The ABCs of What to Eat While Breastfeeding: A Guide for Singaporean Mums
Nursing mums are always tearing their hair out about what they should or should not eat while breastfeeding. Here is some useful information on the impact of different foods on breastmilk.
Whether you’re a neophyte mum or a veteran mum of 4, the breastfeeding journey is always going to get you on Google, looking up one thing or another. And one of the most common queries that a breastfeeding mum has is what she should eat while breastfeeding.
What should I eat more of? What should I avoid? What will boost my supply? What will decrease my supply? What is harmful to my baby? What causes my baby discomfort?
There are a multitude of questions indeed. And there’s no way you can find all the answers in one read, process all of it and start making changes to your diet. So take it easy mums. Find out one step at a time, about what you should eat while breastfeeding.
For the record, there isn’t a strict dichotomy between what you should and should not eat while breastfeeding. A lot of what you hear, or find on Google has got to do with culture more than science.
To help us answer your questions, we sought advice from Tessa Webb Lyman, B.Sc., B.Ed, CBS, Lactation Consultant, a science-teacher-turned-Certified Breastfeeding Specialist.
General information about nutrition while breastfeeding
Tessa advises that a nutritious diet with a variety of healthy foods is the best way to eat while breastfeeding. Mothers need to make sure that they drink to thirst and do not in general need to feel limited in their foods.
Sometimes we overcomplicate breastfeeding and the realities of life as a new mum (it is hard enough). In most cases, we do not need to overthink these things.
Having said that, it can be true that some babies are more sensitive to certain foods in their mother’s diet than others. Among the most common culprits are cow’s milk and dairy products. If this forms a big part of what you eat while breastfeeding, you might want to pay close attention to how your baby’s digestion is faring.
Tessa has come across mothers who find that fully eliminating all dairy food from their diet does help their babies’ digestion. Do note that it takes at least several weeks for the dairy products to fully leave the mother’s system.
With this general understanding, let’s zoom in to some of the specific foods or drinks that our mums have been asking about.
A for Alcohol
Mums, we know how badly you need that glass of wine. Especially now that you’ve finally gotten through 9 months of abstinence, we can imagine the struggle to be real.
The good news is, a moderate amount of alcohol consumption in lactating mothers is not harmful to babies. Tessa says that mothers should take regular precautions and not feel that they need to absolutely eliminate alcohol from their lives for the time they are nursing. This can span over a few years for some mums.
Here is a good link for a guide on how much alcohol is safe:
If you are comfortable with it then go for it. If that occasional drink makes you feel better then go for it. But here are some things that you must consider.
- Safety of your child. Depending on your tolerance, you might want to consider having an extra hand around when you drink. If the alcohol hits you and you suddenly fall asleep, you might end up suffocating or injuring your baby. Don’t be too confident about your tolerance. Pregnancy and hormones could have drastically altered that.
- Age of your child. The younger your child, the more careful you have to be. If you are exclusively breastfeeding, and only direct latching your newborn, it might be difficult to judge when they will want their next feed. What happens if your baby needs a feed before the alcohol is out of your milk? Babies don’t generally operate like clockwork.
- Limits. You know how it is with alcohol. It all starts with one glass, than another, and another. Please remember to drink responsibly if you plan to breastfeed. Do not drink more than you should.
B for Broccoli and Brussels sprouts
Tessa’s take on this is that, similar to most normal, healthy foods that nursing mothers would like to consume, it is likely that the mother ate these foods while she was pregnant. This would have given her a baby a chance to get used to some of the flavours and sensations.
These are perfectly fine to eat while breastfeedingbut of course, in “usual” quantities. They will generally not cause any increase in gassiness. But some mothers claim otherwise. They swear they have seen proof of such foods causing gassiness in their babies!
Again, do remember that some babies are more sensitive than others. It is important to note that if mothers firmly believe that they see a certain effect in their baby when they eat a particular food and therefore wish to avoid it, it is certainly their prerogative!
Mothers always know their babies best. So play it by ear mums. Just go with the flow and figure out works best for you and your baby.
C for Caffeine
Tessa cautions that caffeine is known to reduce breast milk supply. That said, most mothers find that they can drink just one cup of coffee or tea per day and not have their overall supply affected.
You might want to note, however, that a small amount of caffeine does reach the baby and therefore some mothers find that if they cut it out, their babies sleep better during daytime naps. Other mothers find that their infants are not so sensitive and so keep their consumption to what seems reasonable in their case.
If you’re a coffee or tea addict, there are alternatives. You can opt for decaffeinated coffee, or go for Chamomile or Lavender tea. These are calming and contain no caffeine.
If the smell of coffee allures you like a moth to a flame, why not have some coffee flavoured cake instead? The caffeine content is much less and so it’s perfectly fine to eat while breastfeeding.
C for Cold
If you’re Singaporean you’re sure to have someone shrieking at you if you dare to do so much as to mention ‘cold’ during confinement. Now, don’t extend confinement limitations to breastfeeding.
Tessa reassures that can go ahead and have all the cold food and drinks that you want. Cold food is safe to eat while breastfeeding.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Perspectives:
TCM advocates believe that cooling food should be avoided during confinement as they carry a risk of harming one’s spleen and stomach and as such hampers recovery. They also caution mums that things like bamboo shoots, bananas, crabs, and oysters are not good to eat during confinement.
But don’t confuse this with breastfeeding. When your confinement is over and you get the green light, feel free to indulge in what you want. But as always, moderation is key for anything.
Cooling food such as bird’s nest, or green bean soup are also safe to eat while breastfeeding.
On the other hand, as much as our Singaporean mums love their Wanton Mee, or Mee Pok, with extra chilli, please refrain from doing so. Spicy food can cause babies to have diarrhoea.
Nursing mums should also avoid fried food as they cause heatiness. Large fish such as shark, swordfish and tilefish are also not good to eat while breastfeeding. This is because they contain high levels of mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and dioxins which may harm your baby’s growing nervous system.
C for Citrus
Tessa says that as long as you don’t overdo it, citrus fruits are fine. In some cases, however, the acidity can cause a slightly more acidic output on the baby’s side – and some mothers report a mild diaper rash. Infants with sensitive skin are more susceptible to this rash.
If citrus is part of what you eat while breastfeeding, do remember to consume it in moderation.
Tessa advises that you avoid these, in addition to caffeine, if you are looking to keep your milk supply up, or increase your supply:
- Birth control pills
- Severe weight loss diets
- Large quantities of mint, sage, and “North American” parsley
And to counteract the negatives, Tessa suggests that these foods are good to eat while breastfeeding. They are lactogenic foods, known to increase supply:
- Brewer’s yeast
- These three ingredients are commonly used in lactation cookies. Many mothers like to make and have these cookies on hand because they are delicious and work as a great snack on the go! Double thumbs up to eat while breastfeeding!
- Several kinds of mother’s milk teas – many of which feature herbs such as blessed thistle, that can also make a difference
A concluding note about what to (or not to) eat while breastfeeding
Tessa emphasises that nursing success is not just about what you eat. There are many other contributing factors. If a mother has gotten off to a good start within the first few hours of her baby’s life – and then established an abundant milk supply within the first 2 weeks through frequent emptying of the breasts, then in most cases, lactogenic foods and herbs and all the other tricks in the book are really not needed.
Mothers should not be made to feel like they have a list of things to specifically avoid or eat while breastfeeding!
And finally, if babies are gassy and seemingly have digestive troubles, good quality probiotics taken by the mother which will enter her milk or special infant probiotics given to her baby can often provide relief.
So mums, don’t think too much about what you eat while breastfeeding. Just take it as it comes (pun intended!) and most importantly, enjoy every bit of your nursing journey! We wish you all the best.
If you have further queries, or feel that you need the help of a lactation consultant, go ahead and contact Tessa at [email protected]