Myth #5: Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate

This post is part of our New Mom Success Series, where we’re taking an in-depth look at the (1) physical-nutritional and (2) mental-emotional needs of brand-new moms, especially in the sacred first six weeks after birth.
To learn more about the whole series, and to set the proper foundation with a powerful vision-casting exercise, click here.
To learn more about the physical-nutritional component, click here.
Check out the other new mom nutrition myths: Myth #1Myth #2Myth #3Myth #4, Myth #6, and Myth #7.
And now, welcome back to “Why common nutrition advice for new moms is all wrong (and what to do instead).” Here’s Myth #5.

New mom nutrition myth #5

“Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!”

Why it’s faulty

You may be perplexed by this one.

After all, you hear it repeatedly, especially if you’ve recently given birth.

So how can drinking lots of water be a new mom nutrition myth?

You’re right. It’s not completely wrong. But there’s definitely much more to the story than the conventional wisdom of keeping your water bottle joined at the hip to ensure adequate milk production. Guzzling H2O by the gallon won’t ensure new mom success.

Even if this one is more of a “true, but…,” we definitely have some myth busting to do around proper hydration after birth.

You do need ample fluids. They’re critical for your recovery and well-being, as well as making plenty of breast milk for baby.

But there are at least three fallacies I commonly see, which warrant reframing:

  1. It’s not just any old water.
  2. It’s not epic proportions.
  3. It’s not just water, period.

1. It’s not just any old water.

So first, the water itself.

For many of us in the Western world, tap water may seem fairly benign. After all, if it isn’t causing a giardia* epidemic, it can’t be that bad, right?

Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Even if it doesn’t create acute gastrointestinal distress, the water flowing into our homes is far from life-giving. It teems with fluoride, chlorine, heavy metals, antimicrobial chemicals, pesticides and herbicides, pathogens, pharmaceuticals, and more—not the sort of stuff you want flowing through your body and certainly not the fluids you want fueling your baby.

(*Giardia and other pathogenic infections are more common that you might think. In fact, in my work as a functional health practitioner, where I’m frequently running stool pathogen tests, I’ve yet to see a fully healthy specimen. Parasites and other uninvited guests, not merely a badge of honor for the thrill-seeking adventurer, can inhabit even the staunchest homebody. Don’t believe me? If you have symptoms of any kind, I challenge you to check your gut. Ask me how.)

2. It’s not epic proportions.

Then, there’s quantity.

Hydrating to excess isn’t going to magically make more milk. Milk production is hormonally regulated, so feeding frequently and on demand is much more likely to impact output than guzzling water by the gallon.

If you’re going to the bathroom constantly and peeing clear, then you’re likely flooding your body, not fueling your baby. In fact, if you overhydrate, especially at mealtimes, you’re more likely to dilute your digestive enzymes, weaken your digestive fire, and flush out nutrients otherwise slated for absorption. Motherhood shouldn’t feel like you’re drinking from a fire hose—at least not literally—day in, day out.

3. It’s not just water, period.

Finally, it’s not just water. We tend to oversimplify the equation, giving pure water too much credit, as though it’s only or at least mostly water intake that counts when it comes to lactation.

I hear a lot of new moms, especially those with milk supply issues, saying things like this: “But I’m drinking lots of water! I don’t know why I’m not producing enough.”

Making great milk means far more than keeping tabs on your daily ounces. Nutrition itself is huge, especially the types of food you’re eating and how they’re prepared (see Myths #1, #2, #3, and #4). Other lifestyle factors play a role in your supply, so instead of putting too much stake in water itself, let’s look at what to do instead.

What to do instead

First off, make sure you’re drinking water from a filter. While refrigerator and countertop varieties may be better than the tap, they don’t sufficiently eliminate those microscopic hazards.

If you haven’t already, consider investing in reputable water filtration for your home, or at least your kitchen. This could be an under-the-sink reverse osmosis system or a gravity-fed filter like the Berkey (one of my favorites, reviewed here). If home filtration is unrealistic, consider refilling glass jugs at your local health food store; many have quality refill dispensers for a minimal per-gallon cost.

Note that if you use reverse osmosis, the process pulls minerals out of the water in addition to the undesirable constituents, so adding some minerals to your water can better help your cells rehydrate. Try a teaspoon to a tablespoon of raw apple cider vinegar or a few squeezes of fresh lemon in a quart jar or bottle of water. Or add some pinches of unrefined sea or mineral salt.

Abundant pure, filtered water is indispensable, not only for keeping you properly hydrated but also for keeping your breast milk free of toxins and contaminants commonly found in municipal water supplies, so take this factor to heart before guzzling.

Second, mind your quantity. Daily intake should account for the increased fluid needs of breastfeeding, but you’re likely a pro at that by now, since pregnancy also increased the demand for hydration.

Individual hydration needs vary based on

  • constitution (including your body’s tendency to retain water)
  • climate and season (higher temperatures naturally increase fluid requirements)
  • dietary intake (soups and broths boost your hydration)
  • activity level (which should be low for every new mom in the weeks after birth)
  • and more

But a general starting point is to drink ½ to ¾ ounce of pure water for every pound of ideal body weight. Always favor hot, warm, or at least room temperature water; chilled and iced drinks dampen digestion (see Myth #1).

Third, consider factors beyond just water. This is especially true for breastfeeding concerns but equally valid for all new moms.

Teas and tonics have historically featured prominently in postpartum care. Traditional cultures, recognizing the value in herbal medicine, used much more than plain-Jane H2O for hydrating new moms. In fact, they often viewed the unadorned stuff straight from the faucet a lamentable missed opportunity. After all, with so many changes after birth, every sip and morsel can make a difference, so why not give your hydration the biggest bang for the buck?

Common spices like cumin, coriander, and fennel can be brewed into a simple digestive tea (like the one in this article), as can ginger and fenugreek, with added support for breastfeeding. Other mineral-rich plants, like nettles, can infuse postpartum hydration, while more substantive tonics, like specially prepared milks, provide easily assimilated nutrition as well as hydration.

There’s a cornucopia of ways to make your water not only more interesting and more flavorful, but also more nutritive and life-giving. Plus, warm beverages can provide ritual and comfort, which may be just as valuable as the physical benefits. Postpartum drinking is therefore as much an art as a science. (Sorry, sommeliers, but it doesn’t include that kind of drinking. Even if the matriarchs of old did occasionally offer a wan new mom an effervescent brew, I don’t recommend anything alcoholic after birth.)

Or want to learn more about hydrating properly after birth? Check out our full postpartum essentials guide.

Furthermore, adequate fat intake (see Myth #2) is arguably as important as simple hydration, if not more so. Make sure to feature healthy oils like ghee and coconut in all your daily fare—or even better, camouflage them in a hydrating tonic, like warm spiced milk.

Lastly, if you’re concerned about milk production, pay attention to the other inputs, apart from food and drink. Given the hormonal and mechanistic regulation of breastfeeding, nurse frequently and on demand, providing your baby with lots of skin-to-skin together time and unrestricted access to the breast, especially in the first few weeks. Also ensure that baby is adequately latching, sucking, and draining the breasts.

Manage stress and increase rest, critical keys to any peaceful postpartum, since higher cortisol and anxiety can depress the body’s other hormones and exacerbate breastfeeding challenges.

Naturally, so many other factors play into hydrating well and making milk, but by focusing on several of the big ones—like the teas and tonics, nutrition, and non-nutritive inputs mentioned above—you won’t fall into the trap of pegging your postpartum concerns on the size of your water bottle.

Water is critical but not your best—or only—ammunition as a new mom, so make the most of those more powerful instruments in your arsenal.

Diving into those other keys to a peaceful postpartum is a topic for another day. But thankfully, it’s a topic we’ve tackled already! Check out our full postpartum essentials guide.

Now what?

There you have it: Myth #5 in “Why common nutrition advice for new moms is all wrong (and what to do instead).”

But don’t stop with knowledge—take action.

1. Implement.

If relevant, apply this tip now, for yourself and your family.

How can you ensure mom hydrates adequately, not obsessively, in the first six weeks after birth?

2. Inform.

Share what you learn with someone you know. Even if this tip doesn’t apply to you right now, it can likely benefit someone in your midst.

Did a friend just have a baby? Drop by and brew her some tea—and let her know why: herbal tonics can infuse each sip with health, healing, and much-needed warmth, unlike ordinary water.

Make sure she jumps on the bandwagon so she doesn’t fall into the water trap—or any of the other myths we’ll be unveiling in this series. 

3. Engage.

Let your voice be heard. What’s your take on Myth #5? Do you agree, or disagree? What’s your experience hydrating properly after birth?

Bring your comments, questions, insights, and objections to the Preparing to Parent community. We want to hear from you!

Stay tuned for Myth #6. Until then, together we are “Preparing to Parent: Growing Families with Purpose…on Purpose.”

Stacy Claxton, a Functional Diagnostic Nutrition® Practitioner, Ayurvedic Health Practitioner and Educator, and Perinatal Specialist, is one half of the dynamic duo behind Preparing to Parent, where she and her identical twin, Erin, are “growing families with purpose…on purpose.” This passionate sister pair loves caring for the tender and vulnerable bodies, minds, and souls of new beings and new moms and wielding words with impact on their holistic health blog. Join their family for free recipes and more.

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