Can A Poor Diet Impact The Quality Of Breastmilk?

Can A Poor Diet Impact The Quality Of Breastmilk?

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:

Vitamin B12

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.

Vitamin D

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.
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Renee Kam is a mother of two daughters, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), a physiotherapist, author of 'The Newborn Baby Manual' and an Australian Breastfeeding Association Counsellor. In her spare time, Renee enjoys spending time with family and friends, horse riding, running and reading.


  1. From my clinical experience with my patients ( babies )& their mothers proven as well with investigations I do every now & then I believe in that & try to convince mothers of my babies,
    Some of them stop breast feeding because the don’t eat well & to reduce their weight & others eat much more & increase in weight to improve their milk quality as the believe, only balanced healthy diet can help.

  2. New born babies need to have a rich source of macronutrients, vitamins and minerals to grow strong the first years. How else would that happen if not thru our own nutrition habits?

    1. How, Fabiola? Through the lifelong stores that make up the mother’s own body, which serves as a permanent pantry from which nutrients can be drawn if intake of any is totally lacking in the mother’s diet. When things are lacking or in excess in infant formula (as they often have been and are: see my book Milk Matters: infant feeding and immune disorder) there is no backup store once the baby’s own in utero stores are exhausted (much earlier than 4 months if the baby was born pre-term) Yet another reason why breastfeeding is necessary for safety and health.

  3. Hi when should i stop from breastfeeding? My son is turning 2yrs old this month, my mo. keeps on telling me that i should introducemy son to formula milk due to his age. what’s thebest thing that i could do?BTW my son doesn’t want to take any formula milk however he is into yoghurt drinks and fresh milk whenever eating cereals. thank you in advance. 🙂

  4. Could someone please tell me if sugar and caffeine consumption can affect a breastfed baby. My daughter-in-law drinks coke and coffee all day and night and had 3sugars in each coffee and my10 month old granddaughter is unsettled and does not sleep well I am very worried

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