August 16, 2022

Mother's Diet and Breastfeeding: Facts and Myths

Mother's Diet and Breastfeeding: Facts and Myths

Written by Pamela Lim,

There are loads of information about what mothers can or cannot eat while breastfeeding and some of them can be contradicting. Recommendations may differ depending on one’s culture and tradition, along with personal preference and financial situation. 

The experience of breastfeeding can be a mixed of information available and it can be rather confusing to new mothers. At times, it may seemed like everyone have their opinion or advice. While one can pick up a few tips from well-meaning friends and family or various online sources, the wrong information can somehow be passed along.

Human breast milk is after all the perfect nutrition source for new-borns and it is recommended for the first 6 months of life before solid food is introduced and added to the diet for children up to 2 years old.

Breast milk is produced by a woman’s body to meet her child’s nutritional needs perfectly. It is a complete source of nutrition and hydration and protects babies from getting sick through the mother’s antibodies that are passed down to the baby via the breast milk.

Do you need to maintain a perfect diet while breastfeeding?

Well, the answer is NO. You do not need to maintain a perfect diet in order to provide quality milk for your baby. In fact, research tells us that the quality of a mother’s diet has little influence on her milk. A poor diet is more likely to affect the mother than her breastfed baby.

With so much information online, it can be challenging to figure out which ones are true so hence, the following guide is to help you check out these myths and facts about breastfeeding and diet.

Breastmilk is a living substance that evolves to fit the needs of your baby and it contains essential nutrients for your baby’s health. The health components such as stem cells, immunity-building cells and food for healthy gut bacteria cannot be replicated.

While the mother's diet does not significantly affect the nutritional content of breast milk, but the quality of breast milk will be better if the mother eats an adequate and balanced diet.

Lactating women need more nutrients despite the fact that the mother's diet has little effect on the quality of breast milk.

A mother’s body produces lactose solely for the baby therefore the total of lactose in a mother’s milk has nothing to do with her diet. Breastfeeding women themselves have high nutritional needs although not getting enough nutrition will not cause the reduction of breast milk produced by the mother. Hence, they must take balanced nutrition and water to maintain their own health. In addition, factors such as fatigue, stress, and the lack of water can lead to reduced breast milk production.

Myth: Breastfeeding moms need special foods to breastfeed better

Fact: Mothers who breastfeed will produce enough milk regardless of whatever food that she eats. Milk production is determined by the amount of milk removed from her breast thus a breastfeeding mother does not require a specific diet to produce milk or increase her milk supply.

To meet the increased nutrient demands of breastfeeding, it’s incredibly important that you eat a healthy, balanced diet. As highly processed foods are generally high in calories, unhealthy fats, and added sugars, yet low in fiber, vitamins, and minerals, it’s recommended to limit their intake as much as possible.

Early research has also suggested that a mother’s diet while breastfeeding may influence her child’s diet later in life. Specifically, animal studies have found that flavours infants are exposed to through breast milk can influence their food preferences as they grow up.

Myth: Breastfeeding moms need to drink a lot of water.

Fact: Contrary to the advice you may receive, drinking a lot of water is unnecessary and will not boost your milk supply. Your goal for water consumption should be the same when breastfeeding as any other time. Drink to prevent thirst and try to keep a glass of water handy when you sit down to breastfeed your baby.

 Myth: Drink milk to produce breastmilk

Fact: While milk is seen as a source of calcium, there are other foods such as cruciferous vegetables and fruits that contain more calcium per serving. Human beings are the only living things that drink milk manufactured by other animals. There are no other mammal moms who drink milk, yet they still can provide milk for their young. This goes the same for human moms.

Myth: Breastfeeding moms can’t have coffee.

Fact:  One or two cups of coffee a day is fine for breastfeeding mothers and their healthy babies. However, large amounts of coffee with more than 750 mg per day may cause your baby to be fussier or more wakeful. Do keep tap on the total caffeine intake from foods and drinks, including coffee, tea, carbonated beverage and chocolate. You do not have to give these things up, but you should not overdo it either.

Myth: Breastfeeding moms must avoid spices and garlic. 

Fact: It is true that the flavour of a mother’s milk is influenced by what she eats. The milk her body makes will taste different after a breakfast of oats and honey than after a dinner of pasta with garlic tomato sauce. However, your baby is unlikely to be bothered by spices you eat, especially if they are flavours you consumed regularly during pregnancy. Keep in mind if your baby starts to seem more distracted and less attentive during breastfeeding sessions.

Myth: Breastfeeding moms can’t drink alcohol.

Fact:  Mothers used to be told to pump and dump their milk after consuming alcohol, but studies have shown that's not necessary. A drink or two in a week is unlikely to cause your baby harm.

On the other hand, it’s not a good idea to consume alcohol every day, since it can change the flavour of your milk, decrease your milk supply and limit your baby’s weight gain. An occasional drink is likely safe, as long as you’re cautious about the amount and timing. To limit the effects of alcohol on your baby, breastfeed before you consume alcohol when possible, and wait a couple of hours after before breastfeeding. The amount of alcohol in your milk depends on the amount in your blood as your liver is responsible for removing alcohol, a process that generally takes about two hours per drink.

Frequent and excessive alcohol intake can reduce milk production and have serious effects on your baby. Since alcohol can cause deeper sleep, you should avoid co-sleeping with baby after drinking alcohol.

Myth: Breastfeeding moms need to avoid the allergens.

Fact: Food allergies can be a real problem for some children, but they are uncommon, and reacting to allergens passed through breast milk is even more rare. Most babies have no problems with anything that mom eats. It’s generally recommended that you eat whatever and whenever you like, in the amounts that you like and continue to do so unless you notice an obvious reaction in your baby.

There is no list of foods that every nursing mom should avoid because most nursing mothers can eat anything they want, and because the babies who are sensitive to certain foods are each unique and what bothers one may not bother another.

Talk with your healthcare provider if you are concerned that your health condition may affect breastfeeding. Get help from a certified lactation health coach if you ever have any questions about nutrition or healthy dieting when breastfeeding.


Note: Recommendations may differ depending on one’s culture and tradition, along with personal preference and financial situation.