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10 Questions Breastfeeding Pinays Always Ask About Food, Answered!
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  • Dietary challenges sometimes riddle pregnancies. Suddenly you can't eat something that you've managed to tolerate before or you find yourself having an aversion to old favorites. Worse, you may suddenly acquire conditions like gestational diabetes where your diet will have to be restricted and monitored.

    Needless to say, a lot of pregnant moms who experience diet difficulties look forward to eating all they want again after giving birth. But can they really if they are breastfeeding? 

    Below are answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about a nursing mom’s diet.

    #1 What should you eat if you're breastfeeding?
    A nursing mother can eat anything and everything she wants and can tolerate. But there is food she should eat to keep up her strength and replenish the nutrients she loses in making milk and caring for her baby.

    Eat as much of the food cultivated and grown here in our country. Locally-produced and/or organic food are likely to have been exposed to fewer pesticides and contaminants during storage and distribution. So while kale is rich in calcium, Pinay moms will benefit more from camote tops, which is also rich in calcium and iron.

    Have as much of green, leafy vegetables and fruits in season because it contains nutrients that people need at that particular time. Notice how summer fruits are watery and rich in vitamin C? Indigenous food benefits from a complicated evolutionary process that allow plants/animals to contain the best level of nutrients for that specific time and area. 

    And, don't forget, eat everything in moderation because a nursing mom just needs an extra 500 calories. 

    #2 Can a nursing mom eat chips and chocolates?
    As an occasional treat, why not? Problems will arise if you ONLY eat chips and fast food/other unhealthy food. Again, a nursing mother has to ensure she replenishes the nutrients she loses; otherwise, the following can happen:

    • She can become malnourished, and thus, have a weaker immune system.
    • She might have bad skin, bad teeth, bad hair or worse, suffer from anemia.
    • Her milk supply will be affected. It is not true, however, that if a mother subsists on soft drinks, her baby will drink the soft drink via breast milk. What is likely to happen is the mother will increase her risks for bad teeth, reflux or diabetes. 

    #3 What about coffee?
    You can drink coffee while breastfeeding. You may have to limit the intake, however, or switch to decaf because some babies are sensitive to the caffeine. Nursing moms also have to remember that coffee (like caffeinated teas) are diuretics. You need to drink two cups of water for every cup of coffee you consume if only to recover the water you will lose. 

    #4 Are there caffeine-free teas?
    There are, in fact, many. Chamomile, lavender, and jasmine tea can all help relax a frazzled nursing mom. If you miss drinking chocolate, rooibos and vanilla can be an alternative and without the sugar. 

    In keeping with going local, however, one can also just boil pandan and lemongrass leaves and drink as tea. You can also infuse hot water with oregano, asitava or basil leaf. 

    #5 What about wine? Can a nursing mom enjoy her spirits?
    The general recommendation is you can drink one serving (1 bottle of beer, 1 glass of wine, 1 shot of vodka, etc.) without harming your baby; you also don't have to wait before breastfeeding. Less than 2% of the alcohol gets in the milk and at worst, will only temporarily affect baby’s feeding or sleeping. 

    If a mother wants to enjoy more, however, it may be prudent to make arrangements for someone else to care for your baby and provide expressed milk instead. The issue, in this case, really isn’t the level of alcohol that will be in the breast milk but the mother’s capacity to care for a child, as they might feel slightly dizzy or sleep deeply.

    #6 Is there any food prohibited at all?
    None. Depending on the severity of a baby’s reaction, a mother can eat the offending food again some other time without worries. In extreme cases though, an elimination diet, food diary, and restrictions may be required. You may want to take extra care when it comes to: 

    Spoiled food
    With the summer heat, some food will spoil faster than most. So be careful with those leftovers. Spoiled food will not get into your milk and cause your baby to be sick. Again, it's about you because your baby depends on you for food. If you're sick, it can be a stressful situation for you both. 

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    Allergenic/Raw food/seafood 
    If a nursing mom is allergic to some food, then she has to be vigilant over the ingredients of what she eats. Consume raw food only from reputable places. Again, the issue has more to do with compromising your baby’s food source (you).  

    Spicy food
    Breastfeeding moms don't need to refrain from eating spicy food (again, the spices do not get into the milk). But you may want to observe your baby for fussiness, gas or even loose bowel movement after partaking of a really zesty tom yum.

    Gassy Foods 
    Garlic, onion, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower (especially in their raw state) have been reported to cause gassiness and fussiness in babies. 

    In some cases, rashes or colicky symptoms in babies have been traced to a mother’s dairy intake. 

    #7 What about lactogenic food? Should nursing moms have them every day?
    The answer is a resounding yes because of the galactagogues, or food with lactation-promoting properties. You can freely snack on oatmeal, nuts (raw almonds, macadamia nuts, and cashews), spinach, hummus, papaya, grains (millet, barley, and brown rice), and curry. Try also clam soup, buko juice and dishes cooked in coconut milk. Of course, moderation and variety are key.

    #8 Should a breastfeeding mom take supplements to boost their milk supply?
    What nursing mothers need is to breastfeed correctly and frequently, protect their milk supply during separation from baby, get enough rest and sleep and again, eat a balanced diet. However, some scenarios may necessitate a need for supplements (like holiday stress, illness, long separation from baby). The most commonly recommended are fenugreek and malunggay capsules. Fenugreek, however, has the disadvantage of resulting in a maple-like, pungent smell in the mom.

    Other supplements for boosting supply include brewer’s yeast and blessed thistle. These and fenugreek can be bought from health stores like Healthy Options while drug stores sell many different brands of malunggay capsules (Lifeoil, Moringana, Natalac). 

    It is best for a breastfeeding mom to consult her physician on how much to take even if these are food-grade supplements.

    #9 Should nursing moms buy lactation teas and treats?Are they necessary? No.
    They can be quite expensive too, and you might as well use the money on fruits or malunggay supplements instead (not for milk-boosting but as vitamins for yourself). 

    But you are going to drink tea and eat cookies anyway; you might as well go for those with lactogenic ingredients, right? Mother Nurture offers instant coffee and chocolate drinks. Mama Chows and Mommy Treats offers lactation cookies, brownies, and other goodies. These products can serve as a sort of reward for another long night of nursing. 

    #10 Should a breastfeeding mom drink milk to make milk?
    Cows eat grass and lions eat meat, but they both produce milk for the same reason that we do: we are mammals. What mothers need is calcium, iron, and vitamin C (among other nutrients), which they can source from actual food. Should a nursing mom choose to drink milk, any milk -- cow’s, goat’s, nut, soy -- will do. We do not need special milk. 

    It is imperative for nursing moms to eat healthily, not just for maternal health, but also to maintain a good supply and ensure a quality of life wherein they can enjoy their kids. Barring sensitivities in the baby, mothers need not succumb to old wives’ tales or deprive themselves of gastronomic delights. 

    Mec Camitan Arevalo is a LATCH Philippines peer counselor and a group administrator of Breastfeeding Pinays on Facebook. She is also a homeschooling mom to three boys. 


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