Breast Feeding

There is some concern among divers who are nursing that their infants might be harmed by ‘nitrogen bubbles’ in breast milk. This of no concern as nitrogen does not seem to form bubbles in the milk located in the breast glands. Even if the nitrogen were in bubbles, it would do the infant no harm. Ingesting bubbles, even if microscopic, would in no way be harmful to the child, as it would reside in the gastrointestinal tract where gas is a prominent feature already.

Breast engorgement can occur during the dive excursion since the infant will be away from the breast for several hours. This engorgement can be uncomfortable due to snug dive suits and gear straps. Some accommodation should be made for this eventuality. The changes in pressure of diving would not effect the engorged breasts in any way. Thought should be directed toward possible use of a breast pump, saving the milk in refrigeration for the infant.

There are some further concerns about possibility of transmission of marine pathogens from the nipple to the infant, with the production of a particularly stubborn infectious diarrhea. These same bacteria are fully capable of causing a severe mastitis if the exposed nipple ducts and skin have any irritations or skin breaks.

Finally, Dr. Maida Taylor has stated (Medical Seminars, 1998), that there are some concerns about the combined energy expenditure of nursing and diving, and the associated dehydration related to immersion causing a decrease in the amount of breast milk. Should this happen, the mother should be prepared to supplement with some formula approved by the Pediatrician. In this regard, it might be wise to consider postponing diving until the infant is weaned, which is usually around the sixth month in Western culture.


Ernest S. Campbell, M.D., FACS

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