Breastfeeding Mom Question: What can I eat?

Debbi Heffern, RD, IBCLC, Mercy lactation consultant

While August is National Breastfeeding Awareness Month, many mothers have questions year round. One of the most common is about how diet may impact their milk and thus affect their baby. Opinions and traditions abound. Some cultures avoid cold foods, some avoid gassy vegetables and some avoid very spicy foods.

Many cultures have traditional foods believed to help moms have a strong milk supply. Most of these are based on a whole grain like barley, oats, brown rice or whole wheat. Whole grains are high in B-vitamins which are important for making milk. Leafy greens, high in folic acid, also seem to support a strong milk supply.            

The good news is most moms can eat whatever healthful diet they enjoy.  During pregnancy, the flavors and essences from your diet go through your amniotic fluid so baby has been swimming in and swallowing the flavors from your table for months. Generally baby is already accustomed to those flavors by the time he or she encounters them again in your milk.

This is one of the significant differences between breast milk and formula. Babies who take formula receive the same drink several times a day for many months. It never changes. A breastfed baby is introduced to a wide variety of flavors appropriate for his or her own culture through mom’s milk. This is helpful when baby begins solid food because he or she is already accustomed to the flavors of the family’s meals.        

“So you mean I can have Thai food?” a mom often asks.

If you ate Thai during your pregnancy, your baby is already familiar with it, just like the babies born to women who breastfeed in Thailand. On the other hand, if something would be a new flavor to your baby because you didn’t eat it during your pregnancy, try a moderate amount, mildly seasoned, the first few times baby will be receiving it through your milk.

Occasionally, you may find that your baby is exceptionally fussy after something you ate. If this happens, think back to what might have been new or excessive in your diet in the previous four to 24 hours.

If a baby becomes steadily fussy, the primary offenders are usually dairy and soy. In these cases, continuing to breastfeed is best because a baby who reacts to dairy or soy through mom’s milk would be very uncomfortable drinking standard formulas. It may be necessary for you to eliminate the offending foods from your diet for a week to see if there’s an improvement. If so, continue to eliminate it for several weeks to allow baby’s gut to heal before re-introducing the food to your diet.

But be careful not to misread the signs. If your baby is fussy, he or she could just be hungry.

If you have other questions, don’t hesitate to ask for help. Lactation consultants can provide valuable advice and guidance for breastfeeding moms.

Here are some ways Mercy helps moms build a strong supply from the beginning:

  • Mom and baby skin-to-skin right after birth to stimulate feeding skills.
  • Mom and baby room-in together so mom can learn baby’s cues while there is staff to help instead of learning the cues on her own at home.
  • Feeding when baby cues.
  • Offering no artificial nipples. All sucking at the breast to program a strong supply.
  • No formula samples to undermine moms’ confidence.
  • Encouraging moms to join the local breastfeeding support meetings such as “Breastfeeding with Confidence” at Mercy and La Leche League meetings throughout the metro-area.

Debbi Heffern, RD, IBCLC, is a lactation consultant with Mercy Hospital St. Louis. For more information, please visit www.mercychildrens.net or call the Mercy Breastfeeding Information Line at 314-251-6781.

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