Practically everyone worries that what they eat or drink when breastfeeding is going to upset the baby. The slightest change in sleep, poop, or feeding and parents are running to the pantry and reading labels. Some of the foods commonly blamed for fussy baby behaviors simply can’t exit the stomach, travel through the bloodstream, pass through the milk making cells (which have a sophisticated filtration system), and arrive at the milk. But some can. Here’s a list of common fussy baby foods and drinks and a look at the merits of that claim.
Maybe. Cow milk proteins (not lactose) can make it to the milk. Some children are sensitive, some outgrow the sensitivity, and some are allergic for life. This is commonly confused with lactose intolerance. Babies are screened for their ability to digest lactose in the first week of life, often at the hospital or birth center where they are born. This is done with a blood test. If your baby is born at home, this test is often done at the first pediatric appointment. The easy thing about cow milk protein intolerance is that it clears your milk in about a day or two.
Another maybe. Interestingly, many children who react to cow milk protein also react to soy. These have similar symptoms that can include discolored or even bloody stools. The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine recommends the parents strike these proteins from their diet and continue breastfeeding.
Some of us really love our coffee. Some babies don’t seem to notice while others do. The most common symptom of a caffeine reaction is reflux. If your baby is spitting up more than normal, check your caffeine intake over the last few hours. However, there are many babies who show no signs of excitement at all when their parents have coffee. The general recommendation is 1-2 cups daily max, and cup size does matter. That Venti (20 ounce) coffee can have about 400mg caffeine. The tiny 6 ounce dinner cups of drip coffee are around 100mg. That’s the cup size that’s recommended.
Dark chocolate that’s low in sugar can provide antioxidants and minerals, like magnesium, that are great for lactation. However, it can be a caffeine source too. If you’ve noticed your baby is sensitive to caffeine, chocolate in moderation shouldn’t be a problem. Moderation with such a tasty treat is a challenge though!
Beer won’t help you make more milk. Alcohol suppresses several of the mechanisms that make lactation possible. Most medical organizations say moderate and occasional alcohol consumption is compatible with breastfeeding. The idea that dark beer will cause you to make more milk is false. However, some of the ancient ingredients used in beers may provide nutritional support for lactating parents without the added alcohol. Herbs and greens that flavored these old brews are easy to take as a supplement instead, reducing the risk of passing alcohol to your infant.
Broccoli & Cabbage
Veggies that give adults gas do so with fiber. Fiber moves through the digestive system, into the intestines, where it is eaten by bacteria. The bacteria make the gas. Your milk isn’t picking up the fiber or the gas bubbles. Not a problem for the baby. Keeping your gut healthy with plenty of plant foods is a critical part of postpartum recovery and lactation. Plant foods support robust gut bacteria which supports great absorption of nutrients from the foods we eat. We know well nourished parents are better able to handle all the things the newborn period throws at you.
The protein that makes bread spongy and chewy is gluten. Gluten, like many proteins, can pass into your milk. Parents frequently think they have eliminated gluten from their diet only to find that their nutrition supplements have hidden gluten. Check that your postpartum supplements are gluten-free if you and your baby need a gluten-free diet.
The risks of fenugreek outweigh the benefits for most families. While this herb is traditionally used to support milk production, it can have the opposite effect for some families. Some of the risks include reflux and low blood sugar for the baby. If you’re taking a trip to an Indian buffet restaurant, you’ll likely only be exposed to culinary doses of fenugreek. A culinary dose means only enough to season food. A therapeutic dose, like what could be found in a lactation tea or supplement, is best avoided. Fenugreek can have a sweet flavor and may be added to postpartum tea blends, smoothie or nutrition shake mixes, or lactation cookies. These products pose a double whammy of overloading your body with sugar, straining your milk making capacity even more.
Onions & Garlic
Go for it. In fact, garlic seems to increase baby’s time at the breast. Babies like it! Garlic can be an addition to your regular diet to support lactation by increasing breast stimulation from your baby.
Danielle Downs Spradlin, MFA, IBCLC, CLC, BRMT, NOMAS
Danielle is the lactation consultant behind Oasis Lactation Services. She focuses on whole family wellness solutions for meeting your personal breastfeeding goals. She provides telehealth lactation support globally. Reach her at OasisLactationServices.com