Many breastfeeding mothers have questions and concerns about what they should and shouldn’t eat and drink while breastfeeding. For example, a mother may want to know how her diet might affect her breastmilk supply or the quality of her breastmilk.
Making breastmilk does use extra calories. So, if you are breastfeeding, you will most likely feel hungrier and thirstier than if you weren’t breastfeeding. If you respond to what your body is telling you and eat and drink according to your hunger and thirst respectively, then you will most likely get the extra calories and fluid you need.
But, does a breastfeeding mother’s diet affects her breastmilk supply or quality? Firstly, in terms of supply…
For the most part, what a breastfeeding mother eats or drinks has next to no effect on her supply.
Anecdotally, if a mother consumes very large concentrated amounts of certain foods this may affect her supply (eg peppermint, sage, oregano, mint on the lowering side, and fennel, dill, cumin, ginger, barley, oats, chickpeas on the increasing side). There has been no research evaluating the true effect of these foods however.
How much (or little) fluid a mother drinks largely doesn’t affect her supply. Although some research found that drinking very excessive amounts of fluid had the effect of lowering supply. Drinking alcohol can negatively affect the milk ejection reflex and hence can affect how effectively breastmilk is removed from the breast.
How much (or little) calories a mother eats largely doesn’t affect her supply. Once established, breastmilk production is quite robust. Mothers in third world countries where food is scarce are able to continue lactating for many years. The main determinant of breastmilk supply is how frequently and effectively breasts are drained. The more frequently breasts are effectively drained, the more breastmilk is made.
Secondly, in terms of breastmilk quality…
A mother's breastmilk is important for her baby, regardless of her diet.The lactose and protein content of breastmilk is not affected by a mother’s diet.Although the overall amount of fat eaten in a breastfeeding mother’s diet does not affect the overall amount of fat in her breastmilk, the types of fats she consumes have some effect over the types of fats in her breastmilk.Minerals are largely unrelated to a breastfeeding mother’s diet. However, a mother’s diet can affect the iodine content in her breastmilk. Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council recommends pregnant and breastfeeding women take an iodine supplement.
There is a relationship between the content of vitamins in breastmilk and the maternal diet (water soluble vitamins more than fat soluble vitamins).For most breastfeeding mothers, her diet will ensure that her breastmilk provides all the necessary vitamins for her baby.
- Vitamin B12 – the breastmilk of vegan (and some vegetarian) mothers may be deficient in vitamin B12 so a vitamin B12 supplement may be advisable.
Vitamin D – Regular sunlight exposure can help prevent vitamin D deficiency, but the safe exposure time for children is unknown. Breastfed babies who are particularly at risk of vitamin D deficiency are those:
- Who are dark-skinned
- Whose mother is vitamin D-deficient
- Who receive too little sunlight (eg by living at higher latitudes).
For more information about a breastfeeding mother’s diet, see Renee’s book, The Newborn Baby Manual.
Renee Kam is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, physiotherapist, Australian Breastfeeding Association breastfeeding counsellor and mother of two young girls. In 2013, Renee’s book, The Newborn Baby Manual, was published which covers the topics that Renee is passionate about; breastfeeding, baby sleep and baby behaviour. For more information about Renee and what she does see www.reneekam.com.au
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