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.



Are there really herbs that help mothers make more milk?

This is one of the most common things women discuss about breastfeeding: what herbs and supplements they are taking to boost their milk powers. The herbal remedy policy at Oasis Lactation Services is:

1. Follow evidence-based guidelines
2. Choose interventions of non-maleficence (things that can’t hurt)
3. Do not prescribe

Currently, OLS has no research to support the use of herbal remedies in human lactation. The studies available for many of the herbs that are commonly suggested in mother-to-mother settings do not show improved lactation outcomes. There is a single study on the herb moringa in the pre-term infant population. These studies do not confirm that these herbs are lactogenic across the population.

Currently, the most evidence-based guideline for managing milk production is to assist the mother-baby dyad in proper latch. Proper breast pump use is recommended if direct nursing is not available.

Some herbal remedies are contraindicated with breastfeeding and/or pregnancy. Fenugreek is commonly recommended in mother-to-mother settings. This herb is deemed unsafe for pregnancy by herbalists and other health care professionals. Just because something is “natural” does not mean it is safe. Because there are risks involved in venturing outside the scope of evidence, it is our policy not to recommend herbs.

Diet studies have shown that mothers globally make very similar milk regardless of maternal diet. Only in situations of famine, extreme diet restriction, and severe maternal malnutrition are there notable differences in the milk. Taking a certain herb will not enrich the milk or change its components.

In short, if a mother needs to increase her milk production, follow the law of supply and demand. Make certain the baby is latching well and use a properly fitting breast pump if the baby is not available.

How Much Water Should I Drink?

Many mothers are told that they need to drink a great deal of water in order to make enough milk. So if the idea of 20 glasses a day has your eyeballs floating, fear not! The general recommendation for nursing mothers is drink to thirst.

What does “drink to thirst” mean? For some women, it may mean an increase while in others a decrease in the usual amount of water you drink. Some women tend to eat juicier foods like raw fruits and vegetables that contain a great deal of water. Some women incorporate soups and smoothies into their daily diet. In healthy women, the natural feeling of thirst is the best cue for judging how much to drink.

Many moms report an intense feeling of thirst right at the start or end of a nursing session. If you prefer to nurse in a particular chair, place a water pitcher nearby so you can sip while your baby feeds. Nursing can be a relaxing break for both of you to recharge and refuel.

One of the compounding factors in the belief that women must drink large amounts of water during lactation is the rise in popularity of soft drinks. Teas, coffees, punches, and sodas are often not as hydrating as water. Drinks that contain caffeine often cause mothers to expel water faster. Some vitamin or herb infused drinks may contain ingredients that aren’t compatible with nursing. In general, sugary drinks are not recommended by health care professionals for all people, lactating or not. For some women, lactation increases their thirst even more because they are combating soft drinks, tea, or coffee. They may notice they feel better when they drink more water and should be encouraged to keep up this healthy habit.

Where did the “drink more water” myth come from? It seems on the surface like logic. If we expect a liter or more of fluid to leave the body, we should replace it. And when discussing exercise or sweating in the heat, this is exactly right. Human milk production is different than sitting in a sauna. One of the wonderful things about lactating breasts is that they always take what they need first. If the milk needs more minerals, more fat, or more water, the milk glands will get first pick of what is available in the mother’s body. This is the reason milk around the world is so similar.

Many studies have shown that the composition and quality a human milk is similar across the globe. Studies in both the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition and the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition show that mothers across cultures and economies produce similar milk. Even women facing malnutrition and scarce water make similar milk.

Pregnant mothers take on a great deal of fluid. Increased blood volume, new fat stores, and fluid are all part of nourishing the baby during gestation and lactation. Some of the fluid that made your rings and shoes too tight will make its way into your milk glands. That’s what that fluid in your ankles is for: milk! This is one of the ways breastfeeding helps mothers return to their pre-pregnancy weight.

Some women express that they don’t like plain water. Some smarter choices for making water more magical include adding a slice of fresh citrus like lemon, lime, or orange; adding a splash of natural fruit juice; or making a refreshing spa inspired water with fresh cucumber slices.

Cheers! To Health!

Milk and Cookies!

Lactation Cookies are oatmeal cookies filled with lactogenic ingredients that can help boost a mother’s milk production. While much of the evidence to support foods and herbs as galactogogues is strictly anecdotal, the mother-to-mother traditions of eating these foods are undeniably long standing.

The key ingredients are:


Ground Flax Seed

Brewer’s Yeast

If you have a favorite oat meal cookie recipe, simply add 2 tablespoons of ground flax seed and 2 tablespoons brewer’s yeast to your regular recipe. Chocolate chips, dried apricot chunks, or another chunky stir in make great additions to the cookies.

If you don’t want to hunt for your recipe, try this one from the Joy of Baking: Oat Meal Cookies

Do you have a perfect cookie recipe to share?

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