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Does your diet affect breastmilk production?

Whether you’re already navigating the world of breastfeeding, or you’re yet to give birth, you may be wondering about the important role diet plays in the production of breastmilk. To help explode some of the myths, we take a look at the important things you need to know about diet and breastmilk production.

Breastfeeding mum’s have increased needs for nutrients given the extra demands breastfeeding places on the body. A good quality diet rich in fruits, vegetables and protein is recommended. The production of breastmilk increases the energy needs of the body. In fact, if you are exclusively breastfeeding, current Australian government guidelines recommend an extra 2000–2100 kJ/day be added to your daily energy requirements1.

While a perfect diet is not necessarily required for the production of breastmilk, diet can impact both the quality and, in some instances, the taste of breastmilk.

Hydration is important for breastmilk supply

You may be surprised to learn that breastmilk is 87% water. The remainder is comprised of 3.8% fat, 1% protein, and 7% lactose, with the fat and lactose respectively providing 50% and 40% of the total energy of the breastmilk2.

Breastfeeding increases the risk of dehydration in both mother and baby. As breastmilk is predominantly water, remaining well hydrated is probably the most important component to ensuring your diet is meeting your breastfeeding needs. It is recommended your fluid intake while breastfeeding be increased by approximately 750–1000 ml a day above your normal daily requirements.

Important nutrients while breastfeeding

While breastfeeding, your body is able to generally compensate for the increased nutritional needs of your baby by using nutrients more efficiently. In saying that, there are a few important nutrients a baby needs that may be affected if the mother's dietary intake is too low, such as iodine and vitamin B12.

Following birth, babies who are exclusively breastfed will get their iodine from their mother’s milk. As such, it is essential to maintain adequate iodine levels if breastfeeding. Iodine is an important mineral for healthy thyroid gland function, with thyroid hormones necessary for both brain development and the health of the nervous system. Higher iodine levels are required during lactation, with recommendations between 250 and 290 micrograms/day3. Food-based sources rich in iodine include seafood, seaweed, eggs, dairy products and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower. Iodine is also available in supplemental form if dietary intake is low. Herbs of Gold Iodine MAX.

The first 1000 days after birth are considered the most important for the developing newborn. Vitamin B12 is a critical nutrient during this time for the important role it plays in both the growth and development of the brain.

While vitamin B12 does pass through the breastmilk, exclusively breastfed babies whose mothers are vegan or vegetarian and consuming diets low in vitamin B12, are at increased risk of receiving lower amounts of vitamin B12. If dietary intake is low, consider supplementation. Herbs of Gold Sublingual B12 1000.

Your diet can affect the taste of breastmilk

Strongly flavoured foods such as garlic, chilli and onion can alter the taste of breastmilk. While some babies get used to the taste, you may find the introduction of a new food can result in your baby beginning to refuse the breast. If you find your baby is sensitive to the types of food you eat, you may need to keep your diet a little blander for the period of time while you breastfeed.

Herbs for breastmilk

Traditionally, a number of plant-derived herbal ingredients have been used to help the generation, secretion and flow of breastmilk and can be useful during breastfeeding if you find your breastmilk supply is low. Known as “galactagogues”, coming from the Greek word “galacta,” which simply means milk, Fenugreek and Blessed thistle support breastmilk production in breastfeeding women. These herbs are featured in Herbs of Gold Breastfeeding Support.

Finally, be sure to check with your health professional the suitability of any supplements you take while breastfeeding as some ingredients are not recommended for use during this time.

1. National Health and Medical Research Council (2020).  Australian Dietary Guidelines. https://www.eatforhealth.gov.au/sites/default/files/files/the_guidelines/n55a_australian_dietary_guidelines_summary_book.pdf
2. Martin, C. R., Ling, P. R., & Blackburn, G. L. (2016). Review of infant feeding: key features of breast milk and infant formula. Nutrients8(5), 279. 
3. Chittimoju, S. B., & Pearce, E. N. (2019). Iodine deficiency and supplementation in pregnancy. Clinical Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 62(2), 330-338.

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