Breastfeeding is a beautiful way to nourish your baby, but it can also be challenging and overwhelming. Not to mention, conflicting information abounds around what to eat and what to avoid while breastfeeding, and it’s easy to fall prey to nutrition myths that do more harm than good.

As a mother, it’s only natural that you want to give your baby the best possible nutrition, but navigating confusing advice can be frustrating—especially when you’re sleep-deprived. We’re breaking down the most common breastfeeding nutrition myths and providing you with the facts to make informed choices about what to eat when breastfeeding—both to support your baby’s growth and your own postpartum health.

7 myths on breastfeeding nutrition, busted

We consulted with Krista Maas de Villiers, founder of Nunona, a whole-food, plant-based maternal nutrition company, and dietitian Louise Gottsche, RD, MSc, PhD-C, to help dispel the myths around breastfeeding nutrition—and get you the facts on feeding yourself while feeding a baby.

Myth 1: You should stop taking your prenatal as soon as your baby is born

In an ideal world, we’d all get our nutrients directly from food, but in reality, that can be difficult. To cover any gaps, it’s important to still keep taking your prenatal in the postpartum period and during lactation. “Think of [taking your prenatal] as an insurance policy for your nutrition, not a replacement for a healthy diet,” notes Maas de Villiers, “As the synthetic supplements in pills are not as well absorbed as nutrients that come directly from whole foods.”

Be sure to check whether your prenatal vitamin contains 200 to 300 mg of DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid that passes through breast milk and helps with babies’ brain and visual development.

Food sources of DHA include fatty fish like salmon and sardines and nuts and seeds like walnuts, chia and flaxseed.

Related: I’m a nutritionist and these are my favorite prenatal vitamins to recommend

Myth 2: You don’t need extra calories when breastfeeding

False! You need more calories to support lactation than in the third trimester of pregnancy—as many as an additional 500 calories per day. “With a new baby in the house, some parents struggle to consume enough energy,” shares Gottsche. “If this is the case, aim for nutrient dense snacks such as nuts and seeds. It may also help to have snacks that you can eat with one hand nearby so that you can eat on-the-go.”

Myth 3: Lactation cookies can help increase your milk supply

While some breastfeeding folks swear by lactation cookies to help increase their milk supply, there’s no real research proving their effects. “The only evidence-based way you can increase breast milk volume is to feed or pump more frequently, as well as manage your stress levels, as stress may also affect breast milk volume,” says Gottsche. Though many lactation cookies proclaim that they contain galactagogues used to increase milk production, in many recipes, the primary ingredient is oats—a good source of fiber and nutrients on their own, aside from any purported lactation powers.

Related: 6 easy postpartum yoga poses for birth recovery

Myth 4: You must have a perfect diet while breastfeeding for optimal milk production

While your diet doesn’t have to be all red lentils and green juice, what you eat does impact the profile or quality of the breast milk you produce, shares Gottsche. This is most important if you’re omitting any key food groups, like dairy or meat. “Any nutrient deficiency will be carried forward via lactation. It is impossible for a nursing mom to transfer nutrients via breast milk she does not have.” To optimize your breast milk profile, both make sure you’re getting sufficient calories each day and then aim to include omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, as well as the minerals iodine, iron and zinc. (Here’s where taking a prenatal or postnatal vitamin can help, too.) Talk to your child’s pediatrician about supplementing vitamin D and/or iron in your breastfed infant, which may be necessary.

Myth 5: Staying extra hydrated will help boost your milk supply

“Contrary to popular belief, water or fluid intake is not directly related to breast milk production,” Gottsche says. “However, it is important that lactating mothers consume enough fluid to stay hydrated. Mild dehydration may cause fatigue, headaches and may affect cognition.” Aim to drink to thirst, or remind yourself to drink water every time you feed your infant as a good general guideline.

Related: Should I nurse my baby to sleep? It depends, a sleep consultant says

Myth 6: You can’t drink coffee or alcohol when breastfeeding

It’s (thankfully) a myth that you have to skip your morning cuppa or an evening glass of wine just because you’re breastfeeding, but moderation is key—and there are smart ways to space out your coffee and alcohol intake so as to avoid passing on any traces to your infant. While a small amount of caffeine may be fine for some babies, for others, it could cause issues, like fussiness. Most infants are better able to metabolize caffeine around 6 months of age, but to minimize any side effects, aim to limit caffeine intake to around 300 mg per day (a 12-ounce tall Starbucks coffee has 375 mg caffeine).

For alcohol, most experts recommend against drinking more than one to two drinks per week, but that moms can return to breastfeeding as soon as they feel “neurologically normal,” KellyMom states. The best method to avoid passing on any traces in your milk is to have one glass of wine or beer at least two hours before your next feeding session. No need to pump and dump, unless you’re feeling uncomfortable. (And yes, it’s a myth that drinking beer helps with breast milk production!)

Related: 11 best breastmilk cooler bags that will keep your breastmilk fresh and cold for hours

Myth 7: Avoid spicy foods or cruciferous veggies when breastfeeding to avoid gassiness in your baby

You might have heard of the need to avoid spicy foods, broccoli or cabbage when breastfeeding to avoid causing gas in your baby, but that’s a big misconception. Strong flavors can change the smell and taste of your breast milk, but won’t make infants more fussy. “Consumption of a variety of foods will result in a variety of flavors found in your breast milk, which may ease  weaning to solid foods and prevent picky eating,” notes Gottsche.

Of course, some foods may cause reactions in infants, but there’s no list of foods or food groups that all breastfeeding mothers need to avoid, adds Gottsche. If you’re concerned that your infant is having a reaction to something you’re eating, speak with your pediatrician about the benefits of a potential elimination diet.

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Source(s)

1    Mun JG, Legette LL, Ikonte CJ, Mitmesser SH. Choline and DHA in Maternal and Infant Nutrition: Synergistic Implications in Brain and Eye Health. Nutrients. 2019;11(5):1125. Published 2019 May 21. doi:10.3390/nu11051125

2    Kominiarek MA, Rajan P. Nutrition Recommendations in Pregnancy and Lactation. Med Clin North Am. 2016;100(6):1199-1215. doi:10.1016/j.mcna.2016.06.004

3    Mohd Shukri NH, Wells JCK, Fewtrell M. The effectiveness of interventions using relaxation therapy to improve breastfeeding outcomes: A systematic review. Matern Child Nutr. 2018;14(2):e12563. doi:10.1111/mcn.12563

4    Erick. M. 2018. Breast milk is conditionally perfect. Med Hypotheses. 111:82-89. doi:10.1016/j.mehy.2017.12.020

5    Jeong G, Park SW, Lee YK, Ko SY, Shin SM. Maternal food restrictions during breastfeeding. Korean J Pediatr. 2017;60(3):70-76. doi:10.3345/kjp.2017.60.3.70

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