Parents often have many worries as they tackle the adjustment of a new baby, especially when it comes to breastmilk.
One of these worries is whether a mother's diet impacts her breastmilk.
Many of us grew up hearing, “you are what you eat”.
Knowing the importance of nutrition, we might assume a mother with a less than perfect diet would make less than perfect milk.
Is this a real concern? Do mothers need to worry about their diet while breastfeeding?
Here are 5 things we currently know about how a breastfeeding mother’s diet impacts her breastmilk.
#1. Macronutrients Are Unaffected By A Mother's Diet
A mother's diet does not impact the lactose, protein or fat content of her milk. This means that regardless of what mama is eating, she can rest assured her milk has plenty of these macronutrients.
#2: Vitamins Can Be Affected By A Mother's Diet
A mother’s diet can affect the concentration of vitamins in her breastmilk. However, the average Australian diet typically supplies mothers with adequate amounts of most vitamins.
Two vitamins that may require supplementation include:
A vegan (and maybe a vegetarian) mother may be deficient in vitamin B12. This would make her breastmilk deficient in vitamin B12 too.
Speak with a doctor or dietitian if you think you may need vitamin B12 supplementation.
Regular sunlight exposure helps lower the risk of vitamin D deficiency. The safe exposure time for children is not known though.
Breastfed babies particularly at risk of vitamin D deficiency are those:
- Who are dark-skinned
- Whose mother is vitamin D-deficient
- Who receive too little sunlight (e.g. by living at higher latitudes)
Speak with a doctor or dietitian if you think you may need vitamin D supplementation. Read our article about the importance of Vitamin D while breastfeeding.
#3: Some Minerals Can Be Affected By Mother's Diet
The levels of minerals are largely unaffected by a breastfeeding mother’s diet. However, her diet can affect the concentration of iodine in her breastmilk. Hence, Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) recommends pregnant and breastfeeding women take an iodine supplement.
#4: Probiotics May Be Affected By A Mother's Diet
Research continues to emerge about the importance of the types of good bacteria in our gut for our overall health.
Breastmilk contains much more than just nutrients. It also contains prebiotics (over 200 varieties), probiotics, and a host of other important immune protective factors.
It is possible that if a mother has more beneficial bacteria in her gut (e.g. by eating a healthy diet), she may pass on more beneficial bacteria (probiotics) to her baby through her breastmilk.
For example, research has found that breastmilk from obese mothers tended to contain a different and less diverse bacterial community compared with milk from normal-weight mothers. Research has also found that mothers who are taking probiotics while breastfeeding can reduce their infant's risk of eczema by 40%.
#5: A Mother's Diet Affects The Flavour Of Her Milk
Different flavours pass through to a mother’s breastmilk based on what she eats. This may mean that what a mother eats influences her child’s taste preferences.
Research suggests that exclusively breastfeeding for 6 months may make children less picky eaters in early childhood.
A mother's diet does have some impact on her milk. However, a mother does not need to maintain a perfect diet to make quality breastmilk for her baby. When it comes to feeding a baby, human milk is designed for human babies. As such, a mother cannot make poor quality breastmilk, especially if the alternative is milk from another species.
So, rather than worrying about your diet’s possible effect on your breastmilk, eat well for you! Any positive effect this has on your breastmilk is a bonus.
Nutritious Snacks For Breastfeeding Mothers
Being a mother can be physically and emotionally demanding. Keeping a healthy diet can help mothers cope with these demands but can be difficult to do when you are really busy. Having access to quick and health snacks can help. Here are some ideas:
- A handful of your favourite nuts. Nuts are protein powerhouses and full of healthy unsaturated fats and fibre.
- Seeds – sprinkle foods with sesame seeds, chia seeds or other healthy and nutritious seeds.
- Yogurt is lower in salt than many cheeses while still being an excellent source of calcium. Adding muesli, berries or some dried fruit to the yogurt can further increase its nutrient content. Be sure to check the sugar content of the yoghurts you choose – opt for natural yoghurts. Jalna is a good brand in Australia.
- Berries are full of antioxidants and have a low glycaemic index to keep you fuller for longer.
- Eggs are full of protein — if you choose a brand that is fortified with omega 3s, you can increase its nutrient value.
- Fruit is loaded with fibre and vitamins A, C, and E.
- Hummus (chickpea) or tahini (sesame paste) dips provide great protein and fibre. Carrot, celery, cucumber, capsicum dippers add extra nutrients such as potassium and vitamin A.
- Avocados are full of healthy unsaturated fats, fibre and vitamin C.