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Breastfeeding and your diet
Ensuring a mother’s proper nutrition while breastfeeding is essential to making sure her baby gets the best nourishment possible.
However, many breastfeeding moms worry that what they eat or drink can pass into their breast milk and harm their child. There are many myths, misconceptions and a lot of downright misinformation about this topic, so it’s important to get the facts.
Myth #1: Breastfeeding moms must force themselves to drink more water.
Although an inadequate fluid intake will decrease the amount of breast milk produced,
drinking a lot of fluids will not similarly increase breast milk quantities. While you’re breastfeeding, you’ll find that you will naturally be thirstier than usual. Listen to your body and rely on your natural thirst as an indication of when to take in more fluids. You don’t need to force yourself to drink water. However, if you notice your urine is dark or cloudy, it can mean you’re not drinking enough.
Myth #2: Eating certain foods can increase milk production.
There is no strong scientific evidence to support a relationship between eating increased amounts of any particular food and increased breast milk production. However, there are certain cultures that hold beliefs about eating particular foods to help increase breast milk quantities in nursing mothers. As long as a breastfeeding mother is
eating regular, healthy, good-sized portions of food (and the customs themselves are not harmful), these can be followed as part of a nutritious diet.
Myth #3: Moms must make a conscious effort to take in more quantities of specific nutrients if they are breastfeeding.
eating regularly and consuming healthy, good-sized portions of food is the best way to ensure you get all the nutrients you need.
Many moms also feel hungry between meals and need to snack – this is another opportunity to eat nutritiously. Some foods can have a slight effect on the taste of the milk you produce, but your baby will adapt. For example, babies can taste certain spices their moms have eaten in their breast milk. This is beneficial as it encourages babies to become more adventurous eaters over time, as they have already been introduced to certain flavors through breast milk.
Most breastfeeding mothers can eat whatever they like.
Myth #4: Breastfeeding moms cannot follow a vegan diet while nursing.
If you are a vegan (i.e., you don’t eat any animal products, that is, meat, fish, eggs or milk products) and you are breastfeeding, it might be a good idea to take a Vitamin B12 supplement (which can only be found in animal sources). It is also recommended that you eat foods rich in protein, iron, calcium and Vitamin D as it’s difficult to meet your requirements for these nutrients on a vegan diet. If in doubt, it’s best to consult your doctor or a nutritionist.
Myth #5: A breastfeeding mom will need to take in extra calories while nursing.
An exclusively breastfeeding mother, on average, needs to take in 300-1,000 calories per day above what was needed to maintain pre-pregnancy weight, or the equivalent of two extra snacks per day. The amount of extra calories needed will also depend upon her activity level, weight and nutritional status. A new mother should not feel like she has to change her eating habits drastically so long as she eats when she is hungry and maintains a balanced diet.
Myth #6: A new mother should not follow a diet to lose her baby weight while breastfeeding.
There is a proportion of weight that is gained during pregnancy that was intended to be used to help mom meet the higher energy demands of breastfeeding. After delivery, a new mother will need roughly six weeks to recover from childbirth, during which it is not advised that she focus on losing weight. It's best not to do anything consciously to lose weight until after a few months have passed while breastfeeding.
The good news
is that mothers who breastfeed for six months or longer are known to naturally lose their weight over the course of time.
It is not recommended that nursing mothers follow fad diets or restrict their calorie intake drastically because this can reduce their milk supply. In most instances of too-rapid weight loss, mom's nutrition and overall health is affected. A better strategy is to spread out caloric intake and exercise moderately, and make healthy food choices.
Myth #7: You cannot eat fish or sushi while you are breastfeeding.
Fish belongs on your menu, and sushi is safe to consume while nursing as long as it’s from a reputable restaurant. However, some fish species absorb pollutants that make their way into breast milk and could harm a baby. To take advantage of the benefits of eating fish (omega-3 fatty acids) while minimizing the risk from contaminants such as mercury,
follow these guidelines from the Institut national de santé publique du Québec
Myth #8: A mother’s intake of coffee, tea, chocolate and other caffeinated drinks should be limited during breastfeeding.
Caffeine passes into breast milk. If you consume a lot of it, it can make your baby nervous and irritable until the caffeine is eliminated from his system. Caffeine is found in coffee, tea, energy drinks, cola-type soft drinks and chocolate. Energy drinks are not recommended while breastfeeding because they contain other substances that might harm your baby. Other products (coffee, tea, cola, etc.), may be consumed in moderation, up to two cups or so per day.
Myth #9: Limited consumption of alcohol is acceptable during breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding mothers can enjoy the occasional alcoholic beverage, as the benefits of continuing to breastfeed outweigh the risks of occasional light alcohol consumption (around two drinks a week or less). This level of consumption has not been shown to harm a nursing baby.
Here are some tips on reducing your baby’s exposure to alcohol (p.293, 294. 295).
Myth #11: If you need to take antibiotics you should take a break from breastfeeding.
False (in most cases).
Almost all antibiotics are safe to take while breastfeeding, with very few exceptions. If you have been prescribed antibiotics and are still nursing, ask your pharmacist about whether or not you should continue to breastfeed your baby.
Some over-the-counter medications can also be consumed while breastfeeding. Many medications, including acetaminophen (e.g.: AtasolTM, TylenolTM), ibuprofen (e.g.: AdvilTM, MotrinTM) and most antibiotics, are perfectly safe to use while nursing.
Decongestants containing pseudoephedrine (e.g., SudafedTM, Advil Cold and SinusTM) can reduce milk production. It’s best to ask your pharmacist to recommend another product.
Talk to your doctor and pharmacist before taking any medication or natural health product since some products are very powerful. Limit yourself to medications that are truly necessary.
It is highly recommended, whether breastfeeding or not, to make every effort to quit smoking, as it is not recommended to maintain this habit while nursing. However, if you are having difficulty quitting, remember that you should never smoke around your baby.
Tobacco is harmful to your baby when you’re breastfeeding, just as it is during pregnancy. Nicotine from tobacco can pass into your breast milk and can cause crying, irritability and insomnia in babies. Try to avoid smoking just before feeding.
Talk to your doctor if you are thinking about using pharmacological aids such as patches or nicotine gum to quit smoking.
Although smoking is never recommended, it is recommended to breastfeed even if you are a smoker.
Institut national de santé publique du Québec.
From Tiny Tot to Toddler: Practical guide for parents from pregnancy to age two
Public Health Agency of
Breastfeeding & Infant Nutrition
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