Have you heard that eating garlic will help a new mom increase her milk production? Or maybe you’ve been told to chow down on carrots, add fennel to salads or whip up a batch of special lactation cookies?
No doubt, there’s a lot for new moms to worry about. But galactagogue – the term for foods, herbs or supplements that supposedly aid breast milk supply or ejection – isn’t one of them. It’s just one of the myths about breastfeeding that can be busted.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), eating fresh foods and ingredients rich in vitamins and minerals is the smartest way to enrich your supply of breast milk. Plus, you’ll ensure your baby is getting the nutrition required to grow healthy, fight off infection and reap all of the medical and psychological benefits of breastfeeding.
In particular, AAP advises mothers to ensure their diets provide an the right amount of five minerals, vitamins and nutrients:
Calcium is one of the most essential minerals in your diet. Women ages 18-50 should aim to get 1,000 milligrams of calcium daily to ensure your bones will remain strong after you have weaned your baby. Three servings of dairy products offer the calcium you need; consider one 8-ounce glass of milk as one serving. Other choices include calcium-fortified juice, tofu, dark leafy greens – spinach and kale are good choices – broccoli or dried beans.
Vitamin D is just as important as calcium when it comes to maintaining bone strength. You’ll need 400-1,000 IU daily. Although exposure to sunlight is one of the best ways to absorb vitamin D, it’s also found in salmon, mackerel, fortified milk or orange juice, and yogurt.
Protein is another building block of a healthy diet while you’re breast-feeding. You’ll need 6 to 6.5 ounces of it daily, confirms the AAP, or two or three servings of lean meat, poultry or eggs. Try to include one serving of salmon, tuna or mackerel in your weekly meal plan, too. These selections are rich in DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), an omega-3 fatty acid that will contribute to the growth and development of your infant’s brain and eyes.
Iron will help you maintain your energy level. Lean cuts of meats and generous helpings of dark green leafy vegetables will supply the iron you need. Other sources include fish and iron-fortified cereals.
At least 400 micrograms of folic acid should be a mainstay for all nursing women. You can get it from spinach, citrus fruits and juices, meat or poultry liver and many kinds of beans. Plus, breads, cereal and grains in the United States are enriched with folic acid.
Although eating a varied diet is the easiest way to ensure you’re getting the nutrition you need, there are a few foods to avoid or limit while breast-feeding:
- Tea is known to interfere with iron absorption.
- Peanuts can trigger an allergic reaction, so monitor your baby’s response if you eat this nut.
- The caffeine in coffee, tea, soda and even chocolate can lead to irritability, crankiness and sleeplessness in babies.
- Citrus fruits can cause gastrointestinal upset in some infants. If you notice your baby is fussy or spits up after you eat oranges, lemons or other citrus fruits, try eating papaya or mango as vitamin C alternatives.
- You can have an occasional glass of wine while you’re breast-feeding, but moderate to heavy drinking poses health risks to your little one.
- Some mothers report no problems after eating spicy foods or garlic, while others discover these ingredients cause their babies discomfort. Introduce these types of ingredients slowly to gauge your baby’s reaction.
With over 38 years of experience in maternal/child health, Pamela Pimentel, RN, CEO of MOMS Orange County, has led MOMS Orange County in helping at-risk mothers and their families have healthy babies through the nonprofit’s services of providing access to prenatal care, health screenings, infant development screenings, health education and referral services through monthly home visits and group classes. Learn more at www.momsorangecounty.org.