The Golden Milk: Maximizing Nutrient Content of Breastmilk
Ever wondered what role your nutrition played on your breastmilk? Did you know that the nutrient content of breast milk can be boosted by a nutrient-dense whole foods diet?
Several factors affect the nutrients and calories in breast milk. There may be variation depending on how long the mother has been nursing the baby, the time of the day, the time elapsed since the beginning of a feed, the frequency between feedings, and also the mother's diet.1
I want to preface saying that the stressing over maintaining a "perfect" diet in order to have thriving breastfed babies is an unnecessary obstacle to breastfeeding. However, that does not mean that after delivery, we can simply toss aside the healthy diets we've adopted throughout pregnancy.
So let's dive in--
The Holistic Dietitian's Top 5 Breast milk Nutrient-Boosting Tips:
1. Hydration. Especially in the early days as your body is recovering from delivery, rebalancing fluid status, and your milk is coming in, you will have an overwhelming sense of thirst, often associated with let-downs. Often mothers will ignore these thirst signals when a water bottle is not within reach. Be sure to always keep water at your side, especially while nursing or pumping. Ensuring you have a properly filled water bottle in your hands is a great job to give to your support crew or an older sibling who wants to help. Aim for half of your body weight in ounces of clean, filtered water. This means that if you weight 150 pounds, you should strive for at least 75 ounces of water a day. Also keep in mind the fluid you're losing from the act of breastfeeding itself. Avoid caffeine as this will increase your fluid loss and can also pass through the breast milk.
2. Sufficient calories and a whole-foods, nutrient-dense diet. During pregnancy and breastfeeding is not the time to be restricting calories. Your body needs adequate calories to even manufacture the milk alone, as well as nourish your baby with sufficient calories and nutrients for optimal growth. Make sure to include nutrient-dense foods such as bone broth, cod-liver oil, organic and non-GMO fruits and vegetables. Aim for at least 5 different colors of fruits and vegetables each day to vary the vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients you are consuming. Babies are first introduced to different tastes and flavors in utero by swallowing the amniotic fluid, but the various taste from breast milk continue to enrich baby's palate.
3. Quality fats. If you eat trans fats, your breast milk will have trans fats. Contrarily, mothers who eat plenty of wild-caught fish and flaxseed oil in their diets have a higher quantity of brain-boosting omega-3 fatty acids in their breast milk.2 We want that nice creamy breast milk for optimal growth for baby. A healthy intake of fats in mom’s diet also aids in her absorption of the essential fat-soluble vitamins, which are vital for both mom's and baby's health. Nuts, seeds, full-fat dairy are great options. Also, select fats that are organic, cold pressed, and from well-raised animal sources, such as grass-fed butter, cold pressed organic coconut oil, organic flax seed oil.
4. Lacto-fermented and cultured foods and beverages. A child’s immune system is not fully developed until age two. Breast milk contains numerous bacterial strains which populate the infant’s gut to help establish a healthy immune system. When mom's gut is healthy, baby's gut will be healthy. Conversely, if mom's gut isn't healthy, then baby may be at a higher risk for developing allergies, eczema, reflux, cradle cap, etc. Choose items such as kefir, full-fat yogurt, fermented veggies and condiments.
5. Protein. Protein is necessary for production of antibodies, enzymes, hormones (along with fats), and is involved in DNA regulation. Not only does protein help with providing essential amino acids to breast milk, but will also help mom create the necessary hormones involved in breastfeeding. Look for grass-fed, pasture-raised meats, pasture-raised eggs, and wild-caught fish.
How to Determine Your Quality of Breast milk:
1. Look at your diet. Does your diet include the foods listed above? Are you generally eating a whole-foods, nourishing diet? Are you deficient in any nutrients, vitamins, minerals- which would mean your breast milk may be deficient as well?
2. Observe diapers. Stools can tell us a lot about our diets. If your baby has at least three bowel movements a day by the middle of the first week up through the sixth week, this indicates a good intake of high-quality milk, according to La Leche League International. Signs of diarrhea or constipation have several root causes, but could point to a nutritional concern.
3. Watch baby’s growth. A breastfed baby should return to birth weight by about 2 weeks of age. Growth continues at anywhere from .3 ounce to 1.5 ounce per day during the first few months of life. If your baby is falling behind on weight and height charts, the problem may be more likely quantity, not quality, so talk to your trusted health care provider or a lactation consultant about ways to increase supply.
1. Breastfeed on demand. Let the baby guide feedings, without limiting time spent at the breast. This will help baby to adjust intake in response to changes in the breast milk. Also, your body will adapt to create breast milk best suited for your baby. For instance, when your nursling is suffering from an illness, your body will manufacture antibodies specially created for your baby.
2. Avoid food allergies and sensitivities for mom and baby. By eating foods that are even mild allergies or sensitivities can cause discomforts such as reflux, irritability, cradle cap, eczema, digestive issues such as diarrhea or constipation, and can even weaken the immune system. By working with a dietitian trained as a nutritional therapy practitioner, we can work together to detect and address food intolerances.
3. Enjoy the bonding and quality time with your little one. Stress impedes our milk production and can increase the levels of cortisol in breast milk. So, take a deep breath, relax, put down that phone, and soak up the precious moments spent nursing your baby. These moments are fleeting. Just remember that you are giving your baby the most precious gift- the gift of pure, nourishing breast milk.
Milk quality and quantity is multi-faceted and is influenced by diet, the dynamic of the nursing relationship, physiological aspects, as well as hormone function. For a bio-individualized consult to help set yourself and your nursling up for optimal health, please contact me to set up an appointment.
1 Ballard, O., & Morrow, A. (n.d.). Human Milk Composition: Nutrients and Bioactive Factors. Retrieved October 11, 2015, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3586783/
2 Lawrence R and Lawrence R. Breastfeeding: A Guide for the Medical Profession, 5th ed. St. Louis: Mosby, 1999.