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Why you should eat what you want when breastfeeding

Eat what you want when breastfeeding

As a pediatrician, I get a LOT of questions about feeding.  As a whole, we tend to have a lot of anxiety wrapped up in feeding our kiddos.  And with breastfeeding, it’s often even worse.  After all, it’s not like we can ever really be sure exactly how much our nursing babies are actually getting when they nurse.

So we worry about everything.  Are they getting enough milk?  Why is the poop green?  Is it something I ate?  Wait, they’re gassy… did something I eat make their tummy hurt? (sound familiar?) But you’re in luck.  Because ALMOST NEVER is your baby’s fussiness something you did wrong.  Remember crying is their only real voice in the beginning.  So they may fuss because they’re hungry.  Or wet.  Or dirty.  Sleepy.  Too hot.  Or too cold.  Maybe they want to be picked up.  Or put down.

You will hear from anyone and everyone that you should watch what you’re eating to help a baby with their gas problems.  But the truth is, you can usually eat what you want.

Breast milk comes from breast tissue

Since breast milk is produced on demand directly in the breast tissue, it doesn’t have direct contact with what you eat.  Boobs are milk production units, not milk storage units.  Your breast tissue pulls liquid and nutrients directly from your body and converts it to milk in the actual breast tissue.  And your breasts actually get first dibs on those beautiful nutrients floating around in your bloodstream.  So whether you’re eating well or skimping on meals, your milk is going to have about 20 calories/oz regardless.  It’s nature’s way of protecting the next generation.

This is pretty cool for your baby but can be not so awesome for you. Because your body will often sacrifice itself to make sure the baby gets what they need.  A lot of women get out of the habit of eating well and taking their prenatal vitamins once their baby is born.  But keep taking those vitamins to keep YOU strong and healthy.

Your body filters through what you eat before it goes into the breast milk

Unlike when you were pregnant and everything you ate or drank had a direct line to your baby, there is NOT a direct path when breastfeeding.  So you can have that cup of coffee without worrying that your baby will get the full effect of caffeine.  And a glass of wine with dinner is not going to make your breastfeeding baby drunk.  Of course every baby is different.  So if you’re worried, have that cup of coffee right after your baby nurses.  You can check out an article from the AAP on what affects the content of your milk here.

Foods that make you gassy usually don’t bother your baby

Because there is not a direct path from your gut to your breasts, most of the foods that can cause gas in mom will not generally affect the baby.  So in most cases, there is no reason to avoid broccoli, onion, cabbage, beans, and other “gas producers” in your diet.  Is it possible for a baby to seem to be sensitive to the foods mom eats?  YES.  However, it can happen with any food and is not more likely to happen with the “gassy” ones.  We grown ups get gassy with certain foods because of how our bodies break down the food in our own GI tracts.  But by the time that food is absorbed to the bloodstream, that affect is gone.  Only the nutrients, NOT the gas, is absorbed by your blood.

There is no magic list of foods to avoid when nursing a baby.  If you love sushi, go for it.  Spicy food?  Yes!  Just keep your eyes open.  If every single time you have a chocolate bar your baby seems fussy, lay off on the chocolate for a bit.  And try again in a couple of months.  For most babies, foods that seem to irritate them early on are totally fine a short bit later.  There is a fantastic wealth of breastfeeding resources on KellyMom.  If you’re concerned with your diet, you can start with this post on Can a nursing mother eat this food?.

What should you look for that needs more workup?

Although in most cases you can eat whatever you want when breastfeeding, there are times that your baby may develop a more significant issues.  The most common of this is in milk protein sensitivities.  In cow milk protein sensitivity, the baby has actual irritation of their gut.  If your baby has a milk protein allergy, they often have fussiness that persists throughout the day and some will have blood or mucous in their stools.  If your baby is fussy ALL the time or is having stool changes such as blood or mucous in their stools, they need to be checked out.  And bring the last couple of poopy diapers with you.  I know it’s gross, but we can test to see if there is even a tiny bit of blood.  If your baby has been diagnosed with a milk protein allergy, you can read more about it here.

Final thoughts

Remember that lots of different things cause fussy babies.  And usually it’s not you!  Do your best to take care of you. Your baby will benefit.  For more information for getting sleep when breastfeeding, you can check out my post Afraid You Will Never Sleep Again?  And if you’re just getting started or planning on starting your breastfeeding journey soon, you can read How to Make Your Life Easier When Planning to Breastfeed.


Posted in General, Infants and Toddlers, Newborn and Postpartum

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