What’s safe to do during breastfeeding, and what’s not? We set the record straight.
Myth: you shouldn’t wear antiperspirant deodorants because aluminium from them will be absorbed into your breast milk
Truth: Many women find that postbirth, with hormones out of whack and milk production kicking in, they become sweaty and uncomfortable during breastfeeding. So naturally, they reach for their antiperspirant deodorant to stop the drenched underarms and uncomfortable wet patches on their shirts. But you may have heard news that the aluminium in antiperspirant deodorants can leach into your breast milk. Aluminium chloride, aluminium chlorohydrate, and anhydrous aluminium chloride are aluminium ions that temporarily plug the sweat ducts in your underarms and prevent perspiration from coming through them onto your skin. But there’s no evidence to suggest that you shouldn’t use an antiperspirant deodorant. Most of the aluminium you consume comes from food rather than products like antiperspirants, and hardly any reaches your breast milk. So if you’re suffering with sweating and you want to reach for your antiperspirant, it’s okay.
Myth: if you drink coffee while you’re breastfeeding, your baby will be wired
Truth: Look, nobody is going to begrudge you your morning cup of coffee when you’ve been up half the night feeding a newborn. You don’t have to suffer through the day with decaf and fall asleep by lunch time without your caffeine fix. Research shows that the amount of caffeine your baby receives through your breast milk is only a fraction of what you drink, so don’t deny yourself that latte when you’re out with friends. However, stick to no more than two or three servings of caffeine spread throughout the day (not three coffees in a row first thing in the morning), as caffeine can start to accumulate in your baby’s body at higher doses, and then yes, she will become irritable and restless.
Myth: if you have a headache and you’re breastfeeding, forget pain relief – you can’t take anything, because it’ll pass into your breast milk
Truth: According to the Ministry of Health, paracetamol is generally okay for breastfeeding mums, if you are sure to follow the instructions for the recommended dose. But to be safest, use the lowest dose you can for the shortest duration possible. There are other medicines you can take under the supervision of your GP – talk to them about what is safe for you. But even if a medication is considered to be safe for breastfeeding mums, it’s best to check with your GP to be sure.
Myth: you can’t wear underwire bras when you’re breastfeeding
Truth: You may have heard that wearing underwire bras while you’re breastfeeding could hamper milk production, leading to clogged milk ducts or mastitis. But there is no real evidence to link underwire to breastfeeding problems. So if you feel you need the support of underwire, or it’s more comfortable for you, go ahead and wear an underwire bra. The majority of breastfeeding bras are wire-free, and when your breast size is fluctuating (particularly in the early days when your milk comes in and your supply changes with your baby’s eating habits and nutritional needs), an underwire-free bra might be the most comfortable option. Actually, breastfeeding bras are made to be comfortable, so you might just want to put that underwire bra back in the drawer for a while.
Myth: it’s okay to drink alcohol if you pump and dump
Truth: Sorry, but nope. Alcohol does pass into breast milk even if you are “pumping and dumping” (that is, pumping breast milk and pouring it down the sink). Everyone metabolises breast milk differently, and there is no way to know when it’s out of your system, or how much your baby is getting. And even if it’s just a small amount that passes into your breast milk, it can change the flavour for your baby and familiarise them with the taste of alcohol. Also, drinking alcohol has other detrimental effects. It is a neurotoxin which negatively impacts your baby’s brain development, and drinking can also reduce your milk production. So this really is a case of “better safe than sorry” – it’s better to avoid alcohol if you’re breastfeeding.
Myth: breastfeeding is the best way to lose baby weight
Truth: There is a strong connection between breastfeeding and weight loss – breastfeeding burns between 1250 to 2090 kilojoules a day. But in order to keep your milk supply up, you’ll need to eat well – and take in more calories in order to do so. Also, some women do not lose weight through breastfeeding alone. Light exercise and a healthy diet go hand in hand with rest and a stress-free environment – as much as possible, at least. Never start any diet or weight loss programme without first consulting with your midwife or GP. It’s incredibly important that you get enough nutrients to ensure that your body will recover well from the birth, and also to ensure that you’re able to produce enough high-quality milk to feed your hungry baby.
Myth: it’s okay to wear perfumes and scented body lotions while you’re breastfeeding
Truth: While body care products are okay to use while you’re breastfeeding, you might want to switch to fragrance-free versions, because newborn babies latch on to the breast by smell. And having scented products near your breasts, particularly your nipples, can confuse your newborn as it masks your natural smell. Avoid using any body care products that aren’t specifically marked as safe for breastfeeding on your breasts and nipples anyway. And while antiperspirant deodorants are okay to use (see above), spray-on deodorants can drift to your breasts and not only add to the scent confusion factor, they can also leave an unpleasant taste.
Myth: you shouldn’t eat peanuts or peanut products while you’re breastfeeding because it could raise the risk of your baby having an allergic reaction
Truth: There has been much debate about this topic over the years, and understandably so, as the incidence of children having food allergies, particularly allergies to nuts, has increased significantly. But the most recent research shows that early exposure to allergenic foods such as peanuts actually decreases the risk of developing food allergies. That does not mean you should start giving your baby straight peanut butter on a spoon as soon as you start solids! But yes, it’s safe to eat peanuts and peanut products while you’re breastfeeding.
Myth: you shouldn’t dye your hair while you’re breastfeeding
Truth : Very little of the chemicals used in hair dye actually enter your bloodstream, so it’s okay to dye your hair. Modern hair-dyeing processes in the salon mean you’re not sitting with dye touching your scalp for ages anyway. But if you’re concerned, it’s better to get your hair dyed professionally because your hairstylist can ensure that as little dye as possible does actually touch your scalp, unlike when you dye your hair at home and end up slathering dye all over your head. The truth is, you absorb a little bit of every single chemical product you use – hand wash, lotion, shampoo, conditioner, makeup, dishwash liquid… And a tiny amount of these will get into your body anyway.