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Breastfeeding and everyday life

A mom breastfeeding while watching TV with her partnerMost breastfeeding moms do not need a special diet, but eating healthy foods and getting exercise will help make sure you have the energy you need. Juggling a new baby and a good breastfeeding routine can be stressful. Learning how to keep your stress level as low as possible can help make the breastfeeding experience a positive one for you and your baby.

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Do I need to avoid certain foods while breastfeeding?

Many new mothers wonder if they should be on a special diet while breastfeeding, but the answer is no. For most breastfeeding moms, there are no foods you have to avoid. But you may find that some foods cause stomach upset in your baby. You can try avoiding those foods to see if your baby feels better, and you can ask your baby’s doctor for help.

What do I need to know about eating healthy while breastfeeding?

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To eat healthy while breastfeeding, keep these important nutrition tips in mind:

  • Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated. A common suggestion is to drink a glass of water or other beverage every time you breastfeed.
  • Limit drinks with added sugars, such as sodas and fruit drinks.
  • Drinking a moderate amount (up to 1 to 2 cups a day) of coffee or other caffeinated beverages does not cause a problem for most breastfeeding babies. But too much caffeine can cause a baby to be fussy or not sleep well.
  • In addition to healthy food choices, some breastfeeding women may need a multivitamin and mineral supplement. Talk with your doctor to find out if you need a supplement. Your doctor may recommend that you continue taking your prenatal vitamin while breastfeeding.
  • Visit ChooseMyPlate for moms. This site helps you choose foods based on your baby’s nursing habits and your energy needs. The SuperTracker tool helps you plan and track your eating habits and physical activity.

Is it safe to smoke, drink, or do drugs while breastfeeding?

  • If you smoke, the best thing you can do for yourself and your baby is to quit as soon as possible. If you can’t quit, it is still better to breastfeed because it may protect your baby from respiratory problems and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Be sure to smoke away from your baby, and change your clothes to keep your baby away from the chemicals smoking leaves behind. Ask a doctor or nurse for help quitting smoking.
  • You should avoid alcohol in large amounts. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), an occasional drink is fine. The AAP recommends waiting two or more hours before nursing. You also can pump milk before you drink to feed your baby later.
  • It is not safe for you to use an illegal drug. Drugs such as cocaine, marijuana, heroin, and PCP can harm your baby. Some reported side effects in babies include seizures, vomiting, poor feeding, and tremors.

Can a baby be allergic to breastmilk?

Research shows that what you eat affects your milk only slightly. Babies love the flavors of foods that come through the milk. Sometimes a baby may be sensitive to something the mother eats, such as dairy products like eggs or milk and cheese.

Watch your baby for the symptoms listed below, which could indicate that your baby has an allergy or sensitivity to something you eat:

  • Diarrhea, vomiting, green stools with mucus and/or blood
  • Rash, eczema (EG-zuh-muh), dermatitis, hives, dry skin
  • Fussiness during and/or after feedings
  • Inconsolable crying for long periods
  • Sudden waking with discomfort
  • Wheezing or coughing

These signs do not mean your baby is allergic to your milk, only to something that you ate. You may need to stop eating whatever is bothering your baby or eat less of it. You may find that after a few months you can eat the food again with better results.

Talk with your baby’s doctor if you notice any of the symptoms listed above. If your baby ever has problems breathing, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.

Does my breastfed baby have special needs if I am vegan?

If you follow a vegan diet or one that does not include any forms of animal protein, you or your baby might not get enough vitamin B12 in your bodies.

In a baby, B12 deficiency can cause symptoms such as:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Slow motor development
  • Being very tired
  • Weak muscles
  • Vomiting
  • Blood problems

You can protect your and your baby’s health by taking vitamin B12 supplements while breastfeeding. Talk to your doctor about your vitamin B12 needs.

Will physical activity affect my breastmilk?

An active lifestyle helps you stay healthy, feel better, and have more energy. It does not affect the quality or quantity of your breastmilk or your baby’s growth.

Follow these tips to help you be more comfortable when working out while breastfeeding:

  • Wear a comfortable support bra or sports bra and nursing pads in case you leak during exercise.
  • Pump or breastfeed before you work out.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Be sure to talk to your doctor about how and when to slowly begin exercising following your baby’s birth.

For more information on fitness, visit our fitness and nutrition section.

Can stress affect breastfeeding?

Yes. Both short-term and long-term stress can affect your body. In fact, stress can make you more likely to get sick or have trouble sleeping, stomach problems, headaches, and mental health conditions. But, breastfeeding can help mothers relax and handle stress better. Skin-to-skin contact with your baby has a soothing effect.

Take these steps to help ease stress while breastfeeding:

  • Get the facts. The first few weeks of breastfeeding are the hardest, but it does get easier. Learn all you can about the benefits of breastfeeding and how to make it work for you to help you get through the rough spots.
  • Relax. Try to find a quiet, comfortable, relaxing place to nurse. This will help make breastfeeding more enjoyable for you and your baby. Use this time to bond with your baby, listen to soothing music, meditate, or read a book.
  • Sleep. Your stress could get worse if you don’t get enough sleep. With enough sleep, it is easier to cope with challenges and stay healthy. Try to sleep whenever possible.
  • Surround yourself with supportive people. It really does take a village to raise a child. Read these suggestions on how your family and friends can help support your breastfeeding goals.
  • Get moving. Physical activity improves your mood. Your body makes certain chemicals, called endorphins, when you exercise. These relieve stress and improve your mood. If you are a new mother, ask your doctor when it is okay to start exercising.
  • Don’t deal with stress in unhealthy ways. This includes drinking too much alcohol, using drugs, or smoking, all of which can harm you and your baby. It is also unhealthy to overeat in response to stress.
  • Get help from a professional if you need it. A therapist can help you work through stress and find better ways to deal with problems. Medicines can help ease symptoms of depression and anxiety and help promote sleep. But not all medicines are safe to take while breastfeeding. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist before taking any medicine. Read more about stress in our Stress and mental health section. Read more about medicines that are safe to take while breastfeeding.

Can I take medicines if I am breastfeeding?

You can take certain medicines while breastfeeding, but not all. Almost all medicines pass into your milk in small amounts. Some have no effect on the baby and can be used while breastfeeding. Always talk to your doctor or pharmacist about medicines you are using and ask before you start using new medicines. This includes prescription and over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, and dietary or herbal supplements. For some women with chronic health problems, stopping a medicine can be more dangerous than the effects it will have on the breastfed baby.

Can I breastfeed if I am sick?

Some women think that they should not breastfeed when they are sick. But most common illnesses, such as colds, flu, or diarrhea, can’t be passed through breastmilk. In fact, the antibodies in your breastmilk will help protect your baby from getting the same sickness. But if you have the flu, you should avoid being near your infant so that you do not infect him or her. Someone who is not sick should give your infant your expressed milk during this time.

Breastfeeding is not advised if the mother:

Will my partner be jealous if I breastfeed?

Maybe. You can help prevent jealousy by preparing your partner before birth and making sure he or she gets involved once you start breastfeeding.

Before birth:

  • Explain that you need his or her support. After your child is born, the best way for a partner to support your breastfeeding efforts is by being there for you.
  • Discuss the important and lasting health reasons to breastfeed. Buy him or her a book or print out some information. Having a partner or spouse who understands the benefits of breastfeeding can make all the difference.
  • Remind your partner that the baby will need to be fed somehow. Any method will take time, but, once breastfeeding is going smoothly, it is convenient and comfortable. Be sure to emphasize that not breastfeeding can cost you money.
  • Encourage your partner to join you for a birthing, breastfeeding, and/or new parenting class. Classes are available through the hospital, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, or other organizations.

After birth, get your partner involved by encouraging him or her to:

  • Bring your baby to you at night for a feeding
  • Change your baby’s diaper after a feeding
  • Lie skin-to-skin with the baby

Do I have to restrict my sex life while breastfeeding?

No, but you may have to make some adjustments to make sex more comfortable for you and your partner if you have the following:

  • Vaginal dryness. Some women experience vaginal dryness right after childbirth and during breastfeeding. This is because estrogen levels are lower during these times. If you have vaginal dryness, you can try more foreplay and water-based lubricants.
  • Leaking breasts. You can feed your baby or express some milk before lovemaking so your breasts will be more comfortable and less likely to leak. It is common for a woman’s breasts to leak or even spray milk during sex, especially during her orgasm. If this happens, put pressure on your nipples or have a towel handy to catch the milk.

Do I still need birth control if I am breastfeeding?

Yes. Your doctor will likely discuss birth control with you before you give birth. Breastfeeding is not a sure way to prevent pregnancy, even though it can delay the return of normal ovulation and menstrual cycles. Discuss with your doctor birth control choices that you can use while breastfeeding.

Does my breastfed baby need vaccines?

Yes. Vaccines are very important to your baby’s health. Breastfeeding may also help your baby respond better to certain immunizations that protect your baby. Follow the schedule your doctor gives you and, if you miss any vaccines, check with the doctor about getting your baby back on track as soon as possible.

Breastfeeding while the vaccine is given to your baby — or immediately afterward — can help relieve pain and soothe an upset baby.

Learn more about vaccines for infants and children.

Is it safe for me to get a vaccine when I’m breastfeeding?

Most likely. Breastfeeding does not affect the vaccine, and, in most cases, vaccines are not harmful to your breastmilk. However, vaccines for smallpox and yellow fever can be passed through breastmilk. Avoid these vaccinations if possible while breastfeeding and talk to your doctor.

All material contained on this page is free of copyright restrictions and may be copied, reproduced, or duplicated without permission of the Office on Women’s Health in the Department of Health and Human Services. Citation of the source is appreciated.

Content last updated: July 21, 2014

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