My nursing friend’s son took ill recently. Colicky, bloated, and suffering from rashes, through a gradual process of elimination, her doctor discovered her little boy is allergic to dairy, gluten and soy. She since has revamped her diet, and in the process they’ve both reaped the benefits. His skin, digestive and respiratory systems have cleared up, and she also feels a new balance and lightness. Interested to learn more, I asked Bec Taylor, a leader at La Leche League (LLL), some basic questions about the impact of diet on breastfeeding.
Do nursing mothers need to follow a special diet?
A breastfeeding mother doesn’t require special foods to produce or increase her milk supply, nor must she avoid any food in particular. A baby’s sucking determines the quantity of milk that is produced. A breastfeeding mother’s body uses a combination of all the foods that she eats, completing them with nutrients stored in her body to produce the milk that she gives her child. What this means is that mother’s milk is made every time, following the same process and resulting in milk that has a fairly constant composition. If the mother’s diet is not adequate, it is her body that makes up the difference. It has been seen that even in cases bordering on malnutrition in poor countries, the milk produced by these mothers satisfies the needs of the child, who will grow adequately if he is breastfed on cue. You can read more here.
An "ideal" diet for a breastfeeding woman is simply a varied, balanced, natural diet. Every woman will choose the diet that is best adapted to her, depending on culture, lifestyle, personal preferences, as well as the information available to her. A whole food diet that is as close to nature as possible is the recommendation we share in our LLL meetings. LLL have published a variety of cookbooks especially for nursing mothers and their growing families. My family are loving two new recipes in particular (Red Kidney Bean and Quinoa Chili and Karen’s Sesame Noodles) from one book called Feed your Family, Feed Yourself.
What do mums need to know about alcohol? Is it necessary to pump and dump?
There is no reason to pump and dump if the mother has drunk limited amounts of alcohol.
The occasional alcoholic beverage is not going to cause harm to the baby as very little alcohol passes through to the milk if drunk in moderation. The LLL FAQ on alcohol explains more here. I also recommend Feed Safe, which is an app that helps nursing mothers determine when they are safe to breastfeed their baby.
Is caffeine ok?
A moderate intake of caffeine (1-3 cups of coffee or tea) per day is unlikely to upset a nursing baby. However, every baby is different so reactions will vary widely. As with all parenting, look to your baby first before following any general guidelines. See the LLL caffeine FAQ here.
Many parents keep their kids away from foods that commonly trigger food intolerance, once they are off the breast and on solids. But as my friend’s story illustrates intolerance can be triggered much earlier through mum’s milk. Does LLL have any guidance on potential allergens to avoid?
Sometimes mothers feel that because a food could be a potential allergen, it is best to avoid it entirely. If there is no history of allergy to these foods in the mother’s or father’s family, this may be an unnecessary precaution. Eating foods a mother enjoys will help her to find breastfeeding more satisfying. Mothers do not have to give up foods they love while breastfeeding. Only if a baby shows allergic symptoms should a mother consider avoiding certain foods.
In general, if an immediate family member has a known allergy, it is recommended that that/those foods are introduced later in the first year, or into the second year. The big three (gluten, dairy and soy) are the most common allergens avoided by nursing mothers, simply because they cause the most reactions and are the first three to be targeted in an elimination diet. (Nursing mothers of colicky or very upset babies are often encouraged by their health care providers to try eliminating these allergens one at a time to see if it makes a difference.)
Find out more here and here.
Spicy foods can upset our digestive systems; do they pass through to breast milk and affect the baby?
Babies are given a continuous flow of flavors in utero so if mothers are eating a wide variety of foods while pregnant, it is unlikely that those same foods will cause upset for their newborn babies. More info here.
LLL meetings are always free, and held every second and last Tuesday of the month, at 2067 Gahood Villas, Shunyi,
Address in Chinese:
(80462585 for directions in Chinese and English)
LLL Leaders can be contacted via email: firstname.lastname@example.org or text/WeChat 18600628481
Photo courtesy of Piknikas (Flickr)