Nausea when breastfeeding

By Kelly Bonyata, BS, IBCLC

A small percentage of moms report nausea during a breastfeeding session in the early weeks of breastfeeding . It goes away for most (but not all) moms by the end of the 6th-8th week. If nausea during breastfeeding begins when baby is older, consider the possibility of pregnancy.

Nausea that occurs with the milk let-down may be related to the release of oxytocin. Oxytocin is the hormone that causes the milk ejection reflex (MER or let-down), and it also helps make digestion more efficient and is associated with other gut hormones that can cause nausea. According to Dr. Ruth Lawrence (author of Breastfeeding: A guide for the medical professional), the nausea described has been compared to the nausea of pregnancy that comes in waves. Symptoms are similar to low blood sugar: nausea, headache, hunger, etc.

Other symptoms during let-down: Some mothers experience itching (usually of the breast or underarm area) during letdown; this may be due to the increased blood flow or a response to oxytocin release. Hormone-related headaches or feelings of depression (or anxiety, agitation or anger) during let-down can also occur on occasion. Mothers with a history of sexual abuse may experience various symptoms when breastfeeding.

Tips to combat nausea

  • Most mothers find that getting something to drink and eating complex carbohydrates (like a piece of bread or a cracker) right before and/or during the breastfeeding session seems to calm the nausea.
  • As this is similar to morning sickness, consider trying the various suggestions offered to reduce morning sickness.
  • Snack often to avoid low blood sugar.
  • Try increasing your fluid and/or water intake a bit, even if you’re already drinking to thirst. One mother who was already drinking other liquids to thirst found that her nausea went away when she started drinking more water.
  • Wait it out. The nausea should start to improve and will usually disappear after the early weeks of breastfeeding.

Nausea that is not associated with let-down may be related to mild dehydration, low blood sugar or exhaustion.

Are you taking time to drink enough fluids? Drinking to thirst is recommended for nursing mothers, but mothers busy with a new baby don’t always get a chance (or take the time) to drink when they’re thirsty. Keep several bottles of water around the house in places where you typically sit down with baby, so that there is something easily available when you’re thirsty.

How are you doing with your nutrition in general? Are you taking time to eat? Low blood sugar can occur when you are not eating well and nausea can be a sign of low blood sugar. Besides eating something prior to breastfeeding, take a look at how you are eating in general, and if you have been “forgetting” to eat you might want to try to improve your diet.

Most all new moms are operating on little sleep, and exhaustion is often accompanied with nausea. Get as much rest as you can. See Maximizing sleep for tips on getting as much rest as you can.

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