Links Between Breastfeeding And A Mother’s Diet

Image courtesy of Children's Bureau Centennial


As a parent, I have had two excellent role models. My mother and aunt tried to educate me when I was pregnant and once I was breastfeeding. Some of their advice seemed so out there that I couldn’t help but doubt them. It wasn’t until I defied their suggestions during my pregnancies - to my own detriment - that I learned the validity of their ideas. For starters, I learned that there are many connections between a lactating mother’s diet and the ways in which she and her baby experience breastfeeding. Here are three direct correlations that I personally experienced:

What a mother eats during her pregnancy and while breastfeeding will affect her baby in three ways.   While breastfeeding, what we eat as mothers will ‘flavor’ the milk and our babies will acquire a taste for these flavors. My children are not picky eaters. They seem to like everything I enjoy eating. The equation is simple. Everything you eat will be passed on to your children through the placenta and breastfeeding. So eat things that are good for them. You are not only passing on nutrients, but flavors as well.

Photo courtesy of Martin Cathrae

There is medical evidence to support this, as well.   A study done by Gwen Dewar, Ph.D. demonstrates the link between a mother’s food preferences and the preferences of her children. According to the study:
“Babies often like these “second hand” flavors. One experiment gave breastfeeding moms garlic pills and then measured how long their 3-month old infants suckled at the breast (Mennella and Beauchamp 1991).

Between 1.5 and 3 hours after the women had swallowed the pills, the garlic odor of their breast milk reached a peak and the babies noticed. Compared with babies whose mothers took placebo pills, the “garlic babies” spent more time attached to the breast.
So long before your baby’s first attempts to eat solid food, she has already encountered a variety of flavors.”

In the few days after delivery, I was given a lot of ‘khichree’. This is an easily digestible food made of lentils and rice cooked together in water with some turmeric and salt and pepper to taste. This food is absolutely perfect. Not only does it have the carbs from the rice, but also has protein from the lentils. Adding a spoonful of clarified butter will help keep your stool soft which is especially important post-delivery. Softer stool will decrease irritation to stitches from tearing during your delivery. Home made soups or store-bought soups with low sodium are also excellent, especially the vegetarian options because meats are harder to digest. The liquid from the soup will increase milk supply as well.

Photo courtesy of Clyde Robinson

Spicy foods are not suggested while breastfeeding. I noticed that, when I would eat something a little spicier, my baby would be crankier, perhaps gassy, stool would smell more sour than usual, and sometimes even a diaper rash on the bum would show up. Sticking to foods that are less spicy when you are of Indian descent is pretty difficult, so instead of just giving it up altogether, I gradually increased the spice level of my food to let my baby adjust. On a side note, spicy foods can also aggravate hemorrhoids, which are very common during pregnancy, so cutting back on spice might not be such a bad idea!

Like I said, there are a lot of things that I didn’t believe until I experienced them for myself. Keep in mind, every mother is different and every baby is different, and at the end of the day, a mother knows what is best for her baby. Trust yourself and your instincts.