Breastfeeding Diet

Myths about your breastfeeding diet.

A mother’s breastfeeding diet is often blamed for any malady that a baby suffers, whether it be passing gas, burping or even just fussing.  Is there any justification for this claim?  Let’s have a look.

Right or wrong?

  • Breastfeeding mothers should avoid “gassy” foods
  • Breastfeeding mothers should never take alcohol, caffeine or carbonated drinks
  • Breastfeeding mothers shouldn’t consume spicy food.
  • Breastfeeding mothers shouldn’t eat dairy products or peanuts to avoid allergic reactions.

You might be surprised to know that each and every one of the above are wrong!  These are just breastfeeding myths, and although common, are not based in fact.  Let’s take a look at each one them.

For generations, nursing moms have been told that so called “gassy” foods such as cabbage, broccoli, onions, beans and other cruciferous veggies are a cause of painful gas for their babies.  This misinformation doesn’t just unnecessarily limit the diet of a new mother, it also shows a complete lack of understanding of how the mechanics of lactation work.

Although some of these food items may be a cause of gas in the mother, that is due to undigested carbohydrates (that’s what we call fiber!) in the digestive system.  These carbs can’t even go through the mom’s milk ducts and enter the milk, so it is basically impossible for these kinds of food to result in gas in a child, except if it has an allergy to that particular food, which is actually rare for these foods (the most common allergies tend to be wheat, dairy, soy and eggs).  What may be true is that gassiness and fussiness can be related to something called the “letdown” in mothers, which is a forceful milk ejection reflex.  The baby has difficulty handling the strong flow of milk, and tends to gulp and swallow a lot of air.  Thorough burping can be helpful, as can positioning baby upright in a sling while feeding and for a short time afterwards.

It goes without saying that drinking too much alcohol is not appropriate if you are breastfeeding, but the main reason for this is that you will be unable to care for your child properly.  However, drinking a glass of wine with a meal is not unreasonable and is no danger to your breastfed child.  Equally, to drink a couple of coffees will not harm or bother your baby.  Keep an eye open for any outward signs of irritability and if you think your baby is showing signs of sensitivity to caffeine in your milk, cut down on your intake.  Because the bubbles in carbonated drinks can also not pass through to the milk, these fizzy drinks cannot harm the child.  A mom just can’t make fizzy milk!  Having said that, fizzy drinks themselves should not make up a significant part of any breastfeeding diet.

The next piece of questionable advice, which is to eliminate spicy foods, needs to be given some thought.  When you really think about it, it is frankly ridiculous.  Millions upon millions of women around the world eat spicy foods as their staple diet.  Does it cause painful gas and irritability in their babies?  There isn’t any evidence to suggest this to be the case.  Actually, it has been shown in more than one study, that the opposite appears to be true!  Many babies have been shown to prefer the taste of garlic in their mother’s milk, and as a result, tend to suckle for longer and ingest more milk.  Claims that a mother must eat a bland, unseasoned diet, are completely unfounded.

How about common allergens, such as dairy products and peanuts?  Many experts believe that the only reason to restrict intake of any foods like these is if there is a strong family history of allergies to these foods.  Also, if your child is showing signs of eczema, vomiting, bloody or foamy stools, or extreme fussiness, then it is worth cutting out allergens from your diet.  Being a new mum can be challenging enough, without maintaining a very strict diet needlessly.  So, try to identify if there is a particular food that may be causing the problem.  You can do this by keeping a detailed food diary, which will allow you to track the various foods you are eating, and the effect they are having on your baby.

One last thing worth mentioning; while many postpartum continue to take prenatal vitamins after the birth of their child, these can sometimes cause undesirable symptoms in babies that are being breastfed.  This can often be down to the iron content in the supplements, and how it can cause pain for the infant.  If your baby is showing signs of pain, it may be worth cutting out the vitamins for a week and see how that might help the situation.

At the end of the day, it is important for a breastfeeding mother to follow a healthy diet, and focus on eating a wide variety of foods that they enjoy, as they did while pregnant.  Listen to your body and pay attention to your baby, and how it reacts to what you eat.  But there is no reason for you not to eat a wide variety of foods that you enjoy.

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