Birth Health Life


Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Question. I'm Breastfeeding, the food I'm eating affecting my baby? Answer. Very probably not.

Free stock photo of food, person, hands, woman

After nine months of avoiding soft cheeses, rare steaks, chorizo, sushi, a glass of wine or a beer with your dinner,
getting back to eating what you want is one of the lovely things to look forward to when your baby is in your arms rather than in your belly!  If you feel like eating lots of the foods you enjoy and which make you feel good, then be reassured that those nutrients will go a long way to helping you recover from birth, especially if you had a Caesarean section or stitches.  Your body will use calories and proteins to mend itself.  And familiar, loved food is a wonderful comfort, something warming, nurturing and familiar when you're all at sea in the early, tiring days of getting used to being a mum.

Free stock photo of hands, love, woman, feet

If you've planned ahead, maybe you have some favourites frozen ready for those times when it gets to three in the afternoon and you still haven't got out of your dressing gown or managed to have breakfast or clean your teeth.  Maybe you have a partner who will cook for you, or a mum, dad, sister, brother, doula, friend, who will leave a shepherd's pie or veggie stew on the doorstep. Or maybe you sent everyone links to an online calendar like Mealtrain or Care Calendar or Take them a Meal so that your friends and family can do something practical and wonderful for you for the weeks following your baby's birth. But can you really eat anything you want now that your body is making the food for this tiny new human?

You want to tuck into fried onions or cauliflower cheese...but your baby is windy, gassy, fussy. She pulls weird faces, goes red and draws her legs up to her chest.  She doesn't settle when you put her down after a feed.  She farts, burps, spits up. Is it the food you're eating?

Very probably not. Babies do things like pulling faces, going red, drawing their legs up to their chest...its what they would have done inside you. Unless this behaviour is accompanied by a high pitched cry, which signals extreme discomfort and pain, you can be assured that it's just normal baby stuff.  Babies guts produce wind when they digest milk, just like ours do, and this gas is expelled out from one end of the gut or the other, sometimes accompanied by some spit up.

Sometimes excess air gets taken in at the breast if the latch is not so deep. Usually the reason for a not so effective latch is positioning of the baby needing some small adjustment. Go along to a drop in clinic near you that has some knowledgeable support from breastfeeding peer supporters, infant feeding advisors, IBCLC's and breastfeeding counsellors can help, and the four national breastfeeding helplines linked at the end of this post will help you find help local to you.

Sometimes babies get extra gassy and their poo turns green and frothy if they're getting an excess of the high volume, sugary milk from the beginning of the feed, and not getting to the lower volume, higher fat content milk towards the end.  Maybe you have a lot of milk, or maybe you're taking your baby off the breast after a set time or to offer the second breast, rather than waiting until she finishes the breast herself, and comes off looking milk drunk. Air can be gulped in when babies cry, or if they're coping with a fast let down reflex.

Babies usually go through unsettled periods at the same time each day, often in the evening when they are feeling overtired and overstimulated. Kelly Mom has lots of suggestions for soothing fussy babies.

Sometimes babies cry for no particular discernible reason...and that's hard, because you want to make your baby happy, you want to understand his needs and provide whatever it is he wants.You can feel a hormonal reaction in yourself to your baby's's quite normal to feel really upset by your baby crying...
Sometimes there isn't an answer, other than holding her, comforting her, offering her the comfort of your skin and breast.
I often recommend Deborah Jackson's book to parents whose baby cries a lot. The book is supportive of responsive attachment parenting so there's nothing about sleep training or crying it out. A really supportive book which gives you useful coping mechanisms to deal with this phase in your baby's life.

Along with the common fear that she won't be able to make enough milk, one of the most common questions and concerns raised by the mums I see in community drop in clinics, concerns the affect their diet can have on the quality of their milk and the well being of their babies. This, and an article by an alternative healthcare practitioner, lead to this blog post.  In the article, the practitioner mentioned

"seeing many clients, and among them, breastfeeding mothers, whose diets were the worst of all clients, when they really needed to be eating very well at this time, in order to be able to make enough good milk for their babies."

Groan. Where's your evidence for that? Ah right, there isn't any. How does this 'information' support breastfeeding?  It doesn't. It just adds another layer of guilt, and pressure, and the feeling that breastfeeding is too onerous, and the burden of having to watch what you eat after 9 months of doing that already, too great. And what of the many mums who have and are battling eating disorders? How likely are they to continue breastfeeding if they believe that their milk is substandard?

 I mean, lets face it, a lot of us could do with a diet overhaul couldn't we? But of all members of our community, and that practitioner's client list, mothers of young babies were being singled out for their poor diets. The very people who are the busiest, most sleep deprived, and in my experience, who often worry the most and doubt themselves the most. The very people who could do with ticking that worry off the list, rather than having another burden added.

If you want a maccy D and a beer to wash it down with, go ahead, you've bloody earned it, and you can feed on, with no guilt.

Often when a baby is difficult to settle (some babies don't do 'settling' unless they're very close to you, being carried or worn) windy, cluster feeding, a family friend or well-meaning alternative practitioner will talk about 'colic' and when the usual remedies for that have all been tried, the next suggestion is often a food allergy or sensitivity.  I regularly see mums at their wits end, worrying about their babies and struggling with cutting out dairy and gluten, onions, garlic, spices, broccoli and heaven knows what else from their own diets in a desperate bid to 'cure' their baby of behaviour that is often just normal baby behaviour, or a reaction to a specific breastfeeding issue.

Free stock photo of food, dessert, sweets, close-up

I always welcome the chance to chat about this subject with mums because it can be a minefield of deep-rooted misconceptions about breastfeeding, which easily become barriers to breastfeeding.

Most people who don't know very much about breastfeeding will automatically assume that a mother's diet will of course always directly affect the content and flavour of her baby's milk.  The idea that foods that cause wind in the mum, like cabbage, beans, fizzy drinks, will cause the baby to be gassy, has no basis in fact, but is still one of the most common myths out there. But if you think about it logically for a moment, there's no physiological way that gassiness in the mother can be passed to the baby, via her milk. Milk is synthesised from blood, not directly from stomach contents. Some of the nutrients used by her body to make the milk are taken from stores laid down during pregnancy (1)  This is part of the reason that, even in famine conditions, mothers with good body stores still make near perfect milk for their babies (2)

Babies first encounter the flavours of their mother's foods in utero, through the amniotic fluid, so there won't be many surprises for babies when those same comforting flavours come through in her milk...

Free stock photo of food, plate, healthy, vegetables one study, mothers swallowed concentrated capsules of garlic extract and their milk smelled strongly of garlic. Babies fed on this garlic milk actually drank more milk than usual, with no resulting fussiness. (Mennella and Beauchamp 1991)

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In the first 12 months, a small percentage, around 5%, of babies will react to something in their mother's diet.  Cows milk is the most common cause, followed by other protein foods (3)  Interestingly, a study found that of  the babies who reacted to cows milk, all had been given infant formula in their first days of life. The younger the baby is when they first encounter cows milk, the more likely they will be sensitized to allergy. In the rare case that a baby is reacting to food eaten by mum, reactions to hypersensitivity, intolerance and allergy to food include skin rashes, vomiting, diarrhoea,, mucus and blood in the stools, congestion, runny nose, wheezing, crying during and after feeds, and difficulty getting off to sleep and staying asleep. Often there is a family history of allergy when babies have this kind of reaction.  So reactions to foods when they do happen, can be quite marked, and noticeable symptoms rather than just general fussiness. There are some other foods and dietary habits that have been found to have an affect on breastfeeding...

Free stock photo of food, dawn, caffeine, coffee

More than about 5 cups of coffee per day, or the equivalent caffeine taken in teas, cold remedies, diuretics, and soft drinks, may cause irritation and sleep disturbance in some young babies.Babies get about 1.5% of the maternal dose of caffeine from coffee (Berlin, Denson, Daniel and Ward 1984)but it takes a long while to clear a young baby's system. Some cold remedies which are designed to dry up secretions, can also dry up the secretion of milk,
Tea in Cup

Teas brewed from certain herbs directly (not the supermarket /big brand tea bag herbal teas) may affect milk production if they are taken in high enough quantities. Peppermint, sage and parsley can lower milk production. (4) If you suspect this is happening, just brew it for a shorter time, and alternate with a fruit tea or different herb.

Vegan mums or those on macrobiotic diets will need vitamin B12 supplements to ensure that their babies don't suffer from deficiency in this vitamin. Women who have had gastric bypass surgery are also sometimes recommended vitamin and mineral supplements, although the research in this area is still sparse.

Around 1 in 250 women in the UK will have suffered anorexia nervosa at sometime during their lives, with bulimia being 2 or 3 times more common. A Study looking at outcomes for mothers who have suffered with anorexia nervosa found more preterm births in those mothers, but that their ability to breastfeed appears to be unaffected.
Breastfeeding may help mothers with eating disorders, and the feeling of pride in their body's ability to nourish their baby can inject positivity into their body image.

Women  may doubt their ability to breastfeed whilst being undernourished, but until the body has used up its store of nutrients, her milk will remain unaffected. If you feel at risk of vitamin deficiencies in yourself, this can be corrected with vitamin and mineral supplementation under the guidance of doctor or dietitian.  Despite that long list of nutrients found on the back of the tub of artificial milk, the composition of human milk is still far more comprehensive and complex than artificial milk, and it is still far better to give you supplements and for you to continue breastfeeding, than to supplement your baby. If you have been looking at artificial milk and wondering about the quality of your own milk, remind yourself of the components of both here

 So in light of the information, what do you think? Is your baby having a reaction to something in your diet? Have you spoken to a breastfeeding counsellor, or had a knowledgeable person look at your latch, observe a feed and hear about your routine?  This kind of support is really valuable if you find yourself wondering about your diet and your baby's fussiness. Even if what you come away with is the acceptance that a baby who is well, well latched and gaining weight may just be fussy and sensitive at certain times of day and that's fine.

It is interesting to note that even when a baby is receiving other foods or non-human milks as well as breastmilk, mothers will often still assume that it's something she herself ate that has come out in her milk and is causing the problem. I learned breastfeeding support from a wise and sensitive IBCLC, who would often say to mothers, 'Its not an exact science' and I think that is a much under used phrase.  We are so used to demanding answers and dealing in absolutes.  If you feel that your baby is reacting to your diet, eliminating no more than one or two foods at a time can make it easier to pin point a cause, and getting the support and guidance from a professional such as a dietitian can help you to further investigate.

These helplines are available if you need to speak to a breastfeeding counsellor in the UK:

ABM 0300 330 5453
NBFH 0300 100 0212 
NCT  0300 3300 771
LLL 0845 120 2918

  1. Hopkinson (2007)
  2. Smith (1947)
  3. Kvenshagen, Halvorsen, & Jacobsen (2008)
  4. Humphrey (2003)
  5. Breastfeeding Answers Made Simple ~ Nancy Mohrbacher (2010)
  6. Mennella and Beauchamp (1991)
  7. Berlin, Denson, Daniel and Ward (1984)
This blog post is not sponsored. It contains an affiliate link which means that the blogger receives a small percentage of any purchase made. It does not mean that you pay more, and it helps me to keep on blogging. All views and recommendations are my own and genuine.

Have you had experience of any of the above? what did you do and how is everything working out? Let me know in the comments below:



  1. You want to drink lots of milk and eat bananas to keep the baby strong and don't forget to take your pre-natal pills. Never say your eating for two just eat enough to satisfy you. Check out:Sunshining


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