Water, Water Everywhere, but not a Drop of Milk!

If you are struggling with milk production, how many times have you been told to drink more water? Chances are everyone from your mother, to your friend, to even your doctor, has perpetuated this myth and added to your stress. You are working so hard already, the last thing you need is someone telling you to do something as basic as drinking more water!

But, wait, rather than being irritated by this patronizing suggestion, have you worried that maybe your water intake really is the reason you don’t have enough milk? Stop beating yourself up, and tell all your well-meaning advisors to read this post!

Drinking more water isn’t the solution!

Assuming that you are not seriously dehydrated, your fluid intake has little impact on milk production. Research has shown that mothers who drank as much as 25% to 50% more than what they were thirsty for, had no increase in milk production. (Dusdieker, et al, 1985. Morse, et al, 1992).  Drinking whenever you are thirsty is all that is needed.

You may have heard of someone who drank more water and had a subsequent milk increase.  Maybe this mother was truly dehydrated.  Maybe it was the placebo effect.  Maybe she also changed other factors which could impact milk production.  We will never know, and it won’t hurt you to drink more–if you want to!

However, forcing yourself to drink more than you want can actually work against your ability to make milk!

The body’s reaction to excessive water intake (well beyond thirst) is to dump excess fluid through the urine in order to maintain proper electrolyte balance. Water is diverted away from the breast, and lower milk volume can result. (West & Marasco Making More Milk p 86).

So why do people keep telling you to drink more? It may be because they want to help but don’t know how. Drinking more sounds like an easy and reasonable fix for a problem they don’t understand. Sometimes, even health care providers rely on breastfeeding myths because they want to solve the problem, but don’t know how!

Another reason people suggest drinking fluid is a lack of knowledge about how the breast makes milk. Milk production is a complex procedure that I won’t bore you with here. However, there are a few important points to keep in mind. First, if you have recently had a baby, your body puts milk production high on its priority list.  “The mammary gland may need to produce milk at the metabolic expense of other organs (Lawrence, Breastfeeding: A Guide for the Medical Profession, p 90),   In other words, your breasts are going to take whatever they need from anywhere you have it available.  If there isn’t enough of something available, the rest of your body will suffer before your milk supply does.  This means you would have to be truly dehydrated before your milk supply would suffer.

Second, if you don’t have enough milk despite very, very frequent and efficient milk removal, there is likely an underlying health issue involved, and drinking more water will not solve that.

But could you actually be severely dehydrated? Well, first off, if you feel well enough to sit here and read this calmly, you probably are not severely dehydrated. Usually, you have to be in the throes of a terrible stomach virus, or have some other extreme health issues going on for this happen. However, you may be mildly dehydrated, as many of us are, because we aren’t used to having a glass of water always available.  The color of your urine is a good indicator of fluid status. If your urine is pale yellow throughout the day (accounting for any colored vitamins you may be taking) then you are probably decently hydrated.

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t keep water available wherever you sit down to breastfeed or pump. Quite often mothers get thirsty at this time but don’t want to get up to get a drink. Keeping water easily available to you throughout the day, in the car, even when you are away from home, means that you are able to drink to thirst. You will be more comfortable and feel better if you can get a drink whenever you want to, but unless you really get seriously behind on your fluid intake, it isn’t likely to affect milk production.

So increasing your water intake isn’t going to help you make more milk. Does this mean that there isn’t anything you can do? There are plenty of ways to increase your milk production, and a good Lactation Consultant can help you figure out the best ones for your situation. In the meantime, drink to thirst, and don’t let anyone get away with telling you to just drink more–they won’t be helping you, or the next 20 mothers they give the same poor advice. Instead, send them to milkwaybreastfeeding.com!