Breastmilk Composition and Maternal Diet – by Kath Megaw

Breastfeeding establishes an intimate connection between mother and child. It’s common for nursing mothers to worry about whether their diet affects the baby. If your child is consistently fussy a few hours after you eat certain foods, you may need to modify your diet. Talk to your physician first, though. It’s important to eat a diverse diet when you are nursing, and you shouldn’t eliminate foods or food groups unless it is really necessary.


The time it takes for nutrients to infiltrate your breast milk depends on several factors including your metabolism, body chemistry, the frequency of nursing sessions and the type of food. The process can take anywhere from one to 24 hours, although the average is four to six hours.

What a mother eats may affect the taste as well as the composition of her breast milk. Generally, eating a variety of foods with a variety of flavours is beneficial and may influence a child to be a more adventurous eater. When infants are exposed to the foods first in breast milk, they tend to be more likely to want to eat the food in solid form once that is introduced. Breast-feeding mothers should primarily focus on eating a balanced diet, for the benefit of themselves and their babies.

Mothers who consume high amounts of trans fats may be passing those trans fats along to their babies in their breast milk. A study in the November 2010 issue of the “European Journal of Clinical Nutrition” reports that breast-feeding mothers who consumed more than 4.5 grams of trans fat a day doubled the chances that their infants would have high levels of body fat. Trans fat is often in margarine, fried foods and commercially baked goods. A large serving of French fries at some restaurants may contain 5 grams of trans fat.

Usually less than 1 percent of the caffeine you consume ends up in your breast milk. But the body of a newborn baby can’t easily break down the caffeine, so it may accumulate in your baby’s system. Some babies may be more sensitive to caffeine, but for the average baby, the mother should limit her caffeine consumption to fewer than 300 mg per day. A 50 g – bar of dark chocolate contains about 31 milligrams of caffeine, a cup of coffee contains 100 to 200 milligrams of caffeine,and a typical coke drink contains between 35 and 40 milligrams of caffeine.

Herbs and Spices

Go ahead and enjoy that bowl of chili or that spicy curry. Typically, such foods won’t adversely affect breast milk, though the seasonings may flavor the breast milk for up to eight hours. One study found caraway seed and licorice flavors appeared strongest in breast milk about two hours after a mom ate them, while mint peaked in milk about six hours after ingestion. The herbs in foods should be distinguished from herbs in medicinal doses, which may not be safe for nursing mothers. Consult your health care provider before taking any herbal supplement while breast-feeding.

A mothers food intake affects lactose, glucose and fructose levels in breast milk. High amounts of lactose (above 7%) is associated with feeding intolerance, explosive stools and cramps. High fructose levels in breastmilk is associated with higher body fat percent in babies at 6 and 12 months. Moms can prevent passing secondhand sugars to their children by eating and drinking less sugars while pregnant or breastfeeding.

Early life is a period of rapid development and early nutrition is strongly linked to long-term health outcomes. We know that the decision to breastfeed or bottle feed may have impacts on later health. Results from this work suggest that the composition of breast milk may be another important factor to consider in regard to your babies health.

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