Many mothers are told that they need to drink a great deal of water in order to make enough milk. So if the idea of 20 glasses a day has your eyeballs floating, fear not! The general recommendation for nursing mothers is drink to thirst.
What does “drink to thirst” mean? For some women, it may mean an increase while in others a decrease in the usual amount of water you drink. Some women tend to eat juicier foods like raw fruits and vegetables that contain a great deal of water. Some women incorporate soups and smoothies into their daily diet. In healthy women, the natural feeling of thirst is the best cue for judging how much to drink.
Many moms report an intense feeling of thirst right at the start or end of a nursing session. If you prefer to nurse in a particular chair, place a water pitcher nearby so you can sip while your baby feeds. Nursing can be a relaxing break for both of you to recharge and refuel.
One of the compounding factors in the belief that women must drink large amounts of water during lactation is the rise in popularity of soft drinks. Teas, coffees, punches, and sodas are often not as hydrating as water. Drinks that contain caffeine often cause mothers to expel water faster. Some vitamin or herb infused drinks may contain ingredients that aren’t compatible with nursing. In general, sugary drinks are not recommended by health care professionals for all people, lactating or not. For some women, lactation increases their thirst even more because they are combating soft drinks, tea, or coffee. They may notice they feel better when they drink more water and should be encouraged to keep up this healthy habit.
Where did the “drink more water” myth come from? It seems on the surface like logic. If we expect a liter or more of fluid to leave the body, we should replace it. And when discussing exercise or sweating in the heat, this is exactly right. Human milk production is different than sitting in a sauna. One of the wonderful things about lactating breasts is that they always take what they need first. If the milk needs more minerals, more fat, or more water, the milk glands will get first pick of what is available in the mother’s body. This is the reason milk around the world is so similar.
Many studies have shown that the composition and quality a human milk is similar across the globe. Studies in both the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition and the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition show that mothers across cultures and economies produce similar milk. Even women facing malnutrition and scarce water make similar milk.
Pregnant mothers take on a great deal of fluid. Increased blood volume, new fat stores, and fluid are all part of nourishing the baby during gestation and lactation. Some of the fluid that made your rings and shoes too tight will make its way into your milk glands. That’s what that fluid in your ankles is for: milk! This is one of the ways breastfeeding helps mothers return to their pre-pregnancy weight.
Some women express that they don’t like plain water. Some smarter choices for making water more magical include adding a slice of fresh citrus like lemon, lime, or orange; adding a splash of natural fruit juice; or making a refreshing spa inspired water with fresh cucumber slices.
Cheers! To Health!