Should I avoid certain foods while breastfeeding?
There are no nourishing foods that mothers should avoid while breastfeeding. Women all over the world breastfeed while eating a variety of very hot and spicy or fermented foods, high fiber vegetables, allergen-prone foods, and everything in between.
Your breastmilk is made in your breasts from your blood, not directly from your food. Your breasts are not a part of your digestive system. Your breasts, just like the rest of your body (brain, heart, lungs, skin…etc) need your digestive system to function in balance so that food is properly digested and nourishing compounds can flow through your blood to these organs. The only time we might be concerned about food components reaching areas outside of our digestive system that are toxic or inflammatory is when we are causing, or struggling with, a “leaky gut.”
Dr. Jack Newman, an International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant and Pediatrician, reminds us that, “compounds that would be irritating to a baby would be irritating to the mother’s breasts and nipples,” as the breast and skin around the nipple is just as delicate as a baby’s skin and digestive system. It’s good to avoid foods that are not nourishing to mom – not because specific compounds in the food are the problem, but because the foods are nutrient-poor for everyone. However, even a mother with a nutrient-poor diet should still make adequate milk for her baby. The types of milk fats will change, but primarily, breastmilk is only good, and is better than the alternatives.
What happens when a mother eats certain foods and notices digestive upsets with baby? Usually, it’s just a coincidence.
BABIES NEED THEIR MOM A LOT
A baby was not created to self-soothe. Just as baby kittens snuggle next to their mom until they’re weaned, human babies need this, too. It may be exhausting to hold and nurse your baby so much, but it is necessary. Likewise, crying causes baby to swallow a lot of air which can really cause an upset tummy.
LATCH AFFECTS BABY’S DIGESTION
Usually, a less-than-ideal latch is the root cause of burps, fussiness, spit-up, tummy aches, colic, and acid-reflux. This is usually as simple as calming and repositioning baby to get more skin-to-skin and efficient milk transfer. However, many babies need regular soft tissue therapy for oral restrictions and may need tongue and lip tie revisions (from someone that can do a full revision). This also means getting rid of pacifiers which change how babies nurse and breathe. Then, nurse on-cue without time restrictions while watching to see if baby adequately swallows milk the whole time they are at the breast.
LEAKY GUT AND BACTERIA AT BIRTH AFFECT BABY’S DIGESTION
Although more rarely, a baby can have digestive upsets, but this is not usually specific to breastfeeding. Babies get colonized with microbiota at conception, which affects their development. More significantly, babies are
colonized with thousands of microbiota at birth. Whatever bacteria, fungi, or virus mom carries in her vagina and on her skin will colonize the baby. This also means any other person or thing touching the baby will also colonize the baby with the microbiome that is on that person or thing.
The microbiome that colonizes a baby at birth creates their immune and digestive system for life. Babies born by vaginal births in their home are colonized with completely different microbiota than babies born anywhere else. Likewise, if mom has a “leaky gut,” toxins will enter her bloodstream and may reach breastmilk – a situation which is not because of the specific food, rather, it is because of mom and/or baby’s leaky gut.
Because babies breastfeed so often, and mothers eat so closely to these nursing times, it’s easy to think a baby’s fussiness is from mom’s food. However, if you stop and think about how much lifestyle affects well-being, you’ll start to see how there are many more aspects of the day that influence a baby.
A baby is easily overstimulated by touch and smells different than from their own mom or own home. Visitors holding the baby, hunger and pacifiers (instead of nursing), growth and developmental changes, body tightness, or trying to learn how to communicate their needs take a lot of energy and can be exhausting and frustrating for a baby. These all have a direct impact on how a baby’s digestive system functions.