Drinking a glass or two of alcohol per week while nursing is generally considered safe. Keep in mind, though, that alcohol can lead to dehydration, so drink plenty of water to counter the effects. Note Clarke and Jarosh, “Contrary to popular myth, research shows that alcohol does not stimulate milk production and may actually impair it.” If you’ve fallen for an old wives’ tale about a beer a day boosting your output, you may want to rethink your game plan.
It’s each mother’s own decision whether she chooses to drink or abstain while nursing, so if you’re unsure about popping open a bottle of Pinot, do some research and talk to your doctor—then go with what makes you most comfortable. If you do decide to include alcohol in your diet, be sure to stick to the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines: Wait at least two hours after one serving of alcohol (12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor) before breastfeeding again to allow for the alcohol to clear from your system—and therefore your breast milk—before baby feeds again. (If you sip immediately following a feeding, the timing usually works out nicely.)
Another item that might make your off-limits list is artificial sweetener. “While there isn’t much research claiming artificial sweeteners, sugar alcohols and sweet herbs like stevia aren’t safe, there is an equally limited amount of research proving that they definitely are safe,” explain Clarke and Jarosh, who recommend sticking to natural sweeteners most of the time. Of course, it goes without saying that over-indulging in sugar-laden junk foods loaded with empty calories is a bad idea—not just while breastfeeding but anytime.
One more thing to avoid: crash dieting. You might be a little unsettled with your post- baby body, but now is not the time to try to lose the extra weight. “Getting enough calories each day is important for producing an adequate breast milk supply for baby. Extreme diets and any type of fast have no place in a nursing mom’s life,” warn Clarke and Jarosh. “Although it may seem like cutting calories will help you lose weight faster, it can actually be counterproductive [while nursing].” Additionally, they advise, “Excessive exercise can decrease milk supply.” Slow and steady wins the race, ladies.
Eat a balanced diet, enjoy moderate exercise once you’ve been cleared by your doctor, and know that it takes some time for your body to return to its prebaby shape (or an equally slim, if slightly different, shape). Save the diet until baby has weaned, or at the very least wait until nursing is well-established and your body has had time to drop the extra weight on its own. (Remember, nursing is great for weight loss!)
Many moms have one big question in regards to milk making: Will I be able to make enough milk to nourish my baby? The answer is almost always yes. It can be slightly nerve-wracking to feed someone and not be able to tell how much he’s eating (your breasts don’t have those nice 2-ounce markers like the bottles do, after all), but if your baby is gaining weight at a pace that your pediatrician is comfortable with, you can rest assured he is eating enough.
The best way to ensure baby is ingesting an ample supply of quality milk is to eat well and pass that nutrition on to your wee one. Feeding on demand, particularly in the first few weeks, is another essential component. “Your breasts need constant stimulation from your baby in order to get into a good milk-making groove. The more milk your baby drinks, the more you will make,” shares Mercer. When your baby seems hungry, feed him—even if it hasn’t been long since he last ate. “Newborns have tiny tummies, so it is perfectly normal for them to want to eat every hour or two,” she says.
Nursing babies who fuss a lot can also cause a new mom to doubt her ability to breastfeed. And sometimes, what you eat might factor into his irritability. “If you suspect your baby is sensitive to a particular food or beverage, eliminate it from your diet for a few days and observe,” suggests Cole. Cow’s milk, eggs, fish, citrus fruits, nuts and wheat can all cause gastrointestinal upset in a nursing baby. “Cutting dairy from your diet can help reduce any digestive issues your baby may be having, such has frequent spitting up, reflux and constipation,” suggests Mercer. “Dairy is highly mucus forming and hard to digest.”
However, your best bet when running into problems while nursing is always to bring in a lactation consultant. These nursing gurus can help pinpoint your problems, come to your house for hands-on help when necessary and generally make your life as a breastfeeding mom much, much easier. Check with your hospital, OB or pediatrician to see if she can recommend a consultant in your area.