After you give birth, there are many things that you read or hear, suggesting what to eat and what to avoid to enhance your breast-milk supply and its quality.
But you will be surprised to know that most of this advice may turn out to be a myth. The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) of Australia in its document on breastfeeding practices dispels the notion that mothers need a certain diet or a specific amount of calories to produce milk (1).
Here in this article, we give you 10 facts that explore the association between a mother’s diet and breast-milk production.
1. The Key Is To Drain The Milk
It is not the food, but proper latching and draining of milk from the breast that signals the body to produce more milk.
There are some common herbs and food items that are said to increase the milk production such as cumin, barley fennel, and oats, whereas things like sage, mint, and oregano are believed to lower the supply. But most of these are based on hearsay than on fact.
Also, there isn’t any data to support that extra fluids help in increasing the flow. However, maintaining fluid balance in the body with adequate water intake is vital for other body functions.
2. Eat When Hungry
Experts say that you don’t need to go beyond your appetite and eat extra to produce extra milk. While breast-feeding, your appetite naturally increases, and the amount you eat is sufficient for the baby to get the required nutrition.
3. Diet Doesn’t Alter Milk Composition
Breast-milk is composed of proteins, fats, and lactose, and the calories from your milk are dependent on the concentration of these three nutrients. These nutrients have a relatively lesser dependence on the maternal diet, although the concentration of different vitamins in your milk has been shown to be correlated with the vitamins in your diet (2).
4. Eating Fish Is Beneficial
The quantity of fat you consume has no effect on the quantity of fat that is present in your milk. However, the type of fat that you consume may be linked to its presence in the milk. For example, the Omega 3 fatty acids that are so essential for eye and brain development can pass to your baby through your milk.
Omega 3’s are abundantly found in fish such as Sardines, Salmon, Tuna, etc. and can also be supplemented via fish-oil and flaxseed oil.
5. Not All Minerals Are Passed Through Breast-Milk
Minerals like zinc, iron and copper in the breast-milk are not dependent on the mother’s diet (3). However, the amount of iodine in your food can influence the presence and concentration of the same in the breast-milk, and that is why iodine supplementation is recommended in case the levels are low (4).
6. Supplements For Vitamin D And Vitamin B-12
As mentioned earlier, the vitamins in the mother’s diet pass to the baby through milk. In case the mother is deficient in Vitamin B-12 (common in mothers with restrictive diets like veganism or selective-vegetarianism) or Vitamin D (common in cases of limited exposure to sun), supplements are recommended to optimise the levels.
7. Breast-Feeding And Food Sensitivity
Instances of babies showing food sensitivity while they are exclusively breastfed are almost negligible. However, in some cases, it is manifested through crying, being colicky, etc.
Some of the common offenders are dairy, soy, peanuts, etc. which the mother can eliminate from her diet. But the reaction is more serious and obvious when the baby directly consumes something from that particular food group.
8. Encouraging Gut-Friendly Bacteria
Consuming probiotic food and drinks is a great way to enhance good bacteria in your system. They are passed to your baby through your milk and are a boost to your baby’s immune system.
9. Breast-Milk Is Never The Same
The constitution, color, and composition of breast milk are dependent on so many factors like time of feed, day, what the mother eats, gender of the baby and so on!
However, it remains the best alternative for the baby, especially in infancy. So, having a balanced diet with lots of natural food and flavors is the key to have great milk supply.
10. Eat Good Feed Good
There is no magic trick to create a perfect ‘diet-plan’ to enhance the quality of your milk. A diet comprising of essential carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals with lots of fluid is the best way to encourage your body to make milk that is wholesome and nutritious for your baby.
These were some facts that will help you make better choices when it comes to your food -habits with respect to lactation and to avoid unnecessary stress to produce ‘better’ milk. Just follow your instincts (and some of our advice) and you’ll be good to go!