Dehydration While Breastfeeding: Risk Factors and Causes

Recently on the blog, we talked about the importance of hydration during pregnancy. But even after delivery, the risk of developing dehydration still exists for nursing mothers.

Here’s why: Not only does the amount of fluids the body needs increase when a mother is nursing – breast milk is almost 90 percent water – but every day, these fluids are lost quickly when the newborn eats. It’s this near-constant need to balance hydration that increases the risk for dehydration after childbirth.

How Much More Water Should Nursing Mothers Drink Per Day?

At six months, breastfeeding mothers produce roughly 750 milliliters per day of breast milk[i], but this can vary dramatically depending on the needs of the new baby (or babies). For instance, a mother nursing twins may produce up to 2 liters or more[ii]. Or just after birth, a newborn may need less than 750 milliliters.

So how much does a mother need to drink to avoid dehydration?

Well, it varies for every woman. But a good rule of thumb is that breastfeeding mothers should drink as much as they did before the pregnancy – PLUS – the amount of fluids they lose each day when feeding. Therefore, the average nursing mother would need to take in an additional 700 milliliters of water per day[iii].

What Are The Risks for Developing Dehydration While Breastfeeding?

Due to the body’s increased need for water while nursing, conditions that speed up the loss of fluids can bring on dehydration faster. Examples include:

  • Diarrhea; vomiting
  • Excessive sweating due to fever or exercise
  • Chronic diseases
  • Cold or influenza

The symptoms of these illnesses increase the loss of fluids and electrolytes. Thus, if symptoms are prolonged or severe, mothers may need to supplement the loss of these nutrients to avoid dehydration.

If you’re experiencing the signs of dehydration – there’s no need to be alarmed – the immediate effects of mild or moderate dehydration on your baby are minimal, if any at all. For instance, research has shown that mothers produce the same volume of milk[iv], regardless of hydration status,[v] and it has the same macronutrient content. Severe dehydration, though, has been shown to diminish micronutrient content of breast milk.

Manage hydration when you’re nursing with DripDrop ORS. DripDrop ORS is a doctor-formulated oral rehydration powder designed to speed up recovery from dehydration.

[i] Neville MC, Keller R, Seacat J, Lutes V, Neifert M, Casey C, Allen J, Archer P. Studies in human lactation: milk volumes in lactating women during the onset of lactation and full lactation. Am J Clin Nutr. 1988; 48(6):1375-86.
[ii] Institute of Medicine, National Academies of Science. Nutrition during lactation. The National Academies Press, Washington DC, 1991.
[iii] European Food Safety Authority, EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition, and Allergies (NDA). Scientific Opinion on Dietary reference values for water. EFSA Journal 2010; 8(3):1459.
[iv] Horowitz M, Higgins GD, Graham JJ, Berriman H, Harding PE. Effect of modification of fluid intake in the puerperium on serum prolactin levels and lactation. Med J Aust. 1980; 2(11):625-6.
[v] Prentice AM, Lamb WH, Prentice A, Coward WA. The effect of water abstention on milk synthesis in lactating women. Clin Sci (Lond). 1984 Mar;66(3):291-8.
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