Food for Thought

Debi Ferrarello, RN, MS, IBCLC
Of all the myths that surround breastfeeding, rules about what the mother should not eat are some of the most pervasive.Over the past ten or fifteen years, mothers have frequently been told to avoid broccoli, cabbage and beans, chocolate, citrus fruits, tomato products, garlic, onions, spicy foods,
dairy, sushi, coffee, and carbonated beverages.  Basically, they have been told that if it tastes good, avoid it!

Let’s stop for a moment and consider that breastfeeding is a global activity.  People breastfeed all over the world and consume a wide variety of foods. For example, people in Mexico, India, and some parts of China do eat spicy foods
and nurse their babies.  People in Italy would never consider a cuisine free of garlic and tomatoes.  Chocolate makes women happy throughout Europe, and coffee is enjoyed by
nursing mothers all over the world.  Most cultures consume far more fibrous, gas-producing food than we Americans do, and would think it strange to avoid them while nursing.

Cabbage, broccoli, and beans are high-fiber foods.  The sugars in those high-fiber foods ferment in the intestines of those who eat them, causing gas to form. However, there are no chunks of broccoli in mothers’ milk – no stray beans, no fiber at all. So while the baby may not wish to be in the same room with the mother, it is highly unlikely that the baby will get gas from the high-fiber food ingested by mom.

Spicy foods, onions, and garlic do flavor mothers’ milk.  Research has been done on what babies taste and smell at the Monell Institute, right here in Philadelphia! Do you think that flavoring the milk is a bad thing?  Perhaps we should feel sorryfor the poor formula-fed baby who is deprived of the variety of flavors that his breastfed buddies enjoy!  The milk will be flavored by the spices in mom’s food, but it will not be hot!  No need to offer baby water to drink after mom’s chicken curry.

Sushi is a food that needs to be eaten with caution at all times.  It is important that the fish is fresh and the food is well-prepared.  If the food is safe for mom to eat, then it’s safe for mom to breastfeed.

Chocolate is a food frequently on the mothers’ avoidance list.  However, unless a mother consumes a pound or more chocolate at a sitting, chocolate is perfectly safe.
It can do wonders for mom’s general attitude toward life (but may slow the gradual, natural weight loss that nursing mothers usually enjoy.)

Caffeine is one of the most studied of all drugs.  Less than one per cent of the caffeine mother ingests is present in her milk.  The American Academy of Pediatrics has classified coffee
as “compatible with breastfeeding.”  Many motherswill agree that this news is worth waking up for.

And what of the often-heard advice that a mother should drink lots of water to increase her milk supply?  Nature tends to protect the youngest generation.  Generally, a mother needs to be truly dehydrated before her milk supply will be more fluids will send her to the bathroom more often, but will not have a direct effect on milk supply.

So, what should mom eat and drink?  As breastfeeding is a “normal” activity, she can eat a “normal” diet.  Mom should choose good foods that she enjoys, and drink enough that she is not thirsty.  This will help her feel her best as she enjoys caring for and feeding her baby!


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