There is a lot of conflicting advice about breastfeeding – and what you can and cannot eat is often a long and confusing list depending on what corner of the world you are nursing your little one in. It can be confusing to sift through culture or tradition and scientific fact.
The truth is that some nursing moms can eat whatever they like – and the key to healthy breastfeeding is moderation, balance, listening to your body and observing your little one. Here are some myths & facts about healthy breastfeeding to get you started. And as always, speak to your doctor!
Some strongly flavoured foods may change the taste of your milk – but most babies seem to enjoy a variety of breast milk flavours. The dominant flavours of your diet were likely in your amniotic fluid during pregnancy.
Occasionally, a baby may be fussy or gassy after you eat a particular food. Pay attention – if you notice a pattern, avoid that food for a few days before reintroducing again to see if that food really was the cause. A particular food may also be the cause if the baby spits up a lot, shows signs of colic, a rash or congestion – if they do, it’s time to examine what is going on.
It is entirely possible that certain foods do not agree with the baby. Common culprits include chocolate, spices (like cinnamon, garlic, curry, chilli pepper), citrus fruits, strawberries, kiwis, pineapple, “gassy” vegetables (onion, cabbage, garlic, cauliflower, broccoli, cucumbers and peppers) and fruits with a laxative effect (like cherries and prunes).
You only need to drink enough to satisfy your thirst while you’re breastfeeding. Drinking lots of water or going a bit thirsty, won’t affect the amount of milk you make. Your body is fine tuned to regulate its reserves and make sure it keeps your milk supply going. It is, however, a good idea to keep a drink nearby while breastfeeding. During a feeding, your body releases the hormone oxytocin making you feel thirsty. Worried about hydration? Keep an eye on the colour of your urine – a pale-colour means you’re getting plenty to drink. A dark yellow or strong smell is a sign of dehydration and a sign you should drink more.
It’s ok to have an occasional alcoholic drink while breastfeeding. Keep in mind that alcohol does goes into your milk and will be transferred to your nursing baby. The Motherisk program at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto recommends waiting 2 hours / drink before breastfeeding.
Also keep in mind that breast milk production is not the same as how your body processes urine (produced and then sits in your bladder). Substances diffuse in and out of breast milk over time, so if you just wait, the alcohol will metabolise out of your milk. If you pump and dump – the substances like alcohol will remain the same unil they have had time to be absorbed into the rest of your body. Drinking lots of water, resting, and the pump and dump won’t make your body get rid of the alcohol any faster.
You may want to stick to non-alcoholic drinks if your baby is a newborn – who usually require feeding every to 2 – 3 hours.
You don’t need to consume too many extra calories while breastfeeding. Health Canada recommends that breastfeeding moms take in an extra 330 calories until your baby is 6 months old and then an extra 400 calories when your baby is 7 months – 1 year (or until you stop breastfeeding). Breastfeeding usually gives you a big appetite. If you’re finding it a struggle to eat, talk to your doctor.
Losing weight is normal while breastfeeding. Losing 2 pounds a week should not affect your milk levels. However, it is not a good time to go on a restrictive diet.
Finally, on health supplements – do take your vitamins (your prenatal vitamins if you still have them). However, The Society for Obstetricians and Gynaecologists warns that you should use the same caution with herbal remedies as you do with over the counter or prescription drugs during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Only use them with the advice of a health care professional.