Guest Post By Aubrey Phelps
A common question I get about breastfeeding is what can I eat while breastfeeding or what foods can increase my milk supply. Or what can I not eat while I’m breastfeeding? As a Certified Lactation Counselor and Registered Dietitian, I support moms and babies in everything from latch and supply concerns and the best diet to support happy nursing, all the way through assessing baby’s growth and nutrition adequacy. Most new moms have gotten conflicting advice from a well-meaning friend or a late-night Google search that any number of foods can affect their baby through their breastmilk, or that what you eat doesn’t matter at all! As with most things, the truth lies somewhere in between.
What Foods Help Increase Milk Supply?
This is one of the most common questions I get. Moms worry that their supply isn’t adequate or having a doctor’s appointment where the doctor raises concerns about their baby not gaining weight sufficiently. If this resonates with you, let me begin by saying that it’s important to work with a professional, like myself, to determine if there’s even a supply issue in the first place! Many mothers have stressed over their milk supply because a friend’s friend can get 6 oz per side per pumping session, or is worried because her baby wants to nurse every hour. The reality is, there are many many variations of “normal”!
If there is an actual concern, it’s important to know that low milk supply is typically multifactorial, and in my experience, there’s no magic supplement, bar, or drink that’s going to make the difference. Often the cause is a combination of insufficient breastmilk removal AND dietary considerations.
Yes, there are anecdotal reports that certain herbs or foods, etc. may increase milk supply, but I have found, and the evidence shows, that it’s less about a specific food or drink, and more about needs being met. For example, many mothers swear by sports drinks to increase their milk supply. There’s really nothing inherently milk-promoting in a sports drink like Gatorade. But the Gatorade may be fulfilling a need that is not being met in other ways. In this case, if a mom sees increased production with a sports drink, it typically means she wasn’t getting enough fluids or electrolytes in her diet. Drinking water with a good pinch of salt and a squeeze of lemon, bone broth, smoothies, etc., all would have the same effect. The magic isn’t in the Gatorade, but in the gap, it fills.
What to Eat While Breastfeeding
For the most part, the diet that is best for nurturing a healthy pregnancy is also what’s best for nurturing a recovering momma and nursing baby! What are the key points of such a diet?
I never give my moms specific goals for ounces of water, etc., but instead, recommend monitoring their urine. Is it clear or very, very pale yellow? Then you’re getting enough! Anything darker, and you need to up your intake! And that doesn’t mean just water. In fact, I rarely recommend plain water, as electrolytes are so important for recovery and breastmilk production. You can certainly make your own electrolyte drink, but I find it much easier to just add a prepackaged electrolyte packet to my water. My favorites are LMNT and Basis (use code Aubrey20 for 20% off!). I have used both of these throughout my pregnancies and postpartum. They’re dye-free and don’t use artificial sweeteners!
Calories... I know so many moms feel pressured to “bounce back” immediately after birth, but adequate calories are essential to a good milk supply. The evidence shows that moms who under-eat produce less breastmilk overall and have less caloric breastmilk. But remember, not all calories are created equal! Your body has just been through 9 months of growing a human and labor and delivery, and now breastfeeding - which takes more energy than any other stage of the pregnancy. So eating foods that provide nourishment for YOU is the best way to help your body recover and to build a healthy milk supply for your baby. Additionally, many of the key nutrients in breastmilk are affected by maternal intake. In other words, your body can’t supply what it doesn’t have; B vitamins, vitamins C, D, A, K, and E, choline, iodine, and more all require mom’s adequate intake for the milk to have sufficient amounts!
So how do you get all these needs met? I recommend building your plate around protein, veggies, and healthy fats. Think fish, nuts, seeds, chicken, meat, beans, leafy greens, eggs, dairy, avocado, coconut oil, ground flax, chia seeds... Smoothies and soups are some of the fastest, easiest ways to get everything into your diet!
Are oats, brewer’s yeast, and other “magical” lactation foods needed? Nope, but you can include them if you want! They’re not likely to do anything that other foods wouldn’t do, but just like with the Gatorade example, if you see an increase in production when including them, it most likely points to something lacking in the diet rather than the food itself being the key. Perhaps you need more carbs or more calories in general. Brewer’s yeast is rich in B vitamins, so that may be the missing piece. In any case, there are a wide variety of meal plans and foods that can support a healthy and successful breastfeeding mother/infant diet, and not any specific food that will make or break your success.
Foods to Avoid While Breastfeeding
Other than limiting alcohol and caffeine, nothing! I do recommend limiting sugary foods, trans fats, partially hydrogenated oils, as well as artificial sweeteners. None of these are good for a recovering momma, can affect mom’s and baby’s microbiome, and can alter the composition and nutrition of mom’s milk.
It is true that sometimes babies will have sensitivities to certain foods in mom’s diet, but that’s the exception, not the rule. And I never recommend cutting foods from your diet without a complete assessment by an LC and often a dietitian. You really don’t want to cut out foods unnecessarily, as this can affect your milk supply if you’re not adequately replacing the nutrients. What about foods that make YOU gassy? That has nothing to do with your baby’s gas. The gas is produced by the bacteria in YOUR gut; that won’t pass through the breastmilk to your baby.
Postpartum is hard. Nursing, especially at the beginning, can be really hard too. Know that no matter what you eat, breastmilk is still a superfood! Yes, your diet can impact how “super” it is, but even the least healthy diet provides a baby with breastmilk that is rich in antibodies, has easy-to-digest nutrients, and supports the baby’s budding microbiome. So if all you could manage today was Oreos with a glass of milk, give yourself a break, try for better nutrition tomorrow, and know that your baby is still getting some incredible stuff!
Aubrey Phelps, MS, RDN, CLC
Aubrey is a registered functional nutritionist, perinatal fitness coach, certified lactation counselor, kangaroo, and advocate for women as they make the journey into motherhood. Specializing in perinatal and pediatric nutrition, Aubrey supports women in improving their health, their cycles, and their fertility so they can have a healthy pregnancy and reduce the risk of complications and preterm delivery. She helps women thrive during postpartum as they transition into motherhood, and works with mothers who want to get their little ones off to the right start with nutrition and health, and moms struggling with the anxiety of a child who isn’t growing as expected. She is a momma to 3 earthside babies, expecting her fourth, and has 4 angels she has yet to meet. After two traumatic births, miscarriages, feeding issues, a NICU stay, PPA, a VBA2C, and more, Aubrey became even more passionate about supporting mothers in their transition into motherhood. She is the owner of Matrescence Nutrition and loves working with women and families as a part of their village.