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How Diet Plays a Part in Healthy Breast Milk
By Michelle Maxwell, MS, RD
As we celebrate Breastfeeding Awareness Month and approach World Breastfeeding Awareness Week, we usually focus so much on giving the information on why mom’s should breastfeed, and may not always give answers to the common questions that help moms be successful. One common question is, what should mothers eat while they are breastfeeding. The good news is, if you followed a healthy prenatal diet, than you pretty much know how to eat when breastfeeding.
While your body was making your baby, it was also preparing for the mother to breastfeed by storing some additional nutrients and calories. Most sources would define a breastfeeding diet as a well rounded diet with an additional 500 calories. The 500 calories is debatable depending on how well your body stored those additional calories during pregnancy. If you had a high weight gain, you may not need the extra calories, while on the other end of the spectrum, if you had low weight gain or a low BMI, you may need them.
It is also recommended that you continue taking prenatal vitamins (PNV) or at least a women’s multivitamin, for as long as you breastfeed. You are encouraged to get your nutrients from food, but most people do not get all of their nutrient needs met during the day. The body is amazing, and just like you, it is dedicated to making sure that your child is getting everything he or she needs. If you do not supply the nutrients it needs through your diet, it will just take it from your body. The prenatal vitamins are to ensure that both you and your baby have enough nutrients. Some people may also recommend an iron supplement. Most breastfeeding moms do not resume their menstrual cycle, and this actually helps to preserve your iron stores. You may also find that you are thirstier, and the recommendation for that is to try to keep water with you as you breastfeed. There is no evidence that drinking excessive amounts of fluids increases milk supply, but rather staying properly hydrated is a better indicator.
The body is amazing, and just like you, it is dedicated to making sure that your child is getting everything he or she needs. If you do not supply the nutrients it needs through your diet, it will just take it from your body. The prenatal vitamins are to ensure that both you and your baby have enough nutrients.
So, does this mean I can eat anything? Yes and no. Just like any other diet, most foods are allowed in moderation. The quality of breast milk tends to be consistent regardless of if your diet is amazing or if it may need some work. What we have seen though, is the type of fat in the milk can be affected by diet, so you may want to keep this in mind before consuming a diet high in saturated fats. Also, some moms may notice that a child may appear allergic to their milk. This is usually not the case, but rather, the child may be allergic to something from mom’s diet. This is very common with mom’s who have a diet high in cow’s milk.
There is common belief that new mothers have to drink milk to have a good milk supply. In fact, we are the only group of mammals that drink milk not made from our mothers. Milk has no effect on milk supply, and it’s up to the mother to include or exclude it from her diet. If she does decide to, she should choose low fat options. Being aware of your diet can help you notice what may cause an allergic response in your child, and it can help you avoid those foods while breastfeeding.
If you are going to resume drinking alcohol, try to do this in moderation as well. Keep in mind, body size determines how long alcohol stays in the system. If you know that you will be drinking, the recommendation is to try and pump some milk ahead of time. USDA recommends waiting at least 4 hours after drinking before resuming breastfeeding. Most people have heard of “pumping and dumping” but since alcohol does not store in the milk, but rather in the bloodstream, the milk should be fine once it’s gone from the bloodstream.
In addition to waiting 4 hours to breastfeed, it is also recommended to wait at least 3 months into breastfeeding, long enough for your baby to develop his breastfeeding behavior, before introducing alcohol. When considering other beverages, be mindful that caffeine and sugar can also pass into mother’s milk, so the recommendation is to limit beverages that are high in either. Some medications can be transferred through breast milk, but most medications are actually okay to continue on. For more information on the medications that are not recommended, please speak with your doctor or Lactation consultant. Also speak with your doctor before trying any milk enhancing supplement. Fenugreek is a common example.
Weight loss is one of the benefits of breastfeeding. Some breastfeeding mothers find that they are able to lose their baby weight a little quicker. A lot of mothers are anxious to get to their pre-pregnancy weight, but as a breastfeeding mother, I encourage you to just focus on bonding with your baby for at least during the first 2 months. After you have met this benchmark you can incorporate your weight loss routine, focusing on a healthy diet and exercise. Also, remember that the recommended weight loss is only 1-2 lbs a week.
For more information on anything breastfeeding, you can refer to the La Leche League, which has a local chapter in most communities. USDA’s Choosemyplate has sections for prenatal and breastfeeding moms, and if you are on Women, Infants, and Children, you have access to several different breastfeeding services that offer a great deal of support for breastfeeding mothers. Congratulations on making the best choice for you and your baby.
Michelle Maxwell received her B.S. in dietetics and M.S. in Nutrition and Food Science from The Florida State University. Michelle’s heart is in public health because she knows how much of an impact education has on health outcomes, and this is why her current passion lies in improving health outcomes in the African American community, especially among our women and children. Ms. Maxwell’s goal is to teach everyone how to make small changes that can lead to big results
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