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.

My breast feels hot and hard. Is this mastitis?

It could be. Many cases of mastitis begin with a hard knot in the breast. Often this hard spot is caused by a clogged milk duct.

What is a clogged duct?      Breast milk contains a variety of fats and proteins so that it is complete nutrition for your baby. The fats and proteins are different shapes and sizes. Sometimes they get tangled and get stuck in the milk duct. Most clogs release from the breast with frequent nursing and/or pumping. If your baby releases the clog while nursing, it is perfectly safe. Your baby will not have digestive upset from nursing out a clog.

What is mastitis?      Mastitis is inflammation of the breast tissue. It may or may not be caused by a bacterial infection. Mastitis is a relatively common condition. Women who suspect mastitis should keep nursing and seek treatment. Mastitis that is caused by infection is in the breast tissue, not in the milk. The milk is safe for the baby.

Common first aid recommendations for mothers experiencing the symptoms of clogged ducts or mastitis:

1. Keep nursing the baby. Frequent nursing is the best treatment. The milk is perfectly safe for the baby.
2. Rest. Mastitis tends to escalate more frequently in mothers who are over stressed. Staying in bed with your nursling has amazing benefits.
3. Drink plenty of clear fluids, just as you would with a cold or flu.
4. Apply heat to the affected area. Heat helps increase blood flow to the area and open the milk ducts so clogs can pass. A hot shower is a great place to hand express. Nursing directly after applying heat is beneficial as well.
5. Ibuprofen is a known anti-inflammatory that is compatible with breastfeeding. Contact your health care provider to discuss appropriate dosing.

Some mothers explore home remedies and traditional medicines. lavender

– essential oils massage oil: blend 1 part eucalyptus, 2 parts lavender, and 3 parts chamomile. Apply oil over skin, avoiding areola and nipple. Massage in. Cover with moist heat for 20 minutes. Repeat 3-5 times per day or until clog releases.

– herbal compress: chamomile is a known anti inflammatory. A chamomile tea bag can be used as a hot wet compress over the affected area.

– potatoes: grated raw white potato is said to draw out infection when placed over infected area

garlic– garlic: Garlic is considered naturally antibiotic and anti inflammatory. One study showed that babies nurse more when moms are taking a garlic supplement.

-lecithin: lecithin is a dietary supplement that is purported to keep fats smooth and flowing in the milk. A dose of 4000 mg is commonly recommended. Lecithin is derived from either soy or sunflower.
What to avoid

1. Cold. Ice or cool packs cause constricting.
2. Tight fitting bras or clothing.
3. Doing too much
4. Alcohol

Antibiotics are very effective in treating bacterial mastitis. Drugs from the penicillin family are commonly given to treat this condition. Amoxicillin and many others are very safe for breastfeeding. There is no need to wean to treat this condition, and evidence shows weaning during mastitis exacerbates the condition.

The information provided on this blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure. Always contact your health care provider and LC to work as a team during illnesses while breastfeeding.

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