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Consuming Garlic When Breastfeeding: Benefits And Ways To Include Them

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Garlic (Allium sativum) is one of the most common culinary ingredients used worldwide. The unique flavor-enhancing garlic bulb has a peculiar aroma and pungent taste. Besides, it has several valuable medicinal properties that could be beneficial for you and your breastfed baby. We tell you about the safe use of garlic during breastfeeding and its benefits. 

Is Garlic Safe For Lactating Mothers?

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has categorized garlic as GRAS (generally recognized as safe) during lactation (1). Therefore, you can use garlic in your diet regularly in moderate amounts.

  • However, stay cautious if your baby is known to be allergic to other edible plants from the Allium genus, such as onions, shallots, leeks, and chives (2).
  • Also, you should avoid garlic if you are on certain medications, such as anticoagulants, and in case you experience symptoms of food intolerance after garlic ingestion.
  • If you are planning to use garlic supplements or garlic pills that contain raw garlic or garlic extracts for any therapeutic purpose, then seek advice from your healthcare provider before using them because supplements may not have sufficient clinical trials to test their safety and efficacy (3).

Does Garlic Help In Increasing Breast Milk?

The use of garlic as a galactagogue is prevalent across cultures. However, there are no targeted research studies to support (1). Some studies show that garlic can change the taste and odor of the breast milk. Babies, who like the taste, may have an increased breastfeeding time and thus might eventually have a positive impact on breast milk production (4).

However, if the baby does not like the taste and odor of the milk on the day when you consumed garlic, they might refuse to feed (5).

Possible Health Benefits Of Garlic For Nursing Moms

The use of garlic for therapeutic and medicinal purposes is well-documented in alternative medicine. Benefits are usually attributed to the presence of diverse bioactive compounds such as organic sulfides, saponins, phenolic compounds, and polysaccharides (6) that exhibit anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant, and anti-cancer effects (7) in the long run.

  1. Might help in weight loss: Some studies show that consuming garlic in its fermented form might help in weight loss. When made a part of a well-balanced diet, garlic could inhibit lipogenesis and regulate lipid metabolism (6).
  1. Maintain a healthy gut: Garlic might support gut health through its prebiotic and antibacterial properties. The prebiotic effect of garlic is attributed to the presence of fructans, a non-digestible polysaccharide, while the antibacterial properties are attributed to the presence of organosulfur compounds such as allicin (8).
  1. May enhance immunity: Fructans have the potential to boost the probiotic effect in the gut, thus, in turn, causing positive immunomodulatory effects (9).
  1. Anti-inflammatory effect: Inflammation associated with breastfeeding can lead to conditions such as sore nipples and mastitis. Anecdotal evidence suggests that garlic has potential anti-inflammatory properties that may provide some relief from the condition.
  1. Useful antimicrobial properties: Thrush, a fungal or yeast infection, is common in nursing babies and mothers. Oral thrush in babies can cause irritation in the mouth and throat, making it difficult to breastfeed. In traditional medicine, raw garlic is used to help lactating mothers prevent or reduce the yeast infection, reduce the irritation, lower the nipple pain, and help the baby breastfeed comfortably.
  1. Antioxidant effect: Garlic and its extracts have antioxidant properties that may be helpful in combating free radical damage and provide protection against several diseases (10).
  1. Potential anti-diabetic effect: Animal-based research studies show that garlic extract is effective in maintaining blood sugar by reducing insulin resistance. It is mainly attributed to the presence of volatile sulfur compounds, such as alliin, allicin, allyl methyl sulfide, etc. (3). However, more research is needed to affirm this in humans.
  1. Cardioprotective effects: Both animal and human studies show that raw garlic consumption lowers blood pressure and thus has potent cardioprotective effects due to the presence of allicin (or diallyl thiosulfinate) (11).

Garlic is also traditionally used for the treatment of arthritis, toothache, chronic cough, constipation, and infectious diseases (as an antibiotic) (3). 

Side Effects Of Garlic When Breastfeeding

The maternal consumption of garlic, in general, is safe. However, some side effects may occur in specific conditions (12).

  1. Colic: Garlic in excess is considered a gas-causing Thus, its maternal consumption is often associated with colic in the baby. Though there are not many clinical studies, it is observed that some babies become fussy and irritable when their mothers eat garlic.
  1. Drug interaction: A nursing mother on blood thinners must consult a doctor before consuming garlic since it has anti-platelet effects. In some cases, this may lead to bleeding and other related complications (13).
  1. Gastrointestinal issues: Some studies revealed that eating garlic in excess may lead to issues such as acidity, indigestion, nausea, vomiting, body odor, diarrhea, and gas formation. A very high intake of garlic might lead to liver damage, as well (14).

The moderate use of garlic in your breastfeeding diet may mitigate the adverse effects. 

How To Include Garlic In Your Breastfeeding Diet?

Garlic bulbs are versatile and can be used fresh, as essential garlic oil, macerated garlic oil, garlic powder, and aged garlic extract.

  1. A breastfeeding mother can add fresh garlic cloves (crushed) to savory rice recipes, or you can add them to soups. If you are using fresh, raw garlic, then use them crushed as it will release the bioactive compounds.
  2. You can also use garlic powder in salads and grilled dishes like tofu and chicken.
  3. Grated garlic mixed in olive oil can be an excellent low-calorie sandwich base.
  4. Garlic paste can be used to prepare a sauce.
  5. Fermented garlic is also an option to try. It will not only enhance food flavors but also provide health benefits.

Garlic can be beneficial to your health if you make a regular part of a well-balanced diet rather than a standalone superfood. While you can use it liberally in food, garlic supplements can be taken only under medical guidance, especially when breastfeeding. 

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