Breastfeeding Myths and Truths During Postpartum Lactation

Feeding during postpartum breastfeeding is surrounded by some myths that can be detrimental to good nutrition for the baby. What are they?
Breastfeeding Myths and Truths During Postpartum Lactation

Last update: 14 July, 2023

Postpartum breastfeeding is surrounded by popular beliefs. That we can’t drink coffee, that such and such food causes harm to the baby, or that you have to drink milk to have more milk. In short, there are numerous beliefs that we’ve inherited from our ancestors. But, which ones are breastfeeding myths, and which ones are true? We invite you to find out.

Maintaining a good diet during postpartum breastfeeding is as important as during pregnancy. There are some extra calories to cover and some special nutrients to give to the baby. So, as there are many myths surrounding what to eat while breastfeeding, we’re filled with confusion and worry.

Keep reading to clear your doubts about whether or not feeding affects breastfeeding after childbirth. You’ll find first the myths and then the truths.

Myths about feeding during postpartum breastfeeding

We know that there are several beliefs surrounding the natural process of breastfeeding and that these may cause you distress, uncertainty, and stress. Which ones do you identify with?

A woman eting an apple while holding her newborn.

1. “What I eat is bad for my baby”

The belief that some foods can cause crying and discomfort to babies was published by the magazine Canadian Family Physician in 2019. Mothers felt that “something was wrong with their milk” and therefore, strict dietary restrictions had to be made.

The foods they reject the most because they fear they’ll cause behavioral changes in their baby are coffee, legumes, citrus fruits, chocolate, dairy, broccoli, cabbage, gluten, garlic, onions, and spicy food.

Another study in the journal Nutrients published in 2020 points out that, according to some mothers, cabbages, legumes, and sodas can cause infant colic by passing the gases produced by their digestion to the breast milk and from there to the baby.

At the same time, it’s also believed that cabbages and spicy food, by modifying the taste of milk, can cause rejection by the baby. Another food that’s added to the list of those restricted during breastfeeding is coffee. The belief is that if breastfeeding mothers drink it, their babies become more active and sleep less.

2. “The amount of milk produced depends on what I eat”

A frequent myth is that the mother must consume a lot of milk to produce more milk. Or that eating fruits with seeds can obstruct the ducts through which breast milk comes out.

In addition, other mothers believe that drinking beer increases milk production and quality and that the amount of milk produced in the morning is greater than in the afternoon or evening.

It’s also thought that “eating twice as much” will help with increased milk production, exceeding the caloric requirements for nursing mothers established by the Spanish Association of Pediatrics.

3. “I can’t eat raw meats or fish or fresh cheeses”

The fear of contracting foodborne illness during pregnancy is kept alive during the breastfeeding period. For example, many breastfeeding mothers refuse sushi, steak tartare, or unpasteurized dairy products, such as blue cheese, because they fear that some diseases can be passed on to the baby.

The truths that behind these breastfeeding myths

Behind every myth, there are answers with evidence that completely or partially dismantle or support the belief. Let’s read on to discover them.

1. Maternal feeding and its influence on a baby’s behavior

  • On infant colic

So far, the results of studies are divergent. Some support that some dietary restrictions during breastfeeding can reduce colic symptoms in the baby. The Journal of Maternal-fetal & Neonatal Medicine suggests that the exclusion of sweet potatoes from the maternal diet may reduce colic.

However, a meta-analysis of the Cochrane Database stresses that modifications in the mother’s diet aren’t enough for the treatment of infantile colic. Therefore, more scientific evidence is required to support or dispel this claim. In the meantime, the recommendations of your child’s pediatrician should be followed.

  • Regarding the taste of milk caused by some foods

It’s true that breast milk can modify its taste with the ingestion of certain foods, but this can be beneficial. Breast milk can modulate the baby’s future taste preferences.

We know that some aromas and flavors pass into breast milk, increasing the likelihood that the baby will accept new solid foods in the near and distant future. According to The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, babies would be more willing to eat vegetables and spicy foods as they grow up.

  • There are restrictions on coffee intake

According to the Korean Journal of Pediatrics, only a small portion (1%) of caffeine can pass into breast milk. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warn that newborns break it down at a very slow rate and tend to accumulate it.

That’s why there are safe, CDC-approved limits. It’s recommended to ingest no more than 300 milligrams per day of caffeine, which is equivalent to 2 to 3 cups of coffee. Above that, there can be problems getting the baby to sleep.

Remember that caffeine is also found in cola drinks, energy drinks, tea, guarana, and chocolate. So, pay attention to the amount of caffeine you introduce into your postpartum diet!

A cup of coffee.

2. Milk production depends on the baby’s suckling

There’s no doubt that postpartum milk production is hormonal in nature. According to Cleveland Clinic, it’s the hormone prolactin that governs the amount of milk produced.

Proper suckling of the baby stimulates the release of prolactin and oxytocin to produce muscle contractions that allow milk to come out. The amount is a function of the free demand of the baby, as long as the sucking posture is correct.

A healthy and balanced diet that includes different foods must also be maintained, in addition to good hydration.

The time of day doesn’t influence the production of milk nor does eating twice as much as required or adding more milk to your diet. Fruits with seeds or pits don’t impede production. Likewise, according to the Mayo Clinic, alcoholic beverages aren’t a good combination during breastfeeding.

According to this health organization, alcohol passes into the milk in concentrations similar to those that reach the blood. One drink a day of alcohol can change sleep patterns and affect the baby’s cognitive development.

So drinking beer to increase milk production isn’t a good idea either. Although if you feel like it, you can drink it without alcohol.

3. Yes, fresh fish, meats, and dairy products are allowed

Meats, unpasteurized dairy products, and fresh fish can be consumed during breastfeeding, as long as the supplier is certified. Although in the case of fish, fish that tend to accumulate mercury such as mackerel, swordfish, shark, or tilefish are excluded.

4. The quality of the milk depends on a good diet

The milk supply and the nutrition of the body depend on what the mother eats, even during pregnancy. Between 400 to 500 calories are required daily.

In addition, the journal Nutrients reports that there’s a direct relationship between the composition of milk fat, particularly omega-3s, with the dietary habits of the mother. Omega-3 fatty acids are associated with the visual and brain development of the baby.

Although diet wasn’t related to lactose, casein, and calorie values in breast milk, the researchers suggest that proper feeding of the mother ensures that the baby receives breast milk with nutritional quantity and quality.

Postpartum breastfeeding myths and truths

During the postpartum period. mothers should eat a diet with carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and the required fiber. This can be achieved through vegetables, fresh fruits, and whole grains.

Legumes, meats, and dairy products will supply protein. Among the fats to select are olive oil, fatty fish, chia, and flaxseeds.

Any doubts about postpartum feeding and the baby’s behavior, milk production, and the inclusion of new foods in the diet, should be consulted with health professionals. Especially with a pediatrician and nutritionist.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.