Here are some questions breastfeeding mums ask about their diet and how it affects their breast milk.

Is it true that nutrients from my diet transfer to my child when I breastfeed?

It is true. After all, breast milk is made out of a combination of proteins, fats, vitamins and carbohydrates from your body. However, the quality of breast milk generally stays the same, regardless of what you consume – or don’t.

The most important thing is for mothers to eat a balanced and nutritious diet.

What about coffee or alcohol?

There are situations when something the mother eats or drinks may affect the baby.

Coffee and alcohol in large amounts for example, are reported to affect the baby’s health.

However, moderate intake of caffeine, as well as limited intake of alcohol, should be relatively safe. The amount you consume should also take into consideration the age of your baby – the younger your baby, the less you should consume.

How much is allowed?

Caffeine: Two to three cups per day.

Alcohol: 0.5 g alcohol per kg of the mother’s total body weight.

Remember that caffeine can accumulate in your child. It is also present in chocolate, tea and carbonated drinks, so, those should count too. Effects to the baby can be further minimised by occasionally having a cup of coffee or alcohol just after breastfeeding the baby or just before the baby is due to have a lengthy sleep period of two hours or more.

What about gassy or spicy foods? Shouldn’t these be avoided?

One principle to hold on to is that you should not exclude any specific food items from your usual diet unless instructed to do so by a doctor or medical expert.

Most of the time, when a baby cries because of colic or gas, it is caused by poor breastfeeding position and/or latching techniques.

Furthermore, there is no scientific evidence to suggest gassy or spicy foods affect breast milk.

Breast milk

No, drinking dairy milk does not increase your supply of breast milk. Photo: AFP

Will avoiding yellow foods prevent jaundice in babies?

No, there is no correlation between the two. Jaundice occurs because the baby’s blood contains an excess of bilirubin.

Bilirubin is a chemical produced during the normal breakdown of old red blood cells in the liver. It is not present in breast milk.

Babies have more bilirubin because they naturally have extra red blood cells and their young livers can’t metabolise bilirubin as efficiently.

More than 60% of all newborns have jaundice, but it typically goes away soon after birth. This is because breastfeeding increases a baby’s bowel movements, which in turn, helps remove bilirubin from the body.

Eat all the bananas and sweetcorn you want, just don’t overdo it – not because it will cause jaundice, but because too much of ANY food isn’t good for general health and well-being.

How much more calories should I add to my diet while breastfeeding?

Lactating mothers have an increased daily energy need of 450-500 kcal per day, which can be met by increasing calorie intake correspondingly.

The actual amount of extra calories consumed should be in direct proportion to the amount of milk you produce. You should also continue to have a balanced and nutritiously-varied diet.

Will drinking milk increase my breast milk supply?

No, it will not. Milk supply is influenced by many things. Most importantly, it depends on the frequency of breastfeeding and how well the breast is emptied.

The hormone, prolactin, is produced every time you breastfeed and/or empty out your breast milk in order to stimulate more milk production.

Therefore, to increase breast milk supply, you can:

• Breastfeed more often.

• Feed your baby on demand.

• Breastfeed for longer periods at each feeding or until your baby is satisfied.

• Feed on one breast until it is empty, before changing to the other side.

Are there any foods that nursing mothers should avoid?

Focus on making healthy choices that are balanced, moderately portioned and full of variety.

Healthy lactating mothers do not need to avoid any particular type of food unless they suspect the item is causing fussiness, irritation or other symptoms of an allergic reaction in the baby.

If that’s the case, you can temporarily avoid the item for up to a week to see if it makes a difference to your baby’s behaviour.

If it does, consult a doctor immediately; and if it doesn’t, you can add the item back into your diet. To help doctors investigate the cause, if any, you should keep a food diary that lists everything you eat and drink, along with notes about how your baby reacts to them.

Are vegan mothers able to provide all the nutrition their babies need?

Overall, breastfeeding vegan mothers can supply the baby with all the required nutrients.

However, those on vegetarian diets that contain no animal protein may require DHA and vitamin B12 supplementation, or foods fortified with DHA or B12 (e.g. selected breakfast cereals, soy milk and soy products).

Both DHA and vitamin B12 are important nutritional components a baby needs for development, the lack of which could lead to a host of health issues, and in very rare cases, even death.

Consult your doctor, nutritionist or dietitian to find out what’s best for you and your baby.

Is there such a thing as ‘the perfect food’ for breastfeeding mums?

No, there isn’t. In fact, there is no such thing as “the perfect food” in general. Our bodies need a multitude of different nutrients from a variety of sources, in order to function optimally and stay healthy. Don’t know how to start? Don’t worry, let the Malaysian Food Pyramid guide you.

You can download the latest updated version of the pyramid and find out more about healthy nutrition for you and your whole family at the Nutrition Society Malaysia’s (NSM) website: nutriweb.org.my


This article is courtesy of the Malaysian Paediatric Association’s Positive Parenting programme in collaboration with expert partners. For further information, visit www.mypositiveparenting.org or e-mail starhealth@thestar.com.my. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only. It should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.