In Ireland, tea and toast with butter and jam are served immediately after childbirth. In Israel, grapefruit salad is served for breakfast. In the United States, lunch is served with tomato soup, red fish sandwich, coffee, and chocolate cake. In Australia, a stew with cabbage and green peas for dinner. In post-Soviet countries, immediately after childbirth, they give a list of permitted and prohibited products (if they did not have time to issue them during pregnancy).

So does a nursing mother need a diet? And if so, which one? In order to answer these questions, it is necessary to understand how the mother’s nutrition affects the composition of milk.

Milk is produced in the mammary glands from the components of blood plasma, therefore, the nutrition of a nursing mother affects milk to the same extent that it affects the blood. With a lack of enzymes, food can be broken down poorly and larger proteins will penetrate into the bloodstream, which, once in milk, will be more difficult for the immature intestines to digest.

Thus, the first thing a mother needs to do is to adjust the work of her body, tired of pregnancy and overloaded during childbirth. This means that mom’s nutrition should be healthy and complete. Adequate nutrition involves the presence of five food groups in the diet: vegetables, fruits, cereals, dairy products and meat (sometimes fish). Recommendations for rational norms of consumption of food products that meet modern requirements for a healthy diet were approved by Order of the Ministry of Health of Russia N 614 of 08.19.2016. A vegetarian diet is allowed taking into account the receipt of all the necessary substances from plant products and the additional intake of vitamin B 12.

It is necessary to eat in small portions, but often. You can forget about the regime at first, it is enough to eat according to your appetite. Usually, you feel hungry during or immediately after a feed. Given the fact that at first night feedings cannot be avoided, it is advisable to have something nutritious in stock for a snack, so as not to run to the refrigerator in the middle of the night.

It is advisable to increase the daily calorie content of consumed food by 500-600 calories in comparison with the pre-pregnant diet, since milk production requires increased energy consumption.

There is an opinion that when breastfeeding it is necessary to drink a glass of water before and after feeding. However, excessively drunk liquid exerts a load on the kidneys, which is a stress factor for the body, and any stress blocks the release of hormones. In addition, excessive fluid can lead to swelling of the breast tissue, which can also impair milk flow. Accordingly, excessive fluid intake (as well as thirst) can lead to decreased milk production. You must drink enough water. Usually this is about 2-3 liters per day, but each organism has its own norms, which means that you need to listen to your feelings – to drink when thirsty.

10-15 minutes before the evening feeding (when there is usually less milk), it is advisable to drink a glass of hot tea or other warming drink – this promotes the production of oxytocin and, as a result, a better outflow of milk.

It is widely believed that some foods consumed by a nursing mother can cause gas and allergic reactions in the baby. In most cases, it is this delusion that leads to the fact that the mother begins to eat buckwheat and water, which contributes to dysbacteriosis, vitamin deficiency, lack of calcium, low hemoglobin, hypotrophy and other unpleasant things for both the mother and the child (with insufficient mother nutrition milk first goes maternal reserves, but over time, these reserves are depleted).

As for the gas-forming, fixing, laxative products, their “hostile” properties do not get into the blood (and, therefore, into milk). However, if the product used has a negative effect on the digestion of the mother, then this may affect the blood (milk) as well (you can read more about how to deal with colic and gas problems here ).

Allergies are often confused with food intolerances. Allergy is a defect of the immune system, which is very often influenced by a hereditary factor, while food intolerance is associated with immaturity of the gastrointestinal tract. In case of intolerance, dose dependence is often observed. For example, when a mother eats one strawberry, nothing will happen to either the mother or the child. But if the mother eats a bucket right away, pseudo-allergic reactions are quite possible, including in the child.

Together with breast milk, the child receives only in micro doses the split proteins of the products (traces of peanuts, gluten, etc.) used by the mother. At the same time, along with these microdoses, mother’s immunoglobulins, enzymes, lacto- and bifidobacteria enter the milk, which help the body of the crumbs to assimilate the obtained protein. Breast milk kind of digests itself. Therefore, if the mother eats varied and does not abuse any particular product, the baby’s allergic reaction, as a rule, does not manifest itself (even if the child turns out to be allergic in the future, the mother may find out about this at the stage of complementary feeding – this often happens with celiac disease).

However, there is an exception – cow’s milk protein (bkm). Until now, it has not been studied why this protein can pass into breast milk in an unbroken form (logically, it should be broken down by the mother’s body to amino acids). This feature often becomes the reason for the exclusion of all dairy products from the diet of a nursing mother. In most cases, such an exclusion is unreasonable, since, as a rule, only the “hard” BKM contained in whole milk is difficult to digest. At the same time, fermented milk products are absorbed much better. In addition, fresh natural fermented milk products contain beneficial bacteria that contribute to mom’s comfortable digestion and envelop her intestinal walls with a protective film, which prevents allergens from entering the blood (and milk).

Thus, breastfeeding should not turn into torture, on the contrary, you need to eat everything. The products that the mother introduces the baby through breast milk are much easier to introduce during the complementary feeding period and less often cause further allergic reactions. At the same time, when the mother unreasonably follows a hypoallergenic diet, this slows down the process of maturation of the baby’s gastrointestinal tract, its adaptation to a new type of diet.

So why do pediatricians so often like to put mom on a useless (and often harmful) hypoallergenic diet? There are several reasons:

1. It used to be thought that not following a diet increases the likelihood of a child developing atopic dermatitis. This assumption has long been disproved by modern research, but many doctors do not want (or cannot, due to the small amount of free time), follow the new trends in the field of medical science. Even with an already existing diagnosis of atopic dermatitis, it is advisable to prescribe a diet only for moderate and severe symptoms of the disease (even in this case, the diet is prescribed for a period of 4 weeks, and if during this time there is no improvement (or they are insignificant), the diet is canceled). Otherwise, the harm from a hypoallergenic diet significantly exceeds the benefit, and after a few months of such a diet, the lack of nutrients becomes a new cause of exacerbations.

2. There are pediatricians who are still convinced that a child should have a stool at least once a day (or better after each feeding) in the form of a yellow gruel. On artificial feeding – it is possible, but on breastfeeding the situation is completely different. Firstly, with exclusive breastfeeding, the stool after 4-6 weeks of the baby can be once every few days (and sometimes once every 10 days). In most cases, this is quite normal and is due to the fact that breast milk is absorbed much more easily than formula, and this contributes to a slower filling of the rectal ampoule. However, some doctors prescribe candles and enemas for the child, and beets and prunes for the mother (which is absolutely useless given the fact that milk is made from blood plasma, and not from intestinal contents). Second, breast milk is not homogeneous, unlike formula. Its composition changes even during one feeding (not to mention the time of day, the age of the child, etc.), respectively, the color and consistency of the child’s stool can constantly change. This is normal and does not require any diet.

3. Sometimes the pediatrician knows what and how it should be, but it is easier for him to put his mother on a diet, because he does not have the time or desire to explain the essence of the processes taking place in the baby’s body, or there is no contact with the mother. And the doctor prescribes a diet to keep the mother busy (this is especially true of atopic dermatitis associated with enzyme deficiency – it is often easier for a mother to bring herself to exhaustion in the process of calculating “all allergens” than just waiting for remission to come, “glossing over the problem “).

Unfortunately, there are still true medical indications for a nursing mother’s diet. A classic example is an allergy or severe intolerance to cow’s milk protein (usually manifested by blood in the baby’s stool). The complete exclusion of foods containing BCM from the mother’s diet removes all or almost severe digestive disorders and rashes in the baby, which means that a dairy-free diet is definitely justified for a while.

But it should be noted that a rigid diet for a nursing mother for false reasons is prescribed much more often than in the presence of true objective indications for her.

Based on the foregoing, the following conclusions can be drawn:

1. Nutrition of a nursing mother should be healthy and complete. The diet should contain vegetables, fruits, cereals, dairy products, meat (sometimes fish);

2. Do not overuse whole milk or any particular product. Milk is made from substances that enter the bloodstream. Accordingly, breast milk protein is synthesized from all the proteins that are in the blood and there will be a little of each. Even buckwheat, consumed in kilograms, can cause allergies, since the immunoglobulins, enzymes, lacto- and bifidobacteria supplied with mother’s milk may not be enough to break down such an amount of buckwheat protein, and the protein of breast milk will be almost identical to buckwheat protein;

3. Milk is formed from blood components, therefore, the mother’s nutrition affects the composition of milk to the same extent as the composition of the blood. To avoid getting into the blood (milk) insufficiently split proteins and a large number of allergens, the mother needs to improve her digestion;

4. Do not use a large amount of preservatives and dyes that strongly irritate the mucous membrane of the gastrointestinal tract and, as a result, increase the absorption of allergenic substances into the blood (and milk);

5. Some foods can affect a baby’s gastrointestinal tract if they contain substances that can enter the bloodstream (milk). These include, in particular, alcohol and caffeine;

6. Any product excluded from the mother’s diet for any reason must be replaced with an equivalent one (in terms of the presence of vitamins and other useful substances);

7. In order to avoid allergic reactions in the baby, it is necessary to follow the  preventive measures for atopic dermatitis  (a hypoallergenic diet does not apply to which).

In conclusion, I would like to note that breastfeeding is a natural continuation of hemotrophic nutrition (through the umbilical cord), respectively, the baby for 9 months of intrauterine life is already accustomed to the nutrition of a pregnant mother, and a sharp change in mother’s diet will be additional stress for him.

You may be interested in the following entries:

When to introduce complementary foods for breastfeeding and bottle feeding?

How to help a baby with colic: mom’s experience

One chest or two?

Causes of atopic dermatitis in infants

About stool norms in babies, and what to do in case of constipation