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Breast-feeding mothers - self-care

Alternative names

Breast pump information; Nursing mothers - self-care


Breastfeeding is often an enjoyable and rewarding experience for mothers. A breastfeeding mother must continue to take care of her baby and herself, much like during her pregnancy.


In general, lactating women should get nutrients from a well-balanced, varied diet, rather than from vitamin-mineral supplements. Eat generous amounts of fruits and vegetables, whole-grain breads and cereals, calcium-rich dairy products, and protein-rich foods (such as meats, fish, and legumes). Make sure you are getting enough calories.


  • Milk, Yogurt, and Cheese -- eat at least 4 servings
  • Meat, Poultry, Fish, Dry Beans, Eggs, and Nuts -- at least 3 servings
  • Vegetables -- at least 3 to 5 servings
  • Fruits -- eat 2 to 4 servings; choose two foods high in vitamin C and folic acid, and one food high in vitamin A
  • Bread, Cereal, Rice, and Pasta -- at about 6 to 11 servings
  • Fats, Oils, and Sweets -- go Easy!

This is just a guide. You may need to eat more than this based on your size and activity level.


Nursing mothers need enough fluids to stay healthy and hydrated. Most experts recommend drinking enough fluids to satisfy thirst. Eight 8-ounce servings (64 ounces) of fluid such as water, milk, juice, or soup is a good goal, again depending on your size and activity level.


Breastfeeding mothers can safely eat any foods they like. Some foods may flavor the breast milk, but babies rarely react to this. If your baby is fussy after you eat a
certain food, try avoiding that food for a while, then try it again later to see if it is a problem.

Don't limit your diet excessively. Make sure you are getting enough nutrition for yourself and your baby. If you become overly concerned about foods or spices causing problems, try to remember that entire countries and cultures have diets that contain foods that are extremely spicy. In these countries, the mothers nurse their infants without problems.

It is possible that some highly allergenic foods (strawberries, peanuts) may be passed into breast milk, increasing the risk of a later food allergy. If this is a concern, discuss food allergies with your pediatrician.


A nursing mother can safely consume moderate amounts of caffeine (equal to 1 to 2 cups of coffee per day) without causing harm to her baby. But any more caffeine than that may cause agitation and difficulty sleeping for your baby.

Since alcohol has been found in human milk and can interfere with the milk ejection reflex, avoid alcohol while breastfeeding. An occasional drink, not exceeding two ounces of alcohol, may be safe, but you should consult your health care provider about the associated risks.


Many medications (prescription and over-the-counter medications) will pass into the mother's milk. Check with your physician before taking any medications. Do NOT stop taking any prescribed medication without speaking first to your doctor.

The American Academy of Pediatrics' Committee on Drugs releases a periodic statement with a list of drugs and their compatibility with breastfeeding. Your obstetrician and pediatrician are both likely to be familiar with this publication and can answer your concerns about breastfeeding while taking medications.


Most breastfeeding women do not have normal menstrual periods (lactation amenorrhea). Although the risk of pregnancy is less for a woman experiencing lactation amenorrhea, pregnancy CAN occur during this time. Breastfeeding should not be used for contraception, since failure is likely.


Birth control choice should be discussed with your health care provider. Barrier methods (condom, diaphragm), progesterone contraceptives (oral and injectable), and IUDs have all been shown to be safe and effective. Progesterone contraception is generally not started until the milk supply is established, usually at 4 weeks postpartum.

Estrogen-containing birth control pills are not recommended for breastfeeding women, because they may affect milk supply.


Mothers face unique obstacles in maintaining adequate milk supply once they return to work. With planning, commitment, and skilled use of a breast pump, breastfeeding mothers can maintain their milk supply and continue breastfeeding even after returning to work outside the home.

A maternity leave is helpful for establishing your milk supply and breastfeeding skills before returning to work. An ideal work place would provide a private room for breastfeeding moms, which could be locked, include a comfortable chair, and have an electric breast pump for use by all nursing mothers.

However, many moms have had success using a hand breast pump and a bathroom stall for privacy. Many women prefer the speed of the electric breast pump. Hospital quality pumps are available for rental through medical supply stores. Personal, portable models are available for purchase.


Here are some tips that have worked well with many breastfeeding mothers who work full day outside the home:

  1. Before you return to work, have a helper introduce a bottle to your baby. Your baby may be confused by a bottle you offer, but will adapt easily with another familiar adult. This may help avoid "nipple confusion" where a baby gets puzzled by the different experience of the breast and the bottle from the same person.
  2. Two weeks before you return to work, buy or rent an efficient and comfortable breast pump and start building up a supply of frozen milk. If the day you are to return to work arrives, and you don't have a freezer full of breast milk, one bottle of formula fed to your baby is not the end of the world.
  3. After returning to work, express milk 2 or 3 times a day, every 2 to 3 hours to continue exclusively breastfeeding. If you can only get one break a day and you are unable to pump a full day's allotment in one pumping, a supplemental bottle of formula may be needed. Be aware however, if bottles of formula are given regularly, your milk supply will decrease accordingly.
  4. Nurse your baby immediately before leaving in the morning and immediately upon return from work in late afternoon. Many mothers learn that their babies nurse more frequently in the evenings on days they work. Feed on demand when you are with your baby.
  5. If possible, arrange to nurse your baby at lunch time.
  6. Try to breast feed exclusively when you are with your baby (evenings, nighttime, weekends).
  7. Delegate and share household responsibilities with other members of the family.


There are a number of breast pumps on the market, with varying degrees of comfort, efficiency, and cost. Most require time to develop the skills to use them. Pumps may
be hand-operated (manual), battery, or electrically-operated.

The most dependable, efficient, and comfortable pumps are electric, have intermittent action (creates and releases suction automatically), and require minimal training.

Your local lactation consultant can help you make realistic plans and guide you to a supportive breast pump supplier. A listing of lactation consultants is available at

In general, lactating women should get nutrients from a well-b .

Update Date: 5/31/2002

Adam Ratner, Adam Ratner, M.D., Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.

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Last updated: Tue, 06 Jan 2009 00:20:03 GMT