Breastfeeding and heat: tips for breastfeeding in summer

Breastfeeding experts review measures to take into account for mom and baby to optimize breastfeeding in summer and provide proper hydration to the baby.

If overcoming the summer heat is difficult, it can be even more complicated for the breastfeeding mother and the breastfeeding baby, as rising temperatures have direct physical effects on both. The experts at Top Doctors® review the needs and measures to be taken into account to get through the summer, whether at home or on a holiday trip.

How does the heat affect the baby?

Because babies’ metabolism is faster than that of adults, they are at greater risk of dehydration. To maintain the right level of hydration, specialists recommend breastfeeding on demand, without exceptions, whenever the baby wants it, and shortening the time between feedings. But how do we know that our child may be dehydrated?

“The child usually asks for it when he needs it and in summer more often with crying,” says Dr. Cristina Bonjoch, a specialist at the PAIDO-DEX pediatrics unit of the Dexeus University Hospital in Barcelona and a member of Top Doctors. “But there are many other symptoms that indicate that the baby is thirsty, such as nodding, often sticking out the tongue and putting the hand to the mouth, reduced urination or concentrated urine, with a dark appearance and stronger odor”. Other warning signs could be drowsiness, irritability, cold sweat, loss of usual vitality or increased heart and respiratory rate.

How does heat affect mom?

The breastfeeding mother suffers an increase in body temperature for two reasons: the summer heat itself and the continuous direct contact with the baby during breastfeeding. Perspiration increases and there is a reduction in natural hydration which leads to a decrease in milk. Dr. Gonzalo Oliván, pediatrician at the Pediatrics and International Adoption Center of Zaragoza and member of Top Doctors, stresses the importance of “drinking enough water or liquids throughout the day, having mother and baby wear light, cool clothing, looking for cool places sheltered from the heat and sun to feed, having a bottle of water at hand to avoid interrupting feedings due to thirst and placing a thin gauze between the mother’s and baby’s skin to reduce the increase in body temperature of both due to direct contact”.

Summer can cause increased irritability, apathy and fatigue in nursing mothers due to high temperatures. Likewise, her ‘oxytocin’ levels increase when the baby sucks and makes her thirsty. “There is no problem in drinking during the feeding, on the contrary, it is necessary to do it”, experts emphasize.

Should the baby be given water?

88% of breast milk is made up of water, so the baby does not need water between feedings if he is less than 6 months old and is breastfeeding on demand. After 6 months of age, if the baby has already started eating other foods, it is good to offer water in a glass (not directly from the bottle or in a bottle) from time to time. “If breastfeeding is offered before porridges or purees, as recommended during the first year, he will probably not need water and will not want it. As she gets older and takes in more solid food, she will generally drink the water that is offered to her,” Dr. Oliván assures.

What diet should the mother follow?

The Breastfeeding Committee of the Spanish Association of Pediatrics (AEP) recommends eating 5 times a day and eating a varied diet that includes all types of food with a minimum daily intake of 1,800 calories. In summer, seasonal vegetables and fruits (in the form of salads, cold soups, fruit salad, fruit salad, juices, smoothies or whole pieces) are great allies for the nursing mother as they provide hydration and nutrition in equal parts.

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What should the mother drink for good breastfeeding?

Mainly water and natural juices, between 2 and 3 liters a day or whatever the body asks for. Sugary soft drinks and stimulating beverages (colas, coffee, tea) should be avoided, and of course alcoholic beverages are contraindicated.

What are the storage requirements for breast milk?

If breast milk needs to be expressed for storage and transport, high temperatures can cause it to lose its properties or become contaminated. It is important to be extremely hygienic, cleaning the nipple/areola area, the breast pump and storage containers thoroughly. The mother should always keep her hands clean. Milk can be refrigerated for up to 8 days in a refrigerator at a temperature between 0 and 4ºC (always at the bottom, not in the door) and should not remain frozen for more than two weeks.

If pumping is done away from home, the milk can be kept in a cooled cooler. The Breastfeeding Committee of the AEP recommends that expressed breast milk should be refrigerated in the refrigerator between 25 and 30ºC at room temperature within 4 to 6 hours. Above 30°C room temperature, breast milk cannot be kept out of the refrigerator for more than 4 hours.

Can the mother be topless during breastfeeding?

There is no contraindication for a breastfeeding mother to go topless, but she should avoid the hours of highest sunlight (between 11 am and 4 pm). In addition, sunscreen should be used at all times (the cream does not pass through the skin to the milk), and it is important to wash the nipple and areola well before offering the breast to the baby, so that the baby does not suck it.

Expert advice for reducing the consequences of heat during breastfeeding

  • Do not plan a tight tourist schedule during the first months of breastfeeding, especially during the first month.
  • If the car ride is long, breastfeeding should be done en route. It is recommended to stop and look for a comfortable and cool position for both of you, without rushing, even if it means extending the travel time.
  • If traveling by train or plane, the baby will travel in mom’s arms (with a special belt) and she can breastfeed him at any time. Both mother and baby should wear light, cool clothing.
  • Place a thin gauze between mother’s and baby’s skin during breastfeeding to reduce the body temperature of both.
  • Always have a bottle of water on hand to avoid interrupting feedings due to thirst during breastfeeding.
  • Look for cool places away from the heat and sun to feed. If you are indoors and it is necessary, it is recommended to close windows and lower blinds.
  • If you use a fan or air conditioner, or if you are in a room with ventilation, try to avoid exposing the baby to the air flow.
  • Experts stress the importance of breastfeeding on demand, whenever the baby wants, and not giving water between feedings if the baby is less than six months old. To make sure that the baby is well hydrated, he should wet 6-7 diapers during the day.

The following experts from the Top Doctors’ TOP team have collaborated in the writing of this communication:

Dr. Gonzalo Oliván Gonzalvo, specialist at the Pediatrics and International Adoption Center of Zaragoza.

Dr. Cristina Bonjoch, specialist at the PAIDO-DEX Pediatrics Unit of the Dexeus University Hospital of Barcelona.