Breastfeeding and Maternal Diet
There are thousands of myths about what mothers should or shouldn’t eat when breastfeeding. The current recommendation is that the mother should eat a varied diet of healthy foods that are typical for her geographic region or culture and not limit or include any special foods without medical indication.
To understand why maternal diet should not be restricted, it’s best to examine how milk is made. Milk is made inside glands from the blood stream. Breast milk is NOT made from the mother’s stomach contents. The foods mom eats are broken down in the digestive system. Blood reaches the milk glands where it delivers carbohydrates, nutrients, white blood cells, enzymes, pro- and pre-biotics water, fat, and proteins into the gland.
The foods that mom eats have a long trip to the milk. Not every food is able to pass a whole protein or fat or carbohydrate out of the GI and into the blood stream. Most of the proteins moms eat are broken down substantially in the digestive system. Insoluble fiber is a component of mom’s diet that never leaves the GI and never reaches the milk.
When considering foods to include or avoid when breastfeeding, we must remember that the whole food does not enter the milk. Here is a list of common food myths for nursing mothers and the facts:
MYTH: Broccoli, cabbage, beans, and cucumber give the baby gas.
FACT: Vegetables cause gas because of insoluble fiber mixing with gut bacteria. Insoluble fiber does not leave the GI tract and cannot reach the milk.
MYTH: Spicy food will make the breastmilk spicy.
FACT: Human milk is very sweet. No evidence has been found of capsaicin in human milk. Many moms taste-test their own milk after eating well seasoned food.
MYTH: Strong flavors a like garlic or onions will give the baby colic.
FACT: In a garlic breastmilk study, the babies in the garlic group spent more time at the breast and took more milk. Garlic might be helpful for moms who need to nurse more.
MYTH: If the baby is fussy or has colic, cut dairy.
FACT: Cow milk protein allergy is only in 2-7% of the population. Fussiness is not a symptom for diagnosing cow milk protein allergy.
MYTH: If the baby is gassy or has colic, switch to lactose-free milk
FACT: Lactose is the primary carbohydrate in human milk. It does not come from lactose in mom’s diet. The breast glands make lactose. Lactose intolerance in a newborn is a serious metabolic issue that needs to be addressed by a medical doctor.
MYTH: Mom should avoid soda because it gives the baby gas.
FACT: Carbonated drinks don’t carbonate the blood. The bubbles can’t reach the milk.
MYTH: Peppermint (tea, candy, essential oil) will dry up your milk.
FACT: Some folklore and historic herbal texts list peppermint as a lactogenic herb. There is no science to support either claim. Peppermint is one of the herbal teas listed as compatible with breastfeeding by The Academy of Lactation Policy and Practice.
MYTH: You have to drink milk to make milk.
FACT: Plenty of dairy-free women make milk.
Have your own favorite dietary myth to add? Leave us a comment! Breastfeeding myths are a favorite topic at our regular free mother to mother support group.