Eating Right for Breastfeeding

Category: Birth & Beyond

If you’re breastfeeding your baby, what you eat matters as what you decide to add to your menu affects your baby. Here’s what you need to know.


Breast milk contains carbohydrates, proteins, fats and vitamins, minerals and trace elements – each offering numerous health benefits for the baby. These are components that can be directly obtained from a mother’s diet. Tan Ooh Chye, a TCM practitioner at Ga’tem TCM Enterprise, says most women would have no problems with milk supply and quality with a regular, balanced diet.
There are three stages of breast milk: colostrum, transitional milk and mature milk. The appearance and composition of breast milk change with the stages of lactation. In particular, fat content is higher in mature milk and increases over the duration of breastfeeding. Wong Boh Boi, a senior lactation consultant at Thomson Medical Centre says that if the mother does not take in enough fat, it can be lost from her breasts. She advises nursing mothers to consume unsaturated fats.
As 88 per cent of breast milk is water, it is essential for the production of ample breast milk. The amount to drink increases with your baby’s demand for breast milk. Willis Jap of Mummamia Confinement says new mothers need at least two to four litres of fluid daily to support breastfeeding. Soups and juices count too. However, Wong cautions against water intoxication – whereby drinking too much water causes too much sodium to be flushed out of the body. There is also some evidence that oxytocin, which controls the let-down reflex, stimulates thirst.

Food to Increase Milk Production
Galactogogues is a substance which promotes milk production. It can come from synthetic sources in the form of medications or from natural sources like milk thistle and fenugreek. When planning to use galactagogues, it is generally advisable that women turn to natural sources first. Here are some foods that the practitioners recommend:
cowherb seed    
rice paper plant (TongCao)    
pig trotter peanut soup    
papaya fish soup    
chicken soup    
sea cucumber    

Tan explains that a new mother may not produce sufficient milk if she is weak in blood and ‘Qi’ or when her liver ‘Qi’ is stagnant (usually caused by depression or anxiety). Jap explains that in TCM, anxiety, fear and depression are associated with kidney and liver function, which lactogenesis depends largely on.

Watch What You Eat
While you may now know what foods help increase your milk supply, there are also some that you need to be careful with.

Certain herbs, when taken inadequately, suppress milk production. Parsley, sage, peppermint and angelica have this effect when taken in large amounts. On the other hand, cooking methods can also undermine the nutritional benefits of food. For instance, Wong says deep-frying ginger produces toxins that can be passed to breast milk and make a baby’s jaundice worse.

Alcohol is commonly added to confinement dishes to promote blood circulation. However, it should not be drunk as it is as it can be ingested by the baby via breast milk. Wong adds that “a glass of wine can disrupt lactation hormones”. Experts Motherhood spoke to say alcohol has to be heated to disperse the spirit content before consumption.

The HPB recommends a maximum caffeine intake of 200mg a day. While it does not affect the nutritional value and production of breast milk, it may cause restlessness when the baby ingests it via breast milk.

Tan highlights a list of food that nursing mothers should avoid or consume in moderation:

  • foods that are cold in nature like melons and kiwi fruits    
  • spicy food    
  • onions and garlics    
  • food that is too oily and deep-fried    
  • preserved foods that are often high in sugar and other artificial additives     
  • chocolate (excess theobromine from cocoa may be passed on to the baby)    
  • highly acidic (citrus) fruits that may cause diarrhoea in the baby
  • leeks, hot pepper, eggplant, lotus roots, fungus, bamboo shoot, and mushrooms (they reduce milk production.)

What you have taken note of when you ate for your pregnancy is still relevant when you breastfeed. Be very mindful of food hygiene as harmful bacteria can be passed to breast milk. Food poisoning can also diminish your ability to breastfeed. The HPB also advises against eating large fish like tuna, swordfish and shark “as they contain higher levels of mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and dioxins, which may harm your growing baby’s nervous system”. Wong suggests that mothers who want to drink cold drinks should do so after breastfeeding as cold food triggers the constriction of blood vessels and lowers milk secretion.
Women should ideally be well nourished throughout their pregnancies so that they are in a better state of health to be nourished and nourish their baby. Nevertheless, following dietary guidelines after delivery will also ensure optimal breast milk production.

Thanks for sharing!