“I need to drink more water to increase my supply!” I hear this and similar statements from the moms I support all the time. Or, their obstetrician or their baby’s pediatrician told them that hydration is the key to milk production. I know a doctor who prescribes a gallon of water a day to new moms! So the moms chug, chug, chug, hoping that all of this water will transform into milk. Or they blame their low milk supply on their lack of commitment to staying hydrated.
But is dehydration really the cause of low milk production?
No. At least, not the kind of severe hydration that any of us are likely to encounter. If a mother has access to water, she’ll drink when she needs to, and she’ll drink enough to make milk.
According to The Breastfeeding Mother’s Guide to Making More Milk (West & Morasco, 2009), the factors that matter most to milk supply are:
I see a larger number of moms who need to increase milk removal and breast stimulation. The earlier they are able to do this, the better the results. To establish milk supply, most moms need at least 8 breast drainings (breastfeeding and/or pumping) per 24 hours. If they can do more than that, they’ll usually see more milk more quickly.
Mother-baby contact is also really important for milk supply. If a separation is medically necessary in the early days, such as a NICU stay, many moms find that their supply goes up once they are able to snuggle and breastfeed their babies more often. A lot of babies ask to be held frequently, but some are mellower and may be fine hanging out in a bassinet or bouncy seat much of the time. If I am supporting a family whose baby has this personality and the mom is trying to make more milk, I suggest that she wear her baby some of the time in a soft wrap or sling. This physical closeness sends the body a powerful signal that says, “Baby’s here! Let’s make some milk!”
So let’s get back to hydration for a moment. It’s true that many breastfeeding moms tell me they’re thirsty much of the time. And yes, that could very well be because they’re making milk and need to replace those fluids in their body. But even if they were a bit dehydrated, they’ll still make enough milk for their babies. Moms whose production is below their babies’ needs may not be quite as thirsty because they’re making less milk, for one of the aforementioned reasons. See how that might cause some confusion?
I always encourage moms to simply drink to thirst. More water just makes more urine! And any breastfeeding mom will tell you that she already spends enough time waiting for her baby to finish nursing so she can finally go to the bathroom. Ah, the glamour of motherhood!
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One lactation consultant's musings about milk.