When I had my first child, I swear it felt like I was being followed around by someone armed with a jug of water 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Every time I sat down to breastfeed or eat a snack, my husband or my mom were close behind, ready to refill my glass and urging me to stay hydrated. As a result, I think I was always well hydrated. And by the time I returned to work after my maternity leave had ended, I'd definitely gotten in the habit of drinking plenty of water to increase my milk supply and eating regular snacks to ensure I had enough nutrients in my body to feed my baby.
Now that I’ve had my third baby, there isn’t anyone following me around, urging me to drink water. Early on, my husband was caring for our two girls instead of waiting on me hand and foot. These days, I am the one taking care of the kids while my husband is at work for most of the day. I have never worried about the fact that I don’t measure my water intake, because my lactation consultant has always advised me just to drink to thirst.
Well, with three little ones to care for, it's become all too easy for me to neglect even paying attention to when I'm thirsty or hungry. Some days, I am more diligent about taking care of my basic needs than others. Frequently, I notice right after getting my kids go down for naps that I’ve been ignoring my thirst all morning because I’ve been distracted or busy. And drinking to thirst only works if you're paying attention and I can’t help but wonder if not measuring my intake is negatively effecting my supply or adding to the exhaustion I feel most days. So, when I noticed my baby wasn’t sleeping quite as well, I wondered if upping my water intake would increase my milk supply, help him sleep a little better, and maybe help me feel a little more energized and healthy during the day.
There seem to be various opinions on what well-hydrated means for a breastfeeding mom. It seems that the general belief, based on anecdotal evidence, that breastfeeding moms should drink as much water as possible. Many lactation experts say that isn’t true, that mom only needs to drink to thirst. That wasn’t working for me, so I decided to follow the advice of Dr. Sears, a well respected attachment parenting expert. He suggests drinking a full 8-ounce glass every time you sit down to breastfeed your baby. For moms of newborns, this can mean drinking between eight and 12 glasses of water each day, but it really flexes with your baby and their eating needs.
Day 1: The Bathroom, My Second Home
The first day of my experiment, I dug out the huge plastic drinking jug I'd been given at the hospital and filled it with ice water. It holds 30 ounces and had measurements on the side, so I was able to keep track and make sure I was drinking a full 8 ounces every time I sat down to breastfeed my son. Within a few hours, it became clear that I'd been a little dehydrated because I was suddenly making way more frequent trips to the bathroom than I had been.
As far as my milk supply goes, I didn’t notice an increase in how much I pumped. I typically pump once a day in the afternoons on one side while my son eats on the other and average 2.5 ounces to 3 ounces of breast milk. My son's sleep was still spotty that night and he was still waking more often than I could count. Maybe it would take a few days to see an improvement?
Day 2: Is This Making Things Worse?
The second day was frustrating for me. I stuck with my huge jug of water religiously and chugged 8 ounces every time he ate. And well, that day he ate a lot. From 10 in the morning to 8 at night, my infant son was breastfeeding nearly every hour. I suspected he was going through a growth spurt, but I was exhausted and frustrated, which was only made worse when I pumped that afternoon and only got 2 ounces of milk for my freezer stash. There is nothing more annoying than making a change to your routine or adding a new habit only to realize you might have made things worse.
I admit, I was feeling better physically. I could tell I need the extra hydration and even though it took some extra effort to make sure I got enough water each day, I knew it was important to prioritize caring for myself.
Day 3: Finally, Some Improvement
On the third day, I finally saw some improvement. First of all, I was feeling a little better. I was tired, but it wasn’t that concerning exhaustion where you aren't even sure you could manage, but I was also relieved to notice my son’s eating patterns slowing down a little bit. I'd worried that my supply was suffering the day before, when he was eating hourly, but on the third day he was back to eating every two-and-half hours. That day, he went to my mother-in-law's with his big sisters for a few hours so I could work and when I sat down to pump, I pumped more than 5 ounces in a single sitting. I felt like this was a good amount of milk for most moms, and way more than I'd ever pumped with my previous breastfed babies.
That night, I enjoyed five blissful hours of uninterrupted sleep. I could totally get used to that.
Day 4: The New Normal
By day four, I was really adjusting to increasing my water intake. It was becoming second nature to keep filling my jug every time I emptied it and it didn’t feel like such a burden to keep track of what I was drinking. My son was sticking with what I'd considered a normal eating schedule, every two-and-half hours during the day and going four-to-five hours at night. That morning, we also saw the doctor for my son's two month appointment and he was weighed. He had gained over 10 ounces since his appointment a week before. I also pumped 3 full ounces that afternoon, an amount I am really happy with as a work-at-home mom who only needs to have a enough for a single day at the babysitter.
So... Did It Work?
Here’s the thing, I went into this experiment slightly dehydrated. I had really neglected my basic self-care, too caught up in my daily to-do list. Because of that, I did see a change in how I was feeling, how often my baby was eating, and how much milk I pumped. But honestly, I only think that's because I wasn’t drinking enough before. I think that moving forward, I'll continue to keep my water jug close by and pay attention to how much I am drinking each day.
I do think that Dr. Sears’ rule of a glass at each feeding is really helpful for busy moms like me. It can be hard to pay attention to self-care habits without a measurable goal in place and this experiment helped me to make a habit when I was struggling to keep up. This is definitely a habit I plan to make a permanent one. is exactly what I need to make sure I keep taking caring of myself, and that I don't forget to drink enough water to keep my milk supply where it needs to be.