You’ve finally mastered how to get your baby to latch and how to hold her steady while she feeds and you barely fumble now when you undo your nursing bra. You think you’re finally getting the hang of things, but you can’t figure out why breastfeeding is making you feel so, well, barfy.
“It’s not a common symptom, but some women experience nausea with the letdown reflex,” says Susan Guest, a lactation consultant and clinical nurse specialist with the Women’s and Infants’ Health Program at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto. “It’s related to the release of the hormone oxytocin, which also stimulates the gut to get gastric secretions going and has the potential to cause nausea,” she explains. Breastfeeding nausea is common during those first few weeks of nursing when you are also extremely tired and may forget to drink enough liquids (causing dehydration) or skip meals. Unfortunately, all of these things can exacerbate an upset stomach.
How to treat nausea during breastfeeding
If you’re sick of feeling, well, sick, there are some remedies that can help soothe your breastfeeding nausea. “It’s similar to the nausea that some women experience during pregnancy,” says Guest. She suggests that moms revert to the advice they followed to treat morning sickness. For women who are dealing with nausea and vomiting during pregnancy, Motherisk, a clinical research and teaching program at SickKids in Toronto, recommends nibbling on small snacks every one to two hours. Guest recommends sticking to carbohydrate-rich foods with a protein, such as plain crackers and toast with cheese or hummus. Experts at Motherisk say that cold drinks, ice chips and Popsicles can reduce the metallic taste in your mouth associated with nausea. Drinking fluids separately from your meals is also key. According to Motherisk, nauseous moms should wait 20 to 30 minutes after a small snack before sipping water, tea or juice to reduce feelings of fullness, which can increase gas, bloating, acid reflux and nausea.
It might take a bit of trial and error to figure out when to eat to soothe your stomach. Some women prefer eating before they breastfeed, while others find it better if they eat afterwards, says Guest. “You may even want to nibble on a piece of bread or a cracker while baby feeds,” she says. “That can often help.”
Wearing acupressure wrist bands (like the ones typically used for motion sickness) can also ease this type of nausea. “A cup of ginger tea is helpful because it quells nausea and is a galactagogue [meaning it increases milk supply], which is a bonus,” says Guest. Other home remedies for morning sickness, such as sipping peppermint tea and nibbling on parsley, should be avoided because they’ve been known to reduce a mother’s milk supply.
You should talk to your doctor if the nausea persists when you’re not nursing because this could signal an iron deficiency or low blood pressure. “Neither of these would be uncommon for postpartum moms,” says Guest. You may also want to rule out a new pregnancy if you’ve resumed sexual activity. Since nausea and sore or swollen breasts are common symptoms of mastitis, you might be worried if you have the breast tissue infection. But Guest says that mastitis usually feels more like you have the flu, with chills or fever, so it’s not likely that this is what’s causing you to feel so barfy.
If you feel nauseous when you nurse and are sure it’s caused by the letdown reflex, there is some good news: It won’t last. Usually, breastfeeding nausea stops six to eight weeks after you start nursing, when your hormones settle down and you get more sleep, so relief is coming.