Breastfeeding diet: how food affects your milk supply
This article is dedicated to all the moms conscious of innumerable digestive, cognitive and metabolic benefits who chose to breastfeed. I want to share with you the topics that include how to have success in breastfeeding and the nutritional needs that this process requires from your body
Are you ready? Let’s go!
Breastfeeding is demanding from a nutritional point of view. I suggest you create a post-it and stick it in the different places of your home where is written
If I can give you the only advice you have to rely on during the first and exhausting weeks of breastfeeding is to remember to eat and already with this you will do 90% of excellent job
Simply eating and drinking enough is crucial to establishing and maintaining milk production. With this, I absolutely don’t want to say that if you don’t consume a nutrient-rich diet your milk is not good. Even if this case you produce the best food for your baby. It is always a superfood that strengthens the immune system, is rich in easily digestible proteins, fats and carbohydrates.
In this part of the article, I want to encourage you to consume the foods that are the richest from the nutritional point of view, the real food to make you recover the nutrients lost after delivery and support the production of milk to feed your always hungry child
Why is nutrient-rich diet so important during breastfeeding?
Think about it, the breastfeeding mechanism is a kind of miracle designed to help babies survive even if the mother suffers from nutritional deficiencies. This means that some nutrients are relatively not affected by the maternal diet. Calories, proteins, folate and the majority of minerals in breast milk are sufficient even if the mother is undernourished.
Saying this, I want to emphasize however that you have to keep your supplies always available. If we take for example folates that are secreted with breast milk, mothers who consume a small quantity of folates will be more deficient while breastfeeding progresses.
For other nutrients, diet affects their concentration in breast milk. I’m talking about vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6 and B12, vitamins A, D, K, choline, DHA fatty acids and minerals such as selenium and iodine. Many of these nutrients are vital for brain development. In the moment of birth, the child’s brain is developed only in 25% and increases in volume in the first year of life. All depends therefore on your diet.
Let’s see the nutrients that must be continuously provided with your diet during breastfeeding
The vitamins from B group
Their concentration in breast milk, apart from folate, depends strictly from diet. Research has shown that breast milk of undernourished women provides their infants with only 60% of thiamine (vitB1) required, 35% of riboflavin (vitB2), 80% of vitB6, 16% of VitB12 and 56% of choline.
VitB12 is, particularly at risk. Women who don’t consume food of animal origin suffer from VitB12 deficiencies and their concentration in breast milk is very low. Infants who don’t receive sufficient VitB12 often exhibit irritability, anorexia, mental and physical underdevelopment and not enough brain growth.
The problem mainly persists with the vegan diet during breastfeeding (which excludes any food of animal origins such as meat, fish, eggs and dairy products).
Symptoms appear around 4-7 months of life and include growth defects (length, weight and head circumference), brain atrophy and other muscular and behavioural problems some of which are irreversible in 40-50% of cases.
Yes, you read correctly, consuming insufficient Vit B12 during lactation can cause your child’s brain to be reduced.
I will tell you the conclusions of one research carried out on the vegan mother and her 9-month-old child where weakness, psychomotor problems, muscular atrophy, loss of tendon reflexes and blood abnormalities were observed, together with a significant deficiency of vitB12. At 6 months, the baby didn’t even have the ability to turn around.
The mother has been vegan for 10 years! and both levels of ViB12 in her blood and milk were very low. After only 2 days of supplements with VitB12, the baby regained the ability to turn around and was interested in the environment around him. And after 10 days the baby showed signs of normal muscle movement. This child was lucky. However, up to 50% of similar cases result in non-reversible damages
The requirements of choline during breastfeeding is high because this nutrient is necessary for brain development. Furthermore, it’s essential for normal cell functioning. The daily dose of choline in lactating women is 550 mg (compared to 450mg during pregnancy) – the highest ever in any other phase of life. Choline in the early stage of life allows to increase memory capacity and prevents problems related to attention and memory in adult life. So the memory and attention in older people depend partly on what the mother ate during pregnancy and breastfeeding!
The richest food in choline for 100g of product are:
- 418mg beef liver
- 290mg chicken liveR
- 250mg eggs
Fatty acids and DHA
Fatty acid levels are also reflected in breast milk. In other words, the quality of fats you take directly affects the composition of fats in your mother’s milk. Obviously, this is true for any type of fat including omega 3, omega 6, trans fats, saturated and monosaturated.
In addition, the total amount of fat in breast milk is higher in women who eat more fat and this can explain the results of research on newborns who seem to be happier and suffer less from baby colics when their mother includes more fat in her diet. Because fats are slower to be digested, children feel full longer.
The most important fats for brain development and vision are DHA omega 3 fatty acids. Studies have shown that the amount of DHA fats in human milk depends on their consumption. In addition, newborns of mothers with high concentrations of DHA in their milk have better visual and neural development.
- vegetarian women have only 0.05% of DHA fats in their milk
- women who eat meat and fish (around 130g / day) have 2.8% of DHA fats in their milk
This means that it is always very important to consume fish, eggs, organic meat and/or DHA supplements during lactation. The omega-3 from the plant bases food (apart from DHA present in seaweed) are not enough. For example, studies have shown that DHA in the milk of women who consumed linen seeds has had no impact.
What are other benefits to consume fat during lactation?
Women who consume more animal fats have higher levels of medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA). These fats quickly convert into energy (they are ketogenic) and have a calming effect on the brain that explains why some newborns are calmer, taking into consideration that they are in the state of ketosis in the first few months of life.
Moreover, some MCFA have antibacterial and strengthening properties of the immune system which could be important in the development of the digestive system of newborns and reduce the risk of allergies, eczema and asthma
But there is another side of the coin
At the beginning of this paragraph, I mentioned that the diet rich in any fats (good or bad) affects their presence in breast milk. This also affects omega-6 fats and trans fats, which are very harmful for the development of newborns. These fats interfere with the assimilation of DHA and damage cell membranes
Studies have shown that trans fats consumed during pregnancy and lactation can have long-term adverse effects on insulin and other hormones causing their dysfunction. In other words, trans fats can predispose your child to obesity and diabetes. Therefore you need to avoid processed and refined vegetable oils and other foods with partially hydrogenated oils such as margarine, industrial baked muffins, potato chips and snacks.
Levels of fat-soluble vitamins in breast milk also depend on diet. Vitamin A is essential for the growth of your baby, development of his/her the immune system and prevention of infections. In fact, the first milk that baby receives, called colostrum, is especially rich in vitA. In the first 6 months of life, your baby will receive 60 times more the amount of vitA than in 9 months of pregnancy!
Women who don’t consume food of animal origin have low levels of VitA in their milk. This is because only animal foods have the active form of VitA (retinol) much more available and absorbable than the vitA present in plant-based foods (read here my article on a vegetarian diet in pregnancy where I explain the differences between two types of vitA, of animal and plant-based one).
Keep in mind that vitA in supplements very often contains beta-carotene (vitA form plants). Always choose quality over quantity.
The most important sources of VitA (retinol) are butter, liver, internal organs of animals, eggs and fish.
VitD levels in breast milk are lower in women who don’t consume enough VitD (from food or supplements) or who don’t regularly expose themselves to the sun. VitD is important in calcium assimilation and prevents rickets in newborns. If breast milk is deficient in VitD, VitD supplements are often given to newborns
However, there is a study where women who received 6,400 IU of Vit D were able to pass it to their babies without the further need for additional VitD supplements. When you breastfeed, try to take at least 6,400 IU a day of VitD
As in previous cases, iodine levels in breast milk also depend on diet. In addition, its levels in breast milk tend to decline during the first 6 months of breastfeeding because the mother also begins to lack it.
Why is iodine important?
Iodine plays a key role in thyroid, brain and metabolic health This means that you have to ensure constant and reliable levels of iodine while breastfeeding. There are some disturbers such as toxins and pollution that interfere with the metabolism of iodine and its availability in breast milk, so it is important that you eliminate, starting from your home environment, products for personal hygiene and home care highly toxic.
Sources of iodine
Fish and seafood, algae, eggs, dairy products and iodine supplements as an alternative
Nutrient-rich diet translates into breast milk rich in nutrients
As you could see, your diet affects the quality of your milk. So, your body must be constantly fed during breastfeeding, especially because you have been “deprived” from many nutrients during pregnancy, and now is the time to rebuild them.
The same food that helps you recover after giving birth will be the base of your milk.
But I want to emphasize that this is not about eating perfectly. I recognize that choosing always real food, rich in nutrients, is not easy all the times, just like motherhood is not. There will be weeks or months that will put you to physical and emotional test, especially because of sleep deprivation
There will be times when you have to choose to eat whatever perhaps even with one hand. It is always better to eat than not to eat or stress out that your lunch was not “perfect”. This is not about feeling guilty. It’s important that you choose food rich in nutrients as many times as you can. What counts is what you eat for most of the time, not the time when you give yourself permission to not be perfect.
There’s another thing I want to tell you.
Being the only food resource for your newborn baby, can make you feel amazed but also scared. Your body has grown your baby for nine months and now it depends only on you, at least until you introduce solid foods.
That’s why I want to encourage you to be kind to yourself. Yes, it’s true, what you eat affects the quality of your milk but only the fact that you decided to breastfeed, is the best gift you can do to your baby!