Are you super confused about what kinds of foods you can eat while you are breastfeeding? Are you looking for a food that may increase your supply? Decrease your supply? Are you concerned that something you are eating is causing problems with your baby?
You’ve come to the right place.
The short answer is, there is no one size fits all approach when it comes to breastfeeding and the foods you eat.
For most people, you can continue to eat whatever you normally enjoy in your daily diet while you are breastfeeding your baby.
Even cabbage? Spicy foods? COFFEE? - YES! Most people are able to eat their normal, varied, diet while they breastfeed their babies. There is a common misconception that enjoying certain foods will automatically contribute to a gassy, fussy, or colicky baby. But, the foods that can make YOU gassy just don’t enter breastmilk the same way. What’s more is that some of these awesome foods (garlic, anyone?) can transfer flavors and smells to your breastmilk that may keep your baby at the breast longer AND make the transition to a variety of solid foods easier!
That being said, while most people can eat their regular diet, foods can sometimes contribute to issues with your baby, and you should never feel brushed-off when you know something just isn’t right.
What if you fall into the category of not most people?
You may feel like you have been doing everything right, and your supply just is not quite enough. Or you have an oversupply that you need to tame. You may notice that your baby is not happy when you eat certain foods, or your baby may even show signs of food sensitivities or allergies.
So what can you do?
If you are concerned about milk supply:
1. Make sure the functions are working well.
Before we jump to turn your life and diet upside down to fix breastfeeding, let’s take a look at how things are working. Did you experience any breast changes during pregnancy? Are you offering enough feedings or pumping enough? Is there any pain when you nurse or pump? Are you using the right type of pump for your needs? Is your baby feeding well? Is your baby growing well? Is your baby happy? Does your baby have any symptoms related to food intolerance/allergy - these are just some of the questions we can use to get a basic understanding of your experience while you are breastfeeding. Work with your IBCLC to make sure that the function of breastfeeding is working well for you.
Everything is working well. Now what?
2. Look for an underlying cause.
Again, this is such a personalized approach for each person. For low supply, it may be that a change in your diet can help with things that may contribute to a low supply. There are many hormones involved with breastmilk production, and making sure that they are working well can resolve some issues with low milk supply in some cases. This is where foods and herbs may help.
What this does not mean, however, is that you will find a magic food or drink that can very easily fix the tough issues you are facing with low supply. And low supply does exist outside of these circumstances too.
Finding a healthcare provider who is knowledgeable in breastfeeding is a wonderful place to start when everything seems to be working well on the outside but you still have a low milk supply.
My supply seems OK, but I am concerned that my baby may have a food sensitivity/intolerance/allergy.
1. Again, it seems simple enough, but this is where I go back to first making sure that everything is working well. There are several things that on the surface may make it seem like your baby is having a reaction to food, but it isn’t really the case. If we can cross these things off the list, we can work on making sure your baby is happy and thriving on your breastmilk without having to make big changes to the way you live and eat. I have seen many mothers personally who have been told very quickly to remove dairy or change their diet, and they have an issue that has nothing to do with food that is contributing to a gassy, fussy baby. A lot of the time, these issues are very fixable.
2. Things are working well, now what? So everything is working well, but your baby is still having reactions. Common symptoms of a food issue in your baby are: rash, hives, or eczema on your baby’s skin, congestion, blood or mucus in your baby’s stool, poor weight gain, and/or a baby who is inconsolable or who cannot sleep well.
Whenever you have a concern about your baby's health, it's always a good idea to check in with your baby's healthcare provider to make sure your baby is healthy and to make sure you are on the same page.
When your baby is having a reaction to a food or foods that you are eating, most people can go along feeding as they normally do while also working to remove any offending foods from their diet. Much of the time, dairy is the big offender, so it’s easiest to start there. If dairy is the issue, many parents notice a difference in their baby within the first few days of eliminating dairy from their diets.
If you have removed all dairy from your diet (including hidden dairy) for 2-4 weeks, and your baby is still having symptoms of food intolerance, you might consider removing other foods from your diet one at a time until your baby’s symptoms improve. If you find removing the food does not improve your baby’s symptoms, you may add it back into your diet.
Soy and dairy sometimes go hand-in-hand when it comes to babies and food issues, so removing soy may be the next logical place to start. Eggs and corn are other big offenders. You may also decide to start a food journal to make it easier to pinpoint any foods that cause problems for your baby. If you feel confused or unsure, your IBCLC can support you and offer resources along the way.
My baby is definitely having food issues, and I am overwhelmed and don’t know where to start. What do I do?
1. Be patient with yourself. On the outside, changing your way of looking at foods and the way you have always eaten can be very daunting. It takes time to learn your new normal, and you have every right to grieve your original vision of simply feeding your baby.
The great news is there are so many wonderful resources now that deal specifically with dairy-free (soy-free, peanut-free, and on-and-on) diets that can make this transition a lot easier for you. Reach out to your IBCLC and to your fellow breastfeeders to see how they have navigated this change. They will guide you and support you every step of the way.
2. Know that this is not always a permanent issue. Babies who are sensitive when they are very young often outgrow these sensitivities as they age.
In short, if you ever have questions about foods that may affect your supply or cause problems in your baby, reach out to your IBCLC for guidance. It’s great to have a plan in place when you feel overwhelmed and need help.