Breastfeeding: What can you eat, and what should you avoid?
We spoke to the Vitimum Nutritionist, about how your diet can affect your breastmilk, and why, if any foods you should avoid.
How does my diet affect my breast milk?
Whilst there are some nutrients in the mother’s diet which may directly affect breast milk composition (in particular omega 3 fatty acids such as DHA and some fat soluble vitamins, vitamin B1 and vitamin C), mother’s milk has been designed to provide for the infant even in times of scarcity, so in theory it is not necessary to follow a perfect diet whilst breastfeeding.
However, whilst women can produce milk with adequate nutrient levels despite their own diet not being optimal, any nutritional deficiencies caused by a poor diet will impact the health of the mother. It is important to aim to eat a nutrient dense diet whilst breastfeeding to ensure your own nutrition stores will not become depleted and affect your recovery and postpartum health. Furthermore, inadequate nutrient levels may affect the quantity of the breast milk.
Ensuring you are eating enough calories (an extra 500 a day) and are adequately hydrated, as well as nursing your baby on demand, will encourage adequate milk supply. In addition, there are some specific foods which are known to be galactogues - which will increase milk production - such as oats, fenugreek and fennel seeds.
What foods should you avoid while breastfeeding?
In general, there is no need to avoid foods whilst breastfeeding, unless you have allergies.
Foods to Eat
Aim to eat a broad, nutrient dense diet with wholefood sources of protein (organic grass fed meat, wild oily fish, organic eggs and dairy, beans, lentils and other legumes), a wide assortment of vegetables (the more diverse, the better!), complex carbohydrates (starchy vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets, squashes, carrots; whole grains and sourdough breads if consuming) and healthy fats (oily fish, avocado, olive oil, coconut oil, organic butter, nuts and seeds).
Foods to Avoid
Like in pregnancy, I would suggest avoiding high mercury fish. Limit caffeine consumption - easier said than done during the first sleepless months, I know! Not only may caffeine affect your baby’s sleep, but high consumption of caffeinated beverages will also affect your cortisol levels, which will in turn affect your hormonal health. In addition, large amounts of caffeine may affect the bioavailability of iron in your breast milk, which will in turn affect your baby’s iron stores.
I would also limit alcohol consumption - it changes the taste of the breast milk and may diminish the amount consumed by the infant and it may make the baby more sleepy and less likely to feed.
Some babies may experience digestive distress (gas and a tight belly) if the mother consumes foods such as cruciferous vegetables, onions, garlic, milk or soy products. Foods with spicy or strong flavours (such as garlic) can change the flavour of breast milk and this change may annoy some infants. Please observe your baby’s reactions after feeding to see if these foods may be affecting them.
Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your doctor.