Tips from the Trenches #11– What to Eat or Not to Eat While Breastfeeding –
by Mississippi Breastfeeding Medicine Clinic, PLLC on Tuesday, April 12, 2011 at 8:38pm
Rebecca B. Saenz, MD, IBCLC, FABM
What to Eat—
Protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats. A good, basic, healthy diet is best for you and baby while you’re still “eating for two.”
Yes, you can be vegetarian, even vegan, and make high quality and adequate quantity of milk to breastfeed. Vegetarians do need to pay particular attention to vitamin B-12 intake, and to getting complete proteins.
Eat to hunger. You do NOT need to eat “an extra XXX (specific number) of calories per day.” If you pay attention to your body, your own hunger signals will guide you, just as your baby’s do.
Part of your pregnancy weight gain was the storing up of energy / nutrients / and water your body needs to make high quality colostrum and milk in those early days when you’re recuperating from childbirth and don’t feel like eating.
If you’ve had a C-section, you may need to eat extra protein, since your body is healing from major surgery AND feeding a baby.
Extra vitamin C is good to help with tissue repair after a surgical birth, as well.
Garlic is ok, and babies even like it. There’s an actual study on this one!
There are foods that help prevent postpartum depression. See the “YES / NO” diet posted on our Facebook page as a note.
Lactogenic “milk-making” foods –
There are many cultural traditions regarding foods that are touted to help breastfeeding mothers make more milk. Few have been rigorously / scientifically “studied.” However, most are healthy and can’t hurt. And the “wisdom of the ages” shouldn’t necessarily be disregarded.
There’s a widely held belief that oatmeal increases milk supply. This has never been proven, but it’s also never been disproved. Since it’s healthy anyway, if you like it, go ahead! Steel-cut oats are reported to be best, but even oatmeal cookies may help.
Other whole grains with some noted benefit include barley, brown rice, and millet. All these whole grains do provide B-vitamins, which help mom have more energy. A side bonus is that the roughage helps with “regularity” of the intestinal tract.
Legumes such as lentils, chickpeas, green peas, and kidney beans, navy beans, or black beans are a good source of both protein and fiber.
Almonds and sesame seeds are a good source of calcium and omega-3- fats, as well as cashews, flax seeds, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds.
Colorful vegetables, such as dark leafy greens, carrots, and beets are excellent sources of important vitamins, as are asparagus, artichoke, and malunggay leaves. Alfalfa and dandelion greens in your salad are also good.
Dried fruits such as apricots, figs, and dates have iron plus several important vitamins.
Green papaya that has been cooked until mushy is a traditional food for new mothers in many tropical regions. Avoid if you have a latex allergy.
If you like to cook with seasonings, fennel, dill, caraway, anise, and coriander are reputed to help. Use these on meats or vegetables, or in soup!
What NOT to Eat—
Well . . .
Barring extenuating circumstances, this is a pretty short list . . .
Sage (a common Thanksgiving seasoning – turkey and dressing) can decrease milk supply.
So can parsley, rosemary, and thyme, in large amounts.
Strong mint oils (peppermint, spearmint, etc.) – like in “Altoids” can also.
If there’s any family history of “atopic diseases” such as allergies, hayfever, eczema, or asthma, or if there’s a family history of milk allergy, you might want to avoid dairy and dairy products. That’s a whole ‘nother Tips – see “Dairy Intolerance and Allergies”
No, you DO NOT have to “drink milk to make milk”. Cows don’t drink milk beyond infancy.
You also don’t have to “force fluids” (unless you have the flu) – just drink to thirst.
If there’s a family history of peanut allergy, you might want to avoid peanuts, soy products (including soy-based dairy substitutes), chickpeas, hummus, and things in that family.
Otherwise, eat what you normally eat, within reason.
Binging on particular foods is never a good idea.
Crash dieting or fad diets aren’t a good idea, either, as they are often not balanced. Exclusive breastfeeding burns as many calories per day as an aerobic workout, and you can do it with your feet propped up!
Everything in moderation. Even a little “junk food” is OK once in awhile.
The reason for eating healthy is so MOM will be healthier. We’ve long known that mom’s breasts will rob mom to put the necessary nutrients in the milk at mom’s expense.
Things that AREN’T on the “Never Eat While Breastfeeding” list:
Spicy foods. Moms all over the world eat their native cuisines and breastfeed their babies just fine. Italian mothers eat lots of garlic. Mothers in India eat curry. Mothers in Mexico eat jalapenos. And none of their babies complain. The great thing is, amniotic fluid was flavored with whatever mom ate while pregnant; breastmilk will be, too. And that’s what gets baby’s taste buds ready for family mealtime.
“Gassy” food. Things that cause gas in mom don’t usually cause gas in baby, and mom’s gas isn’t absorbed to pass through the milk into baby. That said, some babies are sensitive to some things, but the leading culprit is often dairy. Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, greens, and beans are usually OK.
Caffeine in moderation. The American Academy of Pediatrics states caffeine is “usually compatible with breastfeeding.” You’ll know you’re overdoing it if baby gets irritable and won’t take naps. Long-term, high-dose use has been shown in one study to “possibly” lower iron content in breastmilk.
Carbonated soft drinks. The bubbles make mom burp, but don’t cause a problem for baby. These are not the healthiest choices for fluids for mom, however.
Chocolate. It does contain both dairy and caffeine, but if you’re not otherwise overdoing either of those things, a little is fine.
Are prenatal vitamins necessary while breastfeeding? Not necessarily, but if you have doubts about your diet, they’re not a bad idea, either.
What about fish oil / omega-3-fatty acid / DHA, etc. supplements? Again, not a bad idea if you’re not sure that you’re getting enough in your diet.
Vitamin D – Experts now recommend 1000IU of vitamin D-3 daily for ALL women. Recent research has indicated that vitamin D is much more important than we thought, and that many women are deficient. Good news: supplementing mom increases vitamin D levels in your milk! Getting some sunshine each day is another way to get vitamin D.
Calcium – Studies indicate that calcium intake should remain at 1200mg per day while breastfeeding, just as in pregnancy. Your bones begin to retain calcium again about 6 months after birth, whether you’re breastfeeding or not, as long as your intake is adequate.
DO read the labels of all “Women’s Supplements” carefully. Some contain herbs or herbal blends for “female hormonal support” that may decrease milk supply. Common culprits include Vitex and Black Cohosh.
Cause and Effect—
If you notice baby gets fussy or has greenish or mucousy stools consistently after a particular food that you eat – this may indicate that baby has a sensitivity to that food.
Common culprits are milk/dairy products, soy/peanut family, wheat, corn, citrus, strawberries, tomatoes, chocolate, or caffeine.
Other indicators are a red rash around the anus or a diaper rash.
Food sensitivities are often outgrown by 6-8 months of age, so avoidance of those foods by mom is temporary.
If you eat a whole pan of brownies, or the equivalent of any other form of chocolate, baby’s poop may resemble chopped spinach the next day. If baby is not fretful, this is nothing to worry about.
When baby starts solids, beware of foods with dyes in them. Babies often can’t digest those, and they come out in the diaper. Ex. Blue’s Clues applesauce. This has NOTHING to do with breastfeeding.
The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, published by La Leche League International
Whole Foods for the Whole Family, published by LLLI.
Eat Well, Lose Weight While Breastfeeding, The Complete Nutrition Book for Nursing Mothers, by Eileen Behan, RD.
The Family Nutrition Book, by William Sears, MD and Martha Sears, RN.
Marasco, Lisa. Lactogenic Foods. Presented at the Breastfeeding: The Gold Standard conference, New Orleans, LA, 2011.