5 Myths About What's Safe & What's Not While Breastfeeding
We’ve got the bottom line on what’s safe when you’re making the milk, from antiperspirants to pain relievers, caffeine, and alcohol.
If you're nursing, it seems like your baby’s constantly attached to the boob—and you may be worried that the things you’re doing to take care of yourself might affect her growth and development too. We rounded up the biggest headscratchers and got the word on whether they can impact supply, milk quality, or safety.
The Myth: You should stop wearing antiperspirant.
The truth: You may have heard that aluminum, the sweat-stopping ingredient in antiperspirants, is toxic for your breast tissue and breast milk. While you can always choose an aluminum-free deodorant, the precaution isn’t necessary. “There’s no evidence to suggest a nursing mother should not use antiperspirant,” says Aimee Abu-Shamsieh, M.D., M.P.H., associate clinical professor of pediatrics at the UCSF Fresno. “Aluminum is naturally commonly found in the environment, so most of your exposure comes from food, not skin products, and barely any reaches breast milk anyway.”
However, you might consider switching to a fragrance-free kind, since newborns latch by smell, and using heavily perfumed products on or near your nipples—including deodorant or body wash—can create confusion. This can be a particular issue with spray-on deodorant, because it might drift onto your nipples and also cause them to have an unpleasant taste.
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The Myth: You shouldn't take any pain relievers.
The truth: No need to suffer. Pain relievers and fever reducers such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and naproxen are generally okay for breastfeeding moms, according to a report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), though every medicine has its benefits and risks. But there are a couple of OTCs that it’s best to avoid. For instance, decongestants can lower milk production, while antihistamines can make you drowsy and impair your abilities.
For anything you take, it’s smart to check with your doctor first. You can also use the handy government-developed app LactMed for quick info. Even when a medication is considered safe to use while breastfeeding, it’s best to err on the side of caution. “Use the lowest effective dose of the medication for the shortest amount of time possible,” says the author of the AAP report, Hari Cheryl Sachs, M.D.
The Myth: You shouldn't drink coffee.
The truth: After a rough night (four wake-ups?!), don’t be afraid to pour yourself a cup—and go for a refill. “Research shows that the amount of caffeine your baby would get is only a small percentage of what you drink,” Dr. Abu-Shamsieh notes. However, stick to one to three servings of caffeine spread throughout the day. At higher doses (five 6-ounce cups or more), caffeine from breast milk can accumulate in a baby’s body, which will make her restless and irritable.
The Myth: You should cut calories to drop the baby weight.
The truth: Breastfeeding burns about 500 additional calories per day. That’s enough to help many women get back to their pre-pregnancy weight, says Dr. Abu-Shamsieh. Even if you’re antsy to lose it faster, make sure you’re eating at least 1,800 calories per day and well-balanced meals (plenty of healthy fats like avocado and nuts, plus fruits, veggies, legumes, and lean meat). And it’s best to wait to diet until after two months postpartum, when your milk supply is well established and you’ve physically recovered from giving birth. The best way to know if you’re consuming the right amount is to listen to your body and eat according to your hunger, Dr. Abu-Shamsieh says.
The Myth: You can drink alcohol as long as you pump and dump.
The truth: You may not want to give up wine, but a small amount of alcohol does pass into breast milk. This can change the flavor of your milk, familiarizing your infant with the taste of alcohol, says Julie Mennella, Ph.D., a developmental biopsychologist at Monell Chemical Senses Center, in Philadelphia, who adds that alcohol intake can also reduce milk production. Worse, alcohol is a neurotoxin that impacts infant brain development, says Parents advisor Laura Riley, M.D., director of labor and delivery at Massachusetts General Hospital. That’s why she advises her patients not to drink if breastfeeding. And she says the idea that ‘if you’re okay to drive, you’re okay to breastfeed,’ is nuts: “The data isn’t clear on the safety, and everyone metabolizes alcohol differently. There’s no way of knowing how much your baby is getting.” Pumping and dumping isn’t fool proof, either. A small glass of champagne on your birthday is fine—just don’t make happy hour a nightly thing.