
Read about more breastfeeding dos
Take care of your nipples. Hours of breastfeeding can leave your nipples feeling raw and sore. Baby them by rubbing your own breast milk on them after each session. Other natural options include 100% purified lanolin, salt water wash (1/2 tsp water in 8 ounces of cool or warm water and soak nipples for 1 minute after each session), or a warm plain water compress. Some women use cooled soaked teabags, but the tannins in tea are astringent and not recommended.
Carefully choose herbs that boost milk production. A number of herbs have been shown to boost milk production in moms who are breastfeeding. However, because each herb has its own properties and the reasons women may need a boost in milk production are not all the same, you should consult your doctor, midwife, or a lactation professional when choosing an herbal remedy. Among the options are alfalfa, blessed thistle, fennel, fenugreek (considered to be the most common herb used for this purpose), garlic, ginger, goat’s rue, milk thistle, and stinging nettle.
Binns C. Chemicals to avoid when you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. National Resources Defense Council 2017 Feb 1
Breastfeeding and hydration. Ask Dr. Sears
Galan N. 5 natural remedies for cracked nipples. Healthline 2016 Mar 24
Murray D. Breastfeeding herbs to increase the supply of breast milk. VeryWellFamily 2017 Aug 13