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Breastfeeding: still eating for two?

By The Health News Team | March 31, 2021
Breastfeeding nutrition

There are many moments an expectant mother looks forward to: smelling the top of her baby’s head, dressing them in cute outfits and feeding while relaxing in a rocking chair.

Motherhood is magical, there’s no question. But these lovely fantasies are not always reality. Babies certainly don’t smell sweet all the time, a cute outfit may last just a few minutes before a big diaper blowout and breastfeeding may be more difficult than expected.

New moms often have questions about breastfeeding their babies. From the art of latching on to the number of times you should feed a baby or just how much milk a baby should take at each feeding, questions loom large.

One of the most commonly asked is whether a breastfeeding mom’s diet affects her infant.
“The idea that certain foods in a mother’s diet cause gas in her baby is not founded in research,” says Elizabeth Estevane, advanced clinician and lactation consultant at Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns. “If certain foods were an overall problem for most babies, we would expect cultures that primarily eat certain foods would have more gassy or fussy babies, but this is just not the case.”

According to Estevane, digestive discomfort or gassiness in babies is primarily due to the baby’s immature digestive system, not mom’s diet. Most babies’ bodies will naturally handle gas more easily as they grow and increase their activity.

While individual babies might be sensitive to certain foods, just as individual adults are, there is no way of knowing which baby will be sensitive to a certain food. Babies are unique in this regard — what bothers one may not bother another.

“If mom thinks her baby is reacting to a particular food, she should eliminate that food from her diet for two to three weeks to see if baby’s symptoms improve,” says Estevane. “If baby’s symptoms do improve, then this food may be a problem for baby. And mom will know to avoid it while breastfeeding or until baby matures.”

Estevane also suggests that although there are no foods that a mother should strictly avoid while breastfeeding, there are a few considerations:

  • Proteins in some foods (such as cow’s milk protein or peanut protein) do pass into mother’s milk. If there is a family history of food allergies, you may wish to limit or eliminate the food allergens common in your family.

  • It is best to avoid eating fish known to be high in mercury. These include shark, king mackerel, tilefish and swordfish.

  • Unpasteurized soft cheeses, while not recommended during pregnancy, are safe while breastfeeding.

  • Feel free to drink coffee and other caffeinated drinks, but only in moderate amounts. The amount of caffeine that might affect a baby will vary widely depending on the baby’s individual response to caffeine, health and age — the younger the baby, the greater the effect.

“In general, my best advice to breastfeeding mothers is to eat when hungry and drink when thirsty, as much and as often as they need nourishment and fluids to maintain their own health,” says Estevane. “This is all that is needed for the mother to be able to provide the amount and quality of milk for normal infant growth.”

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