A Pediatrician’s Must-Know Breastfeeding Advice for New Moms

Many women try to breastfeed, but the stress of a newborn coupled with other family responsibilities can make it feel like an impossible task. In fact, 60% of mothers do not breastfeed for as long as they would like to. That’s why I’m joining forces with KnowYourOTCs to give new moms advice on how to make the most of your breastfeeding experience.

Moms who stop breastfeeding before they would like to usually say it is caused by concerns about their milk supply, difficulty with getting the baby to latch, pain and mastitis, or an overall lack of support and education.

Education is paramount in the medical world and in parenting too, and breastfeeding is no exception. I always suggest my mothers-to-be educate themselves about breastfeeding even BEFORE the baby is born.

Attend a breastfeeding class. Learn what to expect and how to overcome early obstacles of nursing.

If you are running into challenges with nursing (and that’s OK!), I’m sharing my top four pieces of advice for new moms who are on their breastfeeding journey.

#1 Maintain A Healthy Diet

Coming home from the hospital with a newborn is incredibly exciting but also exhausting. The lack of sleep and change in hormones can wreak havoc on a new mom’s emotional and physical health. Many new moms go hours without a proper meal and forget to hydrate.

This lack of self-care can not only affect a mom’s physical health but also her ability to produce milk and successfully breastfeed.

One of the biggest obstacles that women have with breastfeeding is low milk supply. Drinking water and overall nutrition are extremely important for breastmilk production. Generally speaking, a breastfeeding mother should drink 12 cups of water a day (2.8 liters).

Pro Tip: Keep a bottle of water next to your rocking chair to drink after each feed.

If you are thinking about taking a vitamin or other type of dietary supplement to help fill in nutritional gaps, be sure to speak with your doctor, pharmacist, or other healthcare professional first to ensure doing so will not impact your milk supply or baby’s development.

#2 Limit or Avoid Certain Foods

What a nursing mom eats gets transmitted to her child through her breastmilk, and therefore it is important to avoid certain things that can lead to discomfort or even be dangerous for a baby.

While maintaining a healthy diet, if your baby experiences eczema, hives, wheezing, bloody stools, vomiting, abnormal fussiness, or excessive gas after breastfeeding, speak with your pediatrician about whether these are possible reactions to what you are eating.

Pro Tip: A food diary may be helpful in determining a relationship between something you eat and your baby’s symptoms.

You should also avoid certain foods while nursing because of their potentially dangerous effects, including:

  • Alcohol – according to the CDC, breastfeeding women should avoid drinking alcohol. However, drinking up to one standard alcoholic drink a day has not been shown to be harmful to a breastfeeding baby, especially if the mother waits at least two hours after a single drink before nursing. If you are planning on drinking more than one standard alcoholic drink, providing milk to your baby that you pumped ahead of time is important.
  • Caffeine – although an occasional cup of coffee that contains caffeine is fine to have while breastfeeding, you should not have more than three cups per day. Make sure to take into account other drinks that contain caffeine as well, such as tea and soda.
  • Fish High in Mercury certain fish can contain high levels of the naturally-occurring chemical mercury, which can impact a newborn’s brain and nervous system development. Since mercury can pass from a mother to her baby through her breastmilk, it is best to stay away from certain fish, including tuna, grouper, swordfish, and mackerel. And, in general, try to limit seafood to no more than three servings per week.

#3 Safely Treat Symptoms When You Are Sick

Getting sick while caring for a newborn is never fun. But breastfeeding can add a whole new layer of stress. While nursing moms may feel nervous about continuing to breastfeed while sick for fear of passing the illness on to their baby, it is NOT possible to transmit infection through breastmilk. In fact, breastfeeding while sick can actually provide your baby with important antibodies to help them stay healthy.

Many moms are also hesitant to take any medicines when not feeling well in fear that they may transmit through their breastmilk to their baby. The truth is that only a very small amount of medicine ends up in breastmilk – less than 1% of the dosage taken by the mother.

In such small amounts, most over-the-counter (OTC) medicines are harmless to the baby. However, always consult with your pediatrician, pharmacist, or other healthcare professional before taking any medicines while breastfeeding.

Here some important tips to keep in mind when taking medicine while breastfeeding:

  • Only Treat Your Exact Symptoms – avoid taking multi-symptom medicines, or those that contain more than one active ingredient. If you have a fever, treat the fever with a single-ingredient fever reducer rather than a multi-symptom cold medicine.
  • Take Only as Much as You Need to Feel Better – also take the medicine for the shortest possible time, and only take it if you really need it to feel better. Avoid taking long-lasting or extra-strength medicines, as they stay in the bloodstream and milk supply for a longer period of time than regular-strength medicines.
  • Work on Timing – the best time to take an OTC medicine is right after breastfeeding. Most medicines are at peak concentration within 20-30 minutes of taking them. By taking a medicine right after you feed your baby, you can treat your symptoms and give the medicine time to wear off and  be at a lower level of concentration when it is time to feed again.

When starting a new medicine, call your pediatrician immediately if your baby experiences a rash, vomiting, difficulty breathing, extreme fussiness, or any new symptoms or changes in behavior. Reactions are rare, but if they happen, stop taking the medicine until you can have your baby seen by a pediatrician.

There are certain prescription medications to avoid when breastfeeding. Make sure your doctor knows that you are breastfeeding when prescribing any medications.

#4 Consider Nice-to-Have Nursing Supplies

When packing your hospital bag, bring your breastfeeding essentials with you. My favorite breastfeeding must-haves include a few button-down shirts for easy feeding, nursing bras, breast pads, a breastfeeding pillow, and nipple creams.

Having quality items both with you in the hospital and at home can make a world of difference in starting to breastfeed and being successful along the journey.

Breastfeeding is not always easy, so don’t be hard on yourself. It is a journey, and there are certainly products on the market to make breastfeeding simpler, and maybe a tad less painful.

Also, I can’t stress enough how important it is to speak with the lactation consultants while you are in the hospital. A lactation consultant is not only a great resource to help with any difficulties you might experience while breastfeeding during those first few days with your newborn, but also is a fantastic contact to have once you leave the hospital.

BONUS: Breastfeeding and COVID-19 Vaccines

Unfortunately, the clinical trials for the current COVID-19 vaccines did not include pregnant or breastfeeding women.

That being said, speak with your OB/GYN because there are some women, depending upon their risk profile, who are absolutely getting COVID-19 vaccines while pregnant, trying to become pregnant, or are breastfeeding.

According to the CDC, “the COVID-19 vaccines authorized now are non-replicating vaccines, meaning they are able to create an immune response but do not reproduce inside host cells. Because non-replicating vaccines pose no risk for lactating people or their infants, COVID-19 vaccines are also thought to not be a risk to the breastfeeding infant. Therefore, lactating people may choose to be vaccinated.”

Speak with your doctor because protecting yourself and your baby is important and totally possible with the vaccines.

Final Thoughts on the Best Breastfeeding Advice for New Moms

You can read every book, watch every video, and take every class – but no one can be 100% prepared for life as a new mom. Breastfeeding is natural, but it does not come naturally to ALL mothers.

Expect the unexpected and give yourself some grace to go with the flow whenever necessary.

And remember that there is no such thing as only one way to successfully breastfeed your baby!

Most importantly, it is okay if you have tried your best and it doesn’t work out. The most important thing is the ability to bond with your new baby. If breastfeeding is causing a level of stress that is interfering with your ability to bond, talk to your doctor or a local lactation consultant.

~Dr. Katie

I’m proud to take part as a blogging ambassador with KnowYourOTCs.org. This post is sponsored! While I have received compensation from the CHPA Educational Foundation, all opinions are my own.

Meet Our Experts

Dr. Katie Friedman

Dr. Katie Friedman is a board certified pediatrician and specialist in pediatric emergency medicine. She is also a wife, and mother of two. Along with her sisters (Alison, a veterinarian and Carrie, a fashion stylist), she is a co-founder of Forever Freckled, a website dedicated to helping people with pets, children, and everyday lifestyle.