How to Stay Hydrated When You Are Breastfeeding

Mother breastfeeding baby

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When you're breastfeeding, you are hydrating your little one and yourself: Breast milk is about 90% water. Although research has found that nursing mothers do not need to drink more fluids than what's necessary to satisfy their thirst, experts recommend about 128 ounces per day.

That sounds like a lot—it's 16 eight-ounce cups—but eight ounces is a pretty small serving size. If you drink one eight-ounce glass of water before and after each feeding, as well as with meals, you should be able to hit that 128-ounce goal. And remember that total fluid consumption is a combination of what you drink (water and beverages like tea, milk, and fruit juice) and what you eat (water-rich foods like many fruits and vegetables).

The Relationship Between Hydration and Milk Supply

It may seem intuitive that if your milk supply starts to wane, drinking more water and other fluids will help to give it a boost. However, research on the effect of extra fluid for breastfeeding mothers on milk production, supply, and infant growth hasn't shown that drinking more than your usual amount of fluids will increase milk supply.

Getting too little liquid, however, can cause milk production to lag.

Avoiding Dehydration

What's more important than meeting a goal of a set number of ounces is making sure you don't become dehydrated. Staying hydrated by getting plenty of water and other fluids throughout the day is vital to your health, no matter what stage of life you're in (trying to conceive, pregnancy, breastfeeding, etc.).

If you don't get enough water and other fluids, you risk becoming dehydrated, which can lead to some unpleasant side effects such as:

  • Headache
  • Moodiness
  • Dry mouth and chapped lips
  • Nausea
  • Muscle cramps
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue and a lack of energy
  • Constipation

How to Get Enough Fluids

Your top indicator of whether you need more fluids is thirst. A good rule of thumb is to drink enough water so that you're not thirsty, otherwise known as "drinking to thirst." Thirst is your body's way of telling you that you need to drink more, so do your best to pay attention to your body. By the time you're physically craving water, your body is already depleted of fluid.

Soon after starting to nurse, you will notice that you feel thirsty more often. This is triggered by oxytocin, a hormone released during breastfeeding, which naturally affects your thirst cues to encourage you to drink enough water to hydrate yourself and make breast milk.

The color of your urine is a telling clue about your level of hydration. If your pee is dark, it isn't being diluted enough by what you drink. Look for a pale yellow or almost clear color to your urine, which indicates you're getting enough fluids.

All Liquids Count

Your fluids don't have to all come from water, but it's always a good choice. It's sugar-free, caffeine-free, readily available, and you can enjoy it at any temperature. Plus, you can easily flavor your water with fruits or herbs when you want a change.

That said, any liquids you consume, along with any water-rich foods you eat, will contribute to your overall fluid intake. Some examples include:

  • Cow's milk or nut milk by the glass or in your cereal
  • Decaffeinated coffee or tea (though a cup or two a day with caffeine is likely fine)
  • Fruit or vegetable juice
  • Fruits such as oranges, watermelon, and berries
  • Soup
  • Vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumbers, and lettuce

If you don't care for cow's milk, don't worry. You don't need it in your diet to make breast milk. Just be sure you are getting calcium from other sources, such as cheese, yogurt, green leafy vegetables, or calcium-fortified foods.

Drink When Your Baby Drinks

Since newborns breastfeed about 8 to 12 times a day, having a glass of water before or after every feeding is a good way to get your daily quota without having to think about it.

Know, however, that consuming too much fluid (a good indicator of this is clear urine) can actually harm your milk supply. When overhydrated, your body works to restore its electrolyte balance by dumping excess water in your urine, which diverts water away from your breasts and can actually decrease your milk supply as a result.

Drinks to Limit When Breastfeeding

It's true that you'll need to take in extra calories to support milk production while you're nursing, but those calories should come from foods and beverages that are nutrient-dense. Experts recommend that you avoid or limit the following liquids when nursing.

Sugary Sodas and Fruit Drinks

Beverages that contain a lot of sugar, such as soda, can actually reduce the amount of fluid that your body actually retains. This can further exacerbate dehydration, causing heat stress and putting pressure on the kidneys, according to a study that examined the effects of such beverages. The same can be said of fruit drinks that are high in sugar but low in fiber.

If you're really craving a sweet drink, try adding fruits and berries to your water. If you are still missing that sweetness, you are better off adding a teaspoon of plain table sugar to your fruit-infused water than drinking a can of soda, which has about 9.5 teaspoons of sugar per can.

Despite the name, fruit drinks often contain little or no actual fruit juice. (These are the products often labeled as "drinks," "coolers," or "punches.") These are different from 100% fruit juice, which is still a good choice for hydration.

Caffeinated Drinks

Aside from caffeine passing into breast milk and affecting your baby's mood and sleep, the stimulant is also a diuretic, which means it causes you to lose fluid and can have a dehydrating effect on your body.

Alcohol

There are many misconceptions regarding alcohol and breastfeeding, including that it will help to boost your milk supply. The truth is, alcohol is more likely to inhibit the letdown reflex.

It's generally OK (with the go-ahead from your baby's pediatrician and your own obstetrician) to have an occasional glass of wine or beer while you're breastfeeding, but it's best to stop there. If you're in the mood for a cocktail, try adding a splash of no-sugar-added fruit juice to plain seltzer in a champagne flute.

A Word From Verywell

Keep in mind that water intake varies per individual and your needs may be more than the recommended 128 ounces a day, especially in hot weather or if you are more active than the average person. Drink to thirst and check your urine to determine the right amount of water for you.

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