Sugar and spice

We all know alcohol, caffeine and everything else vaguely exciting do not mix with breastfeeding. But what about food? Specifically, does different food produce different tasting milk? Pip is occasionally fretful at the breast and although I expect it’s something to do with milk flow, gas or or even more likely just “one of those things”, I can’t shake the notion that he might not like something I’ve eaten.

There isn’t much out there on this topic, but one 2008 Danish study of 18 women’s breast milk showed that particular food flavours do filter through up to 8 hours after being consumed. The researchers did this by feeding the women “flavour capsules” (yum!) and taking milk samples. Different flavours peaked in the milk at different times and most interestingly of all in my opinion the banana flavour never appeared! I eat a banana most days so hopefully this means my milk isn’t too bland-tasting…

This presumably means that tasting breast milk ice cream would be a bit of a Russian roulette situation!

breast milk ice cream

The study looked at quite random flavours such as caraway seeds and licorice – maybe they are popular in Denmark! What I want to know is, what about curry and other spicy food? What about orange juice? I remember shortly after Pip was born one of the midwives told me to avoid OJ as “babies don’t like citrus” (meanwhile, another midwife instructed me to drink it with my iron pills to increase the absorption). I can’t believe this can be true!

The problem is, every woman’s breastmilk is entirely unique, even if they have been eating exactly the same things as another lactating woman. The study found that there was an enormous variation both between the different women and within the same woman’s samples. As helpfully summarised by

“The interesting thing was that there was an 80% difference in the levels of these different smells and taste between different groups of the women.  So if you look at one woman and compare another woman for the same flavour, you might detect 80% more or less of that flavour in her breast milk compared with the other woman.  And if you do the test more than once on the same woman, you might find more than 50% variation in the levels of these different flavourants in their breast milk.  What this shows you, therefore, is that it makes a very big difference from one person to the next and it makes a very big difference even in the same person.”

So with the lack of any real evidence, any guidelines are speculative. A recent piece in Pregnancy magazine suggests three types of food that might negatively affect your breast milk, leading to increased fussiness in your baby: coffee, dairy and spicy food. The coffee seems to be in there because of the caffeine content rather than the delicious roasted beans, so decaf would presumably not count. I feel cynical about the spicy food theory because it is a staple in so many different countries – where women breastfeed with no issues – but I can see the point that if you and your baby are not used to such intense flavours then it may come as an unwelcome surprise in the milk. As the Danish study showed, flavours do seem to come through, although it’s uncertain when and how much!

Although not specifically relating to flavour, it is the inclusion of dairy that I find most compelling:

“Certain types of dairy – specifically, milk – are full of proteins that can be difficult to digest, and for babies with tender digestive systems, too much exposure to these proteins may actually make little ones cranky and irritable.”

One suggested remedy for colic is to eliminate dairy from the diet, as it is one thing that does seem to affect babies. It’s certainly a myth that you need to drink milk in order to produce milk! I’m not going to stop having milk, cheese or yogurt (or milk chocolate) any time soon but it’s definitely one worth remembering.

Whether or not you choose to remove certain food groups or particular tastes from your diet, it is important to ensure that the food you do eat is varied. Referencing three different studies, breastfeeding gurus Medela say:

“Breastfeeding exposes your baby to many different tastes and smells…early exposure to different flavours can influence a child’s acceptance of food when weaning.”

Having been a picky child myself, I really don’t want this fate to befall Pip. So in the name of future successful weaning I plan to continue eating basically what I want!

My kind of conclusion.

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