Myths and Facts about Your Breastfeeding Diet
By Shirley Donato, Virtua Board-Certified Lactation Consultant
For women who choose to breastfeed, worrying about what you can and cannot eat can be a source of anxiety. Here are five common breastfeeding diet myths and what you can do to support your health and the health of your baby.
Myth: You have to avoid certain foods while breastfeeding.
Fact: There is really nothing you can’t eat while you’re breastfeeding. Eat what is normal for you. The foods that were restricted during pregnancy are OK to eat while breastfeeding. Most babies do well with the foods that you normally eat. The key is moderation, and including a variety of nutritious foods from the different food groups in your diet.
Myth: If your baby is gassy or fussy after breastfeeding, something you ate is probably to blame.
Fact: There are many possible causes of gas and fussiness in breastfed babies, and the food a mother eats is most likely not the one. Gas is a normal part of digestion, and your baby’s digestive system is still developing in the early weeks after birth. A few babies may have a hard time with certain foods, but most just need time to develop. Caffeine, dairy, certain vegetables, garlic, and other spices are often blamed for making baby uncomfortable, but are not usually a problem if they are foods that you eat regularly. Don’t make rash decisions about elimination diets unless you have a strong family history of food allergies.
Some babies can be fussy and gassy if they are getting too much lactose (milk sugar) and not enough fat to balance the lactose. Allowing your baby to breastfeed as often as they need and as long as they want on each breast helps to keep this in balance and helps to avoid tummy trouble.
Myth: You have to ‘pump and dump’ your milk after consuming alcohol.
Fact: Alcohol goes directly into your milk, but it does not stay in your milk. The alcohol leaves your milk just like it leaves your bloodstream. If a breastfeeding mother wants to drink alcohol, she should do so carefully and in moderation. That means limiting your intake to 1 to 2 drinks. Plan to feed your baby or pump right before you have your drink. Then, wait two hours per drink before your next feeding or pumping session. Use your common sense, as well. If you feel any effects from the alcohol, it is obviously still in your system, so your milk is not safe to feed to your baby.
Myth: Dietary supplements are needed to boost your milk supply.
Fact: Dietary supplements (like fenugreek, blessed thistle or alfalfa) are not needed by most moms to have a plentiful milk supply. Many mothers are also looking to lactation cookies or other products marketed for improving milk production to increase their milk supply. These products or supplements, by themselves, do not increase milk volume. The best way to boost your milk supply is to make sure you are feeding or pumping frequently, and that your breasts are fully emptied during a feeding or pumping session. Frequent emptying of the breasts with feeding or pumping tells your body to continue or increase milk production.
Myth: If you are having a problem with breastfeeding and you are worried your diet is to blame, you should talk to your baby’s pediatrician to get the best advice.
Fact: Pediatricians are wonderful resources, but the best possible resource for solutions to breastfeeding problems is a lactation consultant. Many women turn to their baby’s pediatrician for breastfeeding advice because there are so many scheduled well visits in the first weeks and months of your baby’s life. You might be hesitant to add another appointment to your busy calendar, but a visit or call with a lactation consultant can make all the difference in establishing a successful breastfeeding relationship.
Updated November 12, 2021