Months ago, I posted a list of foods to have more of and foods to avoid when breastfeeding, especially in the early weeks, entitled What to Eat & What to Avoid While Breastfeeding. The list got not so much as a glance from many readers until it spread like wildfire on Pinterest recently. Suddenly, a simple list of foods which worked for my personal breastfeeding relationship was under attack. (I’ve turned off the comments now, but I encourage you to read what others had to say.) Certain sources suggest that what a mother eats has no affect on her breast milk, and my list ignited some fiery opinions from those who felt I was hindering mothers from being successful at breastfeeding.
My intention in posting the list was exactly the opposite. I know the “+/-” list helped me feel at ease in my diet choices, and made it easier to eliminate any bothersome selections. Our son had ZERO irritability, no sleep issues, no reflux problems, and slept through the night from a very early age until the present (knock on wood). One example does not make the rule, nor does it prove ANYTHING, but this blog’s purpose is not to be a medical resource, only to share experience, opinion, criticism, and conjecture.
But to say that the negative comments from readers didn’t bother me would be a lie. I took pause and reassessed why I still believe in the idea of this list, despite some strong arguments against it.
1. I believe in holistic health. I believe that all parts of the body from the uppermost portion of the brain, down through each capillary and ventricle, to the tiniest tip of the pinkie toe, are connected, related, and affect one another. If you don’t subscribe to this particular idea of how the body works, meaning, you don’t believe a headache is anything except pain in the head, or you believe that constipation isn’t anything except not being able to take a shit, and you really like the concept of popping a pill to solve your problems… you should probably stop reading now. Nothing else I have to say will make sense for you.
2. With #1 in mind, how can one say that inhaled substances (such as environmental toxins) affect breast milk, that proteins such as those in cow’s milk enter breast milk, that soy enters breastmilk, that caffeine, drugs, contraceptives and cigarettes affect breast milk, but WHAT WE EAT does not?! The studies that are often quoted in the “food doesn’t affect breastmilk” argument discuss the idea that only substances which enter the bloodstream have an affect on milk. Well, folks, just where do you think the nutrients and other properties from your food are going? Unless you believe that the intestines serve no other purpose than to connect stomach to anus, then you’ve got to understand that FOOD ENTERS THE BLOODSTREAM. (Here is a fun and easy explanation.)
3. New studies are showing that what a mother eats affects the flavor of her breast milk. Can we not conjecture, then, that this could affect the baby if he or she dislikes the taste? This particular study points to the importance of eating varied foods throughout the breastfeeding relationship (whereas my list was not intended to address later months of a child’s life).
4. Along these lines, far too little is discussed about the NUTRITIONAL VALUE of what mom is putting into her mouth. If we simply say, “What a mother eats doesn’t matter,” then we are setting up a dysfunctional situation where the proper nutrition isn’t being given to mother and child. Telling a mother that there is no relationship between her food and the quality of her breast milk implies that processed food takes precedence over any of the wholesome items placed on my “+/-” list.
5. I believe food and diet drives our overall health. The type of input begets the type of output. Put in good things and you’ll get good things; it’s a basic principle of life.
Therefore, despite the criticism, my list will remain. Maybe it will work for you, maybe it will serve as a loose reference, maybe you’ll find no value. As a true cynic myself, I’ll echo the famous words of Lavar Burton after each episode of Reading Rainbow: “But you don’t have to take my word for it!”