You've probably noticed that there's lots of articles telling you why you should breastfeed your baby, and describing how to properly do so. Breastmilk is, after all, the best infant nutrition so it's no wonder that breastfeeding is such a popular subject.
However, few articles go on to explain how to take care of yourself during this time since breastfeeding is a physiologically intense process on the woman's body. Specifically, hydration is one of the most important, and often overlooked, elements of that process.
Did YOU know you need more fluids when breastfeeding than when you're not lactating?
Well, we're here to fill in those missing pieces of information. In this article we'll explore everything you need to know about staying properly hydrated while breastfeeding, and make sure you know how much water to drink when breastfeeding.
We're going to cover why water is such a necessary element, different sources of water, and how fluid intake affects lactation. By the end you'll be able to figure out exactly how much water should you drink when breastfeeding.
Water is a necessary element whether or not you're breastfeeding. It accounts for over half of your body composition; about 64% in fact. It's in all of your cells, and even firm and hard organs like muscle and bone contain a significant portion of fluids. Water serves several vital functions within the body including transporting nutrients, helping regulate body temperature, aiding in digestion.
For your body to function properly your water level must stay in balance. To do this, water constantly enters and leaves your body naturally through drinking, eating, respiration, and digestion. The result of that process is referred to as hydration status. Your hydration status tells you whether you've had enough fluids, too much fluids, or not enough fluids.
If you've had enough fluids you'll feel bright and alert with a normal blood pressure. You'll breath normally, and your skin will feel supple.
If you haven't had enough fluids you'll begun to feel lethargic and maybe even confused. Your mouth will feel dry, sometimes called “cotton mouth.” Your heart rate and breathing will get faster but your pulse will feel weak. Your skin often feels clammy. Not having enough fluids is called being dehydrated.
How much water you need depends on many factors such as age, location, activity level. Generally though, the Institute of Medicine recommends that about 3 liters of fluids for men and 2.2 liters of fluids for women is enough to stay hydrated.
Drinking cups or bottles of water is the most obvious and basic way to hydrate yourself, but there are other sources of fluids. In actuality you're ingesting fluids through lots of other commons items. Drinks like juice, tea, milk, and soda count towards your fluid intake. Lots of foods also help to hydrate you. Some fruits and vegetables contain over 80% of water.
Human milk is comprised of several materials: minerals, fat, protein, carbohydrates, and water. Water constitutes about 87% of the mixture, but that can change with the time of day, and even throughout one episode of breastfeeding. The milk released at the beginning of a session has a higher water content than that at the end. Milk obtained at the end of a breastfeeding session can contain two to three times more fat than that at the beginning of the session.
The amount of milk a woman produces changes over time, gradually increasing with the lactation period. This makes sense because the baby needs more milk as he/she grows; the mother's milk production must keep up with the needs of the growing infant. The average production at 6 months postpartum is 750 milliliters of milk per day.
Breast milk is produced using the water contained in the mother's body. A lactating woman has to replace those fluids lost through the milk of breastfeeding. The milk’s high water content and constant production create a significant challenge for lactating women to maintain a healthy water balance.
In theory, it should be easy to say exactly how much extra fluid to ingest every day: Add the amount normally needed to the amount transferred into the breastmilk. After doing some math you find that lactating women should consume about .70L extra fluid a day to remain hydrated.
Research in this area though is scarce. Data on actual fluid intake of breastfeeding women comes only from two small studies. But, the findings are very interesting. Average fluid intake showed that lactating women consumed the largest quantity of total water compared to other participants but not enough to be considered a statistically significant amount. Additionally, the amount they consumed was not enough to meet those theoretical requirements.
Thankfully, research has consistently shown that fluid intake doesn't affect the quantity or quality of mother's milk. Restricted or increased fluids will not affect the volume of milk produced, and has little to no influence on the nutritional quality of the milk.
What is affected, though, is mother's health. Adequate hydration during lactation is imperative to the mother's status. There is no magic number for the amount of what you need to drink each day, but that .70L per day is a good starting point for staying properly hydrated.
A healthy hydrated mom is a happy mom. So here are a few reminders to ensure you stay hydrated while breastfeeding.