Mother's milk is best is more than a catchy phrase; it's a medical reality. Breastmilk, according to the March of Dimes, is the best food for the baby in the first year of life. The American Academy of Pediatricians offers these top reasons why breastmilk is best for baby: it is easier to digest than formula; it has the perfect amount of calories, nutrients and fluids; it helps baby's organ development.
It's believed to lessen the risks of developing illnesses ranging from ear infections to diarrhea, as well as more serious sicknesses like meningitis and pneumonia. Other diseases thought to be less likely caught amongst breastfed babies include SIDS, obesity, asthma, eczema, colitis, diabetes and even cancer.
Breastfeeding is good for mom, to help her uterus to contract back to normal size after childbirth, to help her burn calories and reduce her risk of ovarian and certain types of cancers. It's also beneficial for the bond between the nursing couple, and helps produce hormones that aid in those "mothering feelings."
During pregnancy most women know to be ever so careful about what they eat or drink and the impact to the baby, but sometimes women are a little more confused about what may affect their breast milk and what can pass to baby. There might even be malicious things in the mother's environment that she's unaware of that can cause negative effects on her milk supply.
Below we look at the most likely culprits that affect mom's milk, and the baby's health, if not immediately down the road.
15 Smoking, Firsthand And Secondhand
Smoking and breastfeeding is a tricky subject. Obviously, smoking is a tough addiction to break. Womenshealth.org recommends women quit, but if they haven't or can't quite do it (yet) they shouldn't stop nursing. Breastfeeding still decreases the risks of SIDS and other respiratory disorders.
Mothers should always smoke away from the baby, and change clothes afterwards to avoid exposing baby to second or third-hand smoke. Nicotine does cross into breast milk, however, and according to the March of Dimes it can cause baby to be fussy or difficult to get down to sleep. Nicotine may also interfere with milk production.
If mother can quit, it's of course the best option for both herself and her breastfeeding child. If she wants to quit and hasn't been successful, she should consult her doctor and find out about resources that can help. Many options are available and one may be just the trick needed to kick that habit.
14 Hormone Birth Control
While most moms wait until that 6 week postbirth checkup to resume having intercourse, there are a few eager beavers who indulge prior to that doctor's appointment. Many women feel protected from pregnancy while breastfeeding, but that sense of security may be misguided.
It's true that the majority of mothers who solely breastfeed won't resume having periods until baby begins weaning, or at least starts solids, but that doesn't mean they aren't ovulating. That means they can get pregnant. Thus, one big topic at the 6 week postpartum check up will be contraception.
The most convenient methods are hormone based, such as birth control pills, patches, IUDs or implants. Some of those are OK for breastfeeding mothers, while others are no-no's. The hormonal birth control methods containing estrogen are off limits for nursing mothers, but those which rely on progestin only are safe. Minipills are generally recommended for lactating mothers.
13 Cold And Allergy Meds
For the miserable mom, sick with a cold or aggravated by allergies, the list of approved medications while nursing is not all that long. The Mayo Clinic recommends not using most antihistamines as they can cause jittery or excited behavior in infants, and may affect milk supply.
Taking cough medicine with codeine is strictly off-limits; the codeine processes into morphine in the body and can cause serious problems in nursing babies. Some decongestants are safe for breastfeeding moms, while others are not. Most pain relievers available over the counter are safe.
It's always advisable though to take the lowest effective dose for the shortest time possible. Non-drug remedies can include saline nose spray, honey for coughs and warm or cold compresses, plus salt gargles. Moms who plan to breastfeed should have a discussion about what medicines are safe to take before baby is born or taken home from the hospital.
12 Caffeine Intake
For those new moms who are breastfeeding and anxious to get their mouths on some coffee, chocolate or soft drinks after abstaining during pregnancy, slow down. Caffeine isn't totally off the table, but nursing moms can't brew a big pot and down it all before lunch either. Nor can she eat giant candy bars sloshed back with super mega goliath colas.
Caffeine can make breastfed babies fussy, irritable or (and this may be the biggie) cause them sleeping difficulties. While caffeine may be like the elixor of the gods to mom, they may bring out the devil in Junior. It is a steep price to pay to have baby feeling grumpy, jittery and then when Mom is totally worn out from dealing with the sour puss, baby isn't going to sleep.
Limiting coffee to a couple cups a day, or a similar amount of other caffeinated foods like chocolate, tea or cola, is advisable.
11 Indulging In Alcohol
While drinking while pregnant was verboten, and can cause dire medical problems and developmental disabilities, the surprising thing about tippling mommies is that drinking alcohol is not necessarily a problem for nursing mothers.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends modest drinking only, not habitual or heavy drinking. It's best to drink immediately after nursing, to give the alcohol a chance to get out of mom's system before the next nursing session. Or alternatively, mother can pump milk prior to having alcohol.
It's best to wait 2 to 3 hours after imbibing before breastfeeding. The AAP states one drink would most likely not harm baby, and by one drink they mean an ounce of liquor, a 4 ounce glass of wine or a 12 ounce beer. They also shoot down the myth that beer will increase milk supply; sorry that one's not a real benefit!
10 Herbs And Supplements
Having a cup of herbal tea, or taking a supplement for mood swings, or memory may not trigger red flags in the average breastfeeding mother's mind, but it probably should. While herbal remedies don't require a doctor's prescription, they are, nonetheless, drugs and must be considered as carefully as something you'd get filled at the neighborhood pharmacy.
For instance, many people use St. John's Wort as a "natural" cure for depression but it is not something nursing moms should take. Another herb or supplement to be avoided by breastfeeding moms is gingko. Some women do drink herbal tea as an alternative to caffeined tea, and most herbal teas setting on grocery store shelves will be safe.
However, those sold in health food stores may contain too high amounts of certain herbs that may cause issues for nursing infants. The best advice is to seek out a physician or medical provider's OK first.
9 Artificial Sweeteners
So a breastfeeding mom is anxious to get back to her pre-baby body, and decides to take a bit of a shortcut and drink diet pop, or use artificial sweeteners in her diet. Is that so bad? Probably not as long as a mother uses the sugar substitutes in moderation.
But a sugar substitute is still sugar, the fact that they could cause health problems and aren't really regulated under the current food and drug standards gives some women pause before using them.
Thus guzzling gallons of the faux-sugary stuff however should slow way down in order to avoid exposing baby to the substance. Aspertame is preferred to saccharine, which passes over in greater amounts via mother's milk to baby. Even better would be to satiate that thirst with healthy options that give mom and baby nutritional benefits, such as water, milk or juice.
Some diet drinks are thought to increase appetite so their effectiveness in helping moms lose weight are probably inconsequential anyway.
8 Extended Release And Long-Lasting Meds
While it's always wise for a breastfeeding mom to get specific advice on taking medications, whether prescription or over the counter, there are some general guidelines that tend to apply to both types of drugs. That advice is to avoid long-lasting medications or extended release type drugs. Also, multisymptom medications are more problematic.
Drugs that are long-lasting or extended release (often denoted by ER after the drug name) stay in mother's system longer, thereby increasing the odds of the medication getting into baby's system via milk in higher doses cumulatively.
It's often a good idea to discuss prior to birth what prescription medications a mother was taking before pregnancy and what ones are acceptable while breastfeeding. Sometimes it's as simple as a switch to a less concerning prescription. Other times, mothers will need to take the least amount of the medication possible in order to treat whatever symptom or conditions mother has.
7 Fish High In Mercury
While breastfeeding moms have been urged by the US Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency to eat more fish, they are specific in the types they recommend, in order to avoid getting too much mercury in their diet, and thereby passing it along to baby.
Fish high in mercury include shark, mackerel, and tilefish caught in the Gulf of Mexico. Also, albacore tuna ought to be limited to 6 ounces a week or less. Fish that mothers should indulge in include salmon, tilapia, canned light tuna, pollock, catfish and cod. Fish and shellfish with higher mercury content may cause damage to a baby's or young child's nervous system.
However, healthier fish types provide nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, as well as protein. They can help baby's growth and development, and are heart healthy as well. For best nutritional benefits, parents should have and offer older children a variety of low-mercury fish.
6 Milk, Peanuts Or Food Allergens
Anyone with a serious peanut or tree allergy in the family knows just how scary this allergy can be. Conflicting advice has made it hard for breastfeeding mothers to know the best path to take for their nurslings. While not usually as dire, milk allergies or intolerance also tends to run in families.
Generally, milk should be taken in mother's diet as is tolerated. However, should baby show signs of abdominal issues, tummy distress or diarrhea, mothers should consult their physicians for advice in nailing down the dietary culprit. With peanuts, new evidence suggested by certain studies that eating peanuts while nursing may sensitize babies to the nuts and contribute to later allergies.
This has not been proven conclusively, so consulting a doctor if family history is significant would be wise.
5 Spicy Or Foods That Cause Gas
While a breastfeeding mom wouldn't give a baby a head of cabbage, or a steaming plate of tacos, sometimes what a mother eats does affect baby. Many women swear that eating broccoli or garlic is a sure tummy ache for baby, and while that may be the case for them, there is no universal gassy food that mothers should avoid.
In general, mothers should eat a healthy diet, and if that includes spicy or gas-producing foods it's OK as long as baby doesn't seem to mind. Also, sometimes more pungent or strong food may not cause a belly ache, but may make mother's milk taste differently to baby.
Mothers should keep a food diary if they notice baby has some aversions to her milk, or some gassy, irritable bouts after meals. Some moms may eat plates of hot peppers and other steamy items with no effect on baby whatsoever.
4 Having A Disease
Breastfeeding mothers who fret if they should stop nursing for random illnesses, from food poisoning, to colds to mastitis, generally need not worry. However, there are some diseases and illnesses that can pass from mother to child through mother's milk. Most notable among those is HIV and AIDS, which definitely pass through nursing to baby.
Any woman who has HIV cannot breastfeed their infant for concern of spreading the virus to the baby. This is just one reason why routine HIV testing is performed on expectant mothers, in order to safeguard both mother and child. There are some other more rare viruses that mean no breastfeeding, including Ebola, human T-cell lymphotropic virus and active tuberculosis.
If a mother has another chronic or seriously acute illness she should clear breastfeeding her baby with her medical provider. In most cases breastfeeding is the best thing a mother can do to keep her baby healthy, but there are some exceptions.
3 Using Illegal Substances
Drug use and addiction are plagues upon every level of society in our nation, so it would be foolish to assume it doesn't impact new mothers. Not all drugs cause uniform damage to unborn or nursing babies, but certain ones are particularly dangerous and concerning.
Meth users should never breastfeed as the drug crosses over through the milk and causes fussiness, agitation and crying, and the exact ingredients of the drug are often unknown and likely poisonous by nature. Meth use has lead to murder charges against at least one mother who breastfed her newborn, who later died.
Cocaine can cause reduced milk production, agitation, tremors, hypothermia and hypertension in breastfed infants. Marijuana is simply an unknown factor due to its being classified in a category with hard drugs, so limited testing has been done. For safety sake, it's advised to refrain from smoking weed while breastfeeding due to those unknowns.
2 Having And Treating Cancer
Few things could be more stressful than combining the happiest time in a woman's life, having a baby, with one of the worst; facing a life threatening disease such as cancer. Any form of cancer that requires medical treatments such as chemotherapy drugs or radiation are barred from breastfeeding, because those severe treatments are tantamount to poison especially in a vulnerable newborn.
Mothers in the midst of chemo sometimes cannot even hold their new infants as the chemical is capable of being transferred topically. A mother from the midwest found out she had leukemia hours after delivering her baby via c-section, and during chemo treatments her newborn was allowed to stay in her room to keep her spirits up, although she could not hold him until the chemotherapy drugs had passed from her system.
She did recover and is now in remission, and her son is perfectly healthy. Unfortunately, like other cancer patients, she and her infant missed out on the joys of a nursing relationship.
1 Lead In The Water Or Ground
The Flint, Michigan lead water crisis brought home the dire effects of lead exposure, particularly to the most vulnerable such as pregnant and nursing women, infants and children, and the sick or elderly.
Children and infants enrolled in the WIC or Women, Infants and Children program are routinely screened for lead, but many others never are tested. Lead is a ground metal that can leach into our water supply, air or food. While Flint's water was obviously tainted on sight, lead itself doesn't have to be visible or capable of being smelled or tasted.
Any mother worried that she may have been exposed to lead can be tested, and her levels will indicate whether breastfeeding is safe for her baby. She can pump and dump until her lead levels are at a low enough point to allow nursing. Routine testing follow up of mother and child will be recommended as well.