Welcome to the final part in this extremely popular series of questions and answers on Postnatal Nutrition with Esther Street. Here, Esther reveals vital insights into how to optimise breastfeeding. Her honest and practical, yet current and well researched content has been a great help to many of our readers.
Are there any foods you would recommend that can aid breastfeeding? Is there anything nutritionally that mums can do to boost their milk supply?
This is a huge topic and there have been some excellent books written about nutrition and breast feeding. For those of you who are particularly interested I would recommend “Mother Food” by Hilary Jacobson for just about everything there is to know. For the rest of you, here are a few things to include in your diet to help you:
• Phytoestrogens – are thought to boost lactation by stimulating the growth of milk-glands in the breast. Oats, millet, barley, rice, chickpeas, peas, lentils, green beans and quinoa are all rich in phytoestrogens. Soaking or sprouting the grains makes them more digestible, I often soak my muesli or oats overnight.
• Saponins – can influence the body’s ability to make lactation hormones. Foods rich in saponins include oats, asparagus, chickpeas and potatoes with the skin on.
• Serotonin – helps your body to relax and feel good which is essential for lactation. Your body makes serotonin from tryptophan. Great sources of tryptophan are almonds, cashews, pecans, sesame and flax seeds.
• Natural sedatives – certain foods have a sedating effect which increases prolactin in your body increasing the production of breast milk. Good foods to eat are lettuce, onion, fennel and potato.
• Oils and fats – are essential for quality and quantity of breast milk. Good oils are cold-pressed nut and seed oils (keep them in the fridge), butter, coconut oil and olive oil. Some people say that taking 3-4tbsp of coconut oil per day and supplementing vitamin D boosts milk supply. Worth a try?
There are a few things to be aware of which can reduce milk production:
• Dieting and calorie restriction – can reduce the quantity and nutritional content of a mother’s milk. Sudden weight loss may also cause toxins to be released into the breast-milk. Breastfeeding on the other hand can help to get rid of fat deposits in your body.
• Caffeine – foods such as chocolate, tea and coffee may reduce milk supply by inhibiting the let-down reflex and causing the constriction of capillaries in the breast.
• Herbs – parsley, rosemary, peppermint, thyme, spearmint and lemon balm may reduce the supply of breast-milk.
• Vitamin C – excessive amounts of vitamin C either as supplements or eating lots of citrus fruits may reduce milk supply
• Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) – over 200mg a day may reduce milk supply.
• Bananas, apples and avocados – while they are great foods to eat in moderation, if eaten in excess they may inhibit milk production in some women.
• Aspartame – a common sweetener often found in soft drinks, chewing gum, ‘low sugar’ foods and chewable supplements may reduce milk supply
• Over-hydration – while mothers are encouraged to drink plenty while breastfeeding since you do need slightly more hydration, drinking too much may actually reduce your milk supply. The key is to drink when you are thirsty and stop when your thirst is quenched. For the same reasons, mothers who have an IV drip during labour can have initial challenges with breastfeeding. If this is the case, see a breastfeeding counsellor for help.
It is vital to eat a varied diet of natural organic foods, this will increase the quality of your breast-milk which will help your baby and help your body too. It is a breastfeeding myth that you need to drink milk to make milk. Cows fed a diet of grass, dandelions and nettles produce rich and creamy milk. While I’m not in any way saying that we are cows, this does underline the importance of fresh food! As well as eating healthily, a study has also shown that women who exercised regularly had an increased supply of breast-milk. What a great reason to get out for a walk with your baby!
I hope these tips have inspired you to eat well, get fit and recover well. Healthy living is not about diets but about positive changes to the way you eat which will set a great example to your children as they grow. Every summer my children and I choose different fresh fruits and vegetables and learn together how to cook and eat them. Enjoy trying new foods and most of all have fun!
Esther Street is a nutritional therapist who works both in the UK and internationally. She lives in England with her husband and two kids who are just as excited about delicious, healthy food as she is.
This article is not intended as medical advice, just some notes from my personal experience of having babies myself and helping others who have had babies. The advice is not intended to replace advice from your doctor so please contact your healthcare provider with specific questions or issues.