Water makes up approximately 60 percent of the human body. It is an essential substance that hydrates the body, aiding in the duties of temperature regulation, digestion, absorption, oxygen transport and many other vital functions of the body, including milk production during lactation. The general population, as well as nursing mothers, should be aware of the importance of hydrating the body through replenishing fluids and replacing electrolytes, minerals that keep the body's system of hydration working properly.
The Importance of Fluids
Water is the most important substances that humans consume. It is needed for some of the most important functions of life, including the transport of oxygen and digestion. Water is excreted from the body daily by urination, sweating and bowel movements. This fluid must be replenished to keep the systems of the body running smoothly. In the average adult, approximately 2 liters of water are lost daily. Eight 8-oz. cups of water per day equal 1.9 liters; this is the typical easy-to-remember water intake recommendation that most health care providers use to advise their patients.
Nursing mothers should follow the same guidelines as the general public, but should also drink to thirst. If eight cups of water a day is not enough, the nursing mother will feel the need to drink more and should follow her instincts. Water is the healthiest, most natural choice for hydration.
The Importance of Electrolytes
The minerals sodium, potassium, bicarbonate, calcium, phosphates and chloride work as electrolytes in the human body. They are present in all bodily fluid in a specific concentration; this concentration is important to maintain since it is the level at which the minerals work with the fluid to carry out bodily functions, such as oxygen transport through the body, that are essential for survival. When a person sweats, urinates, has a bowel movement or excretes breast milk, some of these minerals are lost. Replacing these electrolytes can easily come from a healthy diet.
Many foods, such as meats, dairy, fish products, rice, beans and vegetables, all contain some of these minerals that need to be replaced daily. Adding these foods to your diet is a sufficient and effective way to replace lost electrolytes. While sports and power drinks do contain these minerals, the sugar content may negate some of the positive effects of the drinks, so they may not be the best option for nursing mothers.
Staying Hydrated While Lactating
Nursing mothers should consume at last eight glasses of water per day, in addition to eating healthy, mineral-rich foods such as dairy, meats, fish and beans to restore lost electrolytes. Drink to thirst, even if the daily intake recommendation has been met -- every nursing mother's body is different and some need more fluids than others. A hydrated, electrolyte-balanced body is one that can function normally and appropriately, giving a nursing mother energy and stamina that is needed to nourish and care for an infant.
Fluid Intake vs. Milk Production
Some believe that lactating mothers need an enormous amount of fluids and electrolytes to produce a continually adequate supply of breast milk. This is not entirely true. The maternal body will make breast milk as long as the baby is suckling at the breast for extended amounts of time -- even when the mother is not consuming enough liquids, electrolytes or calories. Milk production may not suffer, but it is possible for a dehydrated lactating mother to have serious effects from being dehydrated so it is important to always consume adequate amounts of fluids and minerals while nursing.
- "The Journal of Perinatal Education"; Nutrition Column An Update on Water Needs During Pregnancy and Beyond; K. Montgomery; Summer 2002
- Arizona State University School of Life Sciences: Cells -- The Building Blocks of Life
- Lew Rockwell: Electrolytes: What Are They and Why Are They So Good for Us?
- Enotes: Encyclopedia of Food and Culture: Electrolytes