If, as the saying goes, “you are what you eat” is your breastmilk also a reflection of what you eat? The answer is a qualified "No".The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding (2010, page 124) says “You don’t need a perfect diet to keep your milk nutritious. Your milk is made from your blood. If you haven’t been worrying about the quality of your blood lately, there’s no need at all to worry about the quality of your milk!”
A mother’s current diet is only one source of the energy and nutrients she needs to make breastmilk. Energy (calories) and most of the nutrients in breastmilk are also drawn from the stores laid down in the body during pregnancy. Those extra pounds you gained over and above the weight of the baby, placenta, increased blood volume, etc. are there to fuel breastmilk production.
A meta-analysis examining research from around the globe found that only when famine or near famine conditions last for many weeks does a formerly well-nourished mother’s milk production or milk quality start to suffer (Prentice, Goldberg, & Prentice 1994). Even under those conditions babies should continue to be breastfeed and the diets of their mothers supplemented rather than providing alternative feeding for the babies. The antibodies and antimicrobial qualities of breastmilk cannot be reproduced in manufactured baby foods and these qualities are vital to the health and survival of the baby whether that baby is living in stressed conditions or not. The details of these qualities will be the subject of another post.
The healthy food guidelines are designed to keep you healthy enough to take care of your baby and yourself. La Leche League encourages families to eat a wide variety of foods in as close to their natural state as possible. (Feed Yourself, Feed Your Family, 2012) Mothers who consume no animal products, those who have nutrient absorption issues due to Crohn’s disease or gastric by-pass surgery,or who have diets limited by other disorders or choices, should discuss vitamin supplementation, particularly vitamin B12, with a knowledgeable health professional for the sake of their own body and health as well as to ensure that their bodies have adequate stores to draw on when producing breastmilk.
Mothers around the world eat different foods and use different spices. Their babies are exposed to the flavours of the diet they will eat as they get older and join the family at the table. This is nature’s way of preparing the baby’s palate. Different cultures have different ideas about what foods help mothers make milk and those they should stay away from. When compared, the lists of what should and should not be eaten by a breastfeeding mother, often end up with the same food in both the pro and con column as these ideas are cultural and not based in science. Most mothers find they can eat whatever foods they normally enjoy.
You are doing an amazing thing, making a food for your baby that has all the vitamins, minerals, fats and antibodies that baby needs to grown his/her brain, organs and muscles exactly as nature intended. Yes, your diet makes some difference to the breastmilk you produce but the difference your diet makes is mostly for you. The important thing to remember is to eat well so that you feel good and have energy to enjoy your baby. This can be a challenge in the newborn days. Accept all offers of prepared meals, whether that is a casserole from the neighbour or a sandwich made by your partner and left in the fridge for your lunch.
Happy eating and happy breastfeeding!
For those who like facts and figures here is some additional information from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
“There is a widely held belief that the composition of breastmilk varies enormously. This is not so. Human breastmilk has a fairly constant composition, and is only selectively affected by the diet of the mother. One litre of milk provides about 750 calories and contains approximately the following:
· 70 g carbohydrate,
· 46 g fat,
· 13 g protein,
· 300 mg calcium,
· 2 mg iron,
· 480 µg vitamin A,
· 0.2 mg thiamine (vitamin B1 )
· 0.4 mg riboflavin,
· 2 mg niacin,
· 40 mg vitamin C.
The fat content of breastmilk varies somewhat. The carbohydrate, protein, fat, calcium and iron contents do not change much even if the mother is short of these in her diet. A mother whose diet is deficient in thiamine and vitamins A and C, however, produces less of these in her milk. Thiamine deficiency in the lactating mother can lead to infantile beriberi in the baby. In general the effect of very poor nutrition on a lactating woman is to reduce the quantity rather than the quality of breastmilk.”
**Note: If you have a breastfeeding question, please click here