“Can I still eat broccoli?” – Nutrition for nursing moms March 2, 2014 19:27
Written By Michelle Roth, BA, LCCE, IBCLC
As a lactation consultant, I am frequently asked whether moms can eat certain foods when breastfeeding. I am often astounded by the number and kinds of foods moms are avoiding to keep their nursing baby from being fussy or colicky or due to food allergy potential. But is this necessary? Here are some of the most common concerns parents share with me, as well as the facts to counter the myths.
MYTH: Nursing moms need to eat a lot more calories.
FACT: During pregnancy, the body puts on extra fat stores to provide for milk production. After birth, a breastfeeding mom needs about 500 extra calories per day for, though this depends her weight, activity levels and individual metabolism. Even this number is disputed, with new research showing that nursing moms can take in far fewer calories without impacting the quality or quantity of milk.
How often and how long the baby nurses also makes a difference – an older nursling who isn’t feeding as often and is taking many solid foods doesn’t need as much breastmilk; thus mom doesn’t need as many calories to keep up production.
Rather than counting calories, nursing moms should eat when they are hungry. Focus on the quality of foods at every meal or snack – avoiding empty calories and junk food, and opting instead for more nutritious choices. Avoiding overeating and empty calories may even help you lose weight while nursing.
MYTH: I don’t like milk, and I’ve heard you need to drink milk to make milk.
FACT: Do cows drink human milk in order to have enough to feed their babies? Some moms find they need to keep water nearby because they are exceptionally thirsty when they are nursing. There’s no need, though, to push extra fluids – whether milk or water – when breastfeeding. Simply drink to thirst. Drinking more than you’re thirsty for can actually have negative consequences: researchers found decreased milk production was linked to excess fluid intake. Aim for eight, eight-ounce glasses per day, with water being the best choice.
MYTH: You need to avoid broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, oranges, tomatoes, etc. so that baby doesn’t get gassy or fussy.
FACT: Your body just doesn’t work that way. Yes, these foods may give mom gas or heartburn as they are digested. But breastmilk is made from the components of mom’s diet that pass into her bloodstream – and the gas and acid are limited to mom’s gastrointestinal tract. Occasionally a baby may be sensitive to something mom eats – but this more often has to do with a protein in the food passing into mom’s bloodstream and her breastmilk, than with the food producing gas in mom’s stomach or intestines.
MYTH: Nursing moms need to avoid fish.
FACT: It’s true that nursing (and pregnant) moms should avoid certain fish due to high mercury content. These include shark, swordfish, tile fish and mackerel, among others. But fish are a good source for fatty acids that improve the types of fats available to your baby through your breastmilk. Good choices for this include salmon, albacore tuna, lake trout, Alaskan halibut, sardines, and herring. Choose cold-water varieties of fish and know where your fish came from, if you can.
MYTH: If you don’t eat the perfect diet, your milk won’t be any good.
FACT: Even if you were to live on a diet of fast food and soda, your breastmilk would still be perfect for your baby. You would likely feel the effects of poor nutrition (decreased energy being the biggest one), but your baby would still thrive. In countries where malnutrition is common, breastfed babies are chubby and flourishing until they begin weaning to solid foods. You’ll have more energy and a greater sense of well-being if you are eating a nutritious diet, but that diet will do little to impact your nursling. He or she will get the perfect nutrition despite what you consume.
MYTH: You need to avoid all caffeine when you are breastfeeding.
FACT: Some moms decide to wean because they miss their morning cup of coffee, or they want to enjoy a chocolate bar every now and then. While it’s true that caffeine does pass into your breastmilk, it’s only a very small portion of your dose. Some babies are more sensitive to caffeine than others, so approach caffeine consumption with moderation. Consider all sources of caffeine in your diet, and if your baby is fussy, sleepless or seems over-stimulated, cut back on your intake.
MYTH: Alcohol is a no-no when nursing.
FACT: The American Academy of Pediatrics says that an occasional alcoholic beverage has not been found to be harmful to the nursing baby. Alcohol passes easily into breastmilk from the maternal bloodstream, but also easily out of milk as the concentration in mom’s bloodstream decreases. Any effects on your baby are directly proportional to effects on you – if you feel fine, then it’s likely that baby is getting little to no alcohol in his system. Keep your metabolism in mind: it can take 2-3 hours to eliminate one serving of beer or wine depending on your body type. Side effects to watch for include a sleepy baby who is hard to rouse, or (strangely) a baby who is sleeping less overall. Alcohol can also possibly inhibit let-down, and change the smell of your milk.
Basically, the best diet for a nursing mom is one of wholesome foods as close to their natural state as possible (not processed or refined). Try to make all of your food choices count – get the most nutrients for the smallest number of calories. Meals and snacks that are composed of a carbohydrate, a protein and a fat will be the most satisfying. Vitamins and minerals are best from natural sources – so eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Choose low-fat and whole-grain options whenever possible. Eating well when breastfeeding doesn’t need to be complicated or difficult.
An interesting added bonus to eating what you like is that your breastmilk takes on strong flavors from your diet; so, breastfed babies are exposed to a wider variety than their formula fed counterparts. Some researchers think this may lead to fewer aversions as the baby moves into toddlerhood and is introduced to novel foods. Just another reason to continue enjoying all of your favorite family foods while breastfeeding your baby with confidence.
American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Breastfeeding. (2012). Breastfeeding and the use of human milk. Pediatrics 129(3): e827 -e841.
Lawrence RA & Lawrence RM. (1999). Breastfeeding: A guide for the medical profession. 5th ed. St. Louis, MO: Mosby.
National Research Council. (1991). Nutrition During Lactation. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
Riordan J & Wambach K. (2010). Breastfeeding and Human Lactation (4th Edition ed.). Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett.
Sears M & Sears W. (2000). The Breastfeeding Book. Boston: Little Brown.
Sears W & Sears M. (1999). The Family Nutrition Book.Boston: Little Brown.