Diet watch-outs for breastfeeding moms

Pregnancy comes with a long list of things of dos and don’ts, but breastfeeding diet is not as stringent. Basically, you require a healthy diet with increased calorie intake. You have to listen to your body cues to make little adjustments. For example, You might find beans too gassy while your friend hogged on them without a hitch. It is not unusual. Do not worry; do what your body needs since you are aware of the many advantages of breastfeeding for both mom and baby.

Let’s understand

  1. Foods breastfeeding mothers should avoid eating and why
  2. Galactagogue–foods that enhance the production and let down of milk in milk ducts
  3. Everyday healthy food items to include in your diet if you are breastfeeding

Food you should banish from your breastfeeding diet

 Here are a few things that should be avoided when breastfeeding your baby. A lot of these things are based on scientific evidence, some on common sense and some are old world wisdom that makes sense. The fact that what you eat passes on through your breastmilk to your baby is one such theory–the jury is still out there on this fact, but we believe that caffeine-drinks such as coffee in any case should be limited, so why not go that extra mile to leave them out of your diet when breastfeeding.

  1. Coffee– The amount of caffeine in your diet should be minimal to avoid over-stimulating your child. She may be fussy and not sleep properly because of it.
  2. Chocolate– while a small piece will not do any harm, if you are having coffee, tea, or energy drinks, it’ll tip the caffeine content on the higher side. Your baby might not tolerate it well.
  3. Medicines– while it is better to avoid medicines altogether, sometimes you might need them, like migraine medicines. Check with your doctor about the dosage.
  4. Fish– Be selective about the fish that you eat. Some fishes like shark, white tuna, king mackerel and swordfish retain methyl mercury. This compound can damage your baby’s nervous system if you eat them.
  5. Avoid raw foods for a few weeks- there always a chance of infection with these foods. Avoid them for the initial few weeks, after which you will be strong enough to eat them.
  6. Artificial sweeteners– although research is required to prove the effects of artificial sweeteners on a newborn, it’s better to opt for natural sweeteners like honey, jaggery and maple syrup.
  7. Caffeinated /carbonated beverages– most of the colas are just flavour added with sugar and soda. Keep the fizzy drinks away as they don’t fulfil any of your nutritional needs. In fact, they harm the protective layer of the teeth and leach calcium out of your bones. Also, they contribute to obesity, which I don’t think you want!!
  8. Alcohol– even if you enjoy it, please abstain from drinking alcohol during this period. Intake of alcohol will affect the motor skill development of children. It also passes into the milk very easily and impacts the intake of milk in the child. She reduces her feeding. The CDC advises to drink alcohol moderately and avoid feeding after 2 hrs of having a drink.
  9. Tobacco – It is detrimental to your health and bad for the baby. It has no known health benefits and is very addictive. So, refrain from smoking or tobacco chewing.

Some ayurvedic medicines are known to help the womb reduce to its original size and boost milk production in the body. The studies on these are very few and inconclusive. But many preparations have ingredients beneficial to the breastfeeding mother. It can be ‘kulli leyhem’ of Kerala, ‘panjiri (17) from Punjab, ‘bukunoo’ (18) from Uttar Pradesh or “goond ra laadu(16) from Rajasthan. These recipes may be family-specific, or region-specific, but all are intended to heal the mother and improve the health of the baby. Some ingredients like ajwain, jeera, ghee, methi seeds, jaggery etc. were seen to be consistently common in one or the other preparations given during the initial month of delivery. 

In India, traditionally ayurvedic medicines are given to a new mother for the initial 30—45 days period after delivery. Many of these foods also help the body heal and get through the post-partum trauma (14).

Galactagogue/ Lactogenic foods for breastfeeding moms

There are certain breastfeeding foods that are typically given in the initial months after delivery. They are supposed to improve milk production in breastfeeding mothers. Though research on them is far from complete, many people take these traditional foods for the well being of the mother and the newborn.

Here are a few breastfeeding foods which are beneficial for new mothers:

  1. Cumin or Jeera It is anti-flatulent, anti-microbial, and antioxidant(10). It is a rich source of iron. It is known as a warming herb and thus beneficial in producing milk and helping in let down of milk. It aids in digestion and prevents colic in babies. Jeera can be added to all types of food. Cumin can be included in your breastfeeding diet by roasting, crushing and adding to salads, soups, etc. 1 teaspoon of jeera boiled in a glass of water can be consumed every day by the breastfeeding mothers.
  2. Ajwain/carom/caraway seeds– Anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, improves cholesterol, relieves indigestion. It is a body cleanser and helps to get rid of body toxins and ease menstrual cramps (13). A common recipe in northern India is ajwain laddoo which is made of ajwain, jaggery, ghee (clarified butter), sauth(dried ginger), wheat flour and almonds. The ajwain is sometimes soaked in ghee for a month before the expected delivery date. It takes the sting out of it and makes it more palatable. Ajwain boiled in water is a known remedy post delivery for quick healing of the body.
  3. Saunf/ Fennel – Its commonly consumed as mouth freshener (raw or toasted) in India. A study (1) found that herbal tea containing fenugreek, anise, and fennel seeds improved milk production in breastfeeding mothers. It is a rich source of potassium, that helps in regulating blood pressure and controls heart rate. It is considered to be blood purifying. It is highly nutritious. It is rich in manganese which is essential in metabolism, bone development, blood sugar regulation, wound healing, etc. Its polyphenol anti-oxidants are potent anti-inflammatory agents. Fennel has liver-protecting effects. Its extract has an effect in treating stomach issues and pain (10)A word of caution- fennel may interact with medicines like estrogen pills, so take advice of your doctor before taking high amounts, in the form of essential oil or extracts.
  4. Oats – They are not only rich in energy and protein, but are also rich in fibres and hence regulates blood sugar. It contains important micronutrients like Manganese, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, iron, zinc, folate, thiamine and pantothenic acid. Oats are one of the most nutrient dense foods. It can be eaten as porridge with milk or salted porridge with veggies. It is used in USA as a food for increasing the milk of the mother (8).
  5. Milk- It is a complete protein and fulfils your fluid needs also. It can be incorporated as various kinds of porridges e.g., ragi kheer, oats daliya, wheat germ daliya. Milk is also added in many soups or can be taken as is. 
  6. Sauth/ sookhi adrak or dried ginger- Ginger has not only been used in ayurvedic medicine but also in Unani and Chinese medicine since antiquity (11). It helps in easing pain, reducing inflammation, and helps with stomach ailments. It is also helpful in the let down of milk (12). At some places in northern India, the new mother is given Sauthara– it’s a sweet preparation made with dried ginger, jaggery, and ajwain. It is given in the first week post-delivery. 
  7. Methi dana/Fenugreek seeds– It helps stabilise sugars in your body (10). It is also considered as lactogenic (1); helps in reducing inflammation. It is used widely in Indian cooking.
  8. Barley/ jau – It’s eaten in various parts of India and all over Asia. Barley soup or jau ka paani can be easily made by boiling it in water for 15-20 minutes. You can add spices to make it more palatable.
  9. Chicken soup-  a recipe packed with protein and goodness of broth. Its not only comforting, good for gut health, but it is super easy to make. Throw in all the ingredients in a soup pot and let it simmer while you relax.(15)

Herbal tea containing fenugreek, anise, and fennel seeds improved milk production in breastfeeding mothers. So, make this your go-to drink when breastfeeding 2011

Apart from a few special things in the immediate post-delivery days, certain foods are beneficial up to the time you are nursing. Remember to eat healthy even when you get back to work after finishing your maternity leave. Frequent pumping will keep your milk production optimal. Express milk and keep for your baby before you leave in the morning. Even if you can’t make it home in the afternoon, express the milk. The breast milk is good even without refrigeration for up to 1-2 hours. You can keep it for the baby for evening or the next day.

Diet for breastfeeding mothers :

Foods you should eat when you are a breastfeeding mother :

  1. Avocado- it’s a saviour for, especially if you are short on time. Just cut one and have it as it is, or you can smash it with pepper and salt and spread on brown bread. It is loaded with energy and good fats.
  2. Bajra / pearl millet– It’s a good source of protein, fibre, phosphorus (needed for bones), Zinc and iron. It’s great for the control of blood sugar (especially good for diabetic moms) Its believed to generate heat. Some yummy recipes are – bajra roti which is served with gur or palak methi ki sabzi, salted porridge/daliya, sweet porridge with milk or ´bajara kheechda’ as known in Rajasthan.
  3. Ragi/ finger millet-Traditionally eaten along the west coastal regions of India, ragi or nachni is a household name in Maharashtra and Karnataka. It has a high amount of calcium and potassium (3). It is anti-diabeticc and anti-microbial (4) Rich in iron. A few tasty recipes are- ragi crepes/dosa, ragi kheer(9)
  4. Gur/Jaggery– it will not only improve the taste but also provide micronutrients like magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and iron which are essential for breastfeeding mothers. Magnesium relaxes our nervous system and gives relief from fatigue. It is a very good source of iron and helps in treating anaemia (5). It is eaten all with Bajra roti, makki roti and used to sweeten various preparations like laapsi (broken wheat sweet daliya), various kheers and puddings.
  5. Magaj or Melon seeds- The seeds of musk melon / Kharbooja are anti-inflammatory (6). They are a concentrated source of proteins and carbohydrates (7) apart from various other micronutrients (like copper, iron, zinc, magnesium etc.) and phytochemicals. One yummy recipe is ‘Nishasta’- Soak 2 tsp of ‘char magaj’ (commercially available mixture of 4 types of melon seeds) in water overnight and blend with 5-6 soaked almonds in the morning. Now heat 1 small teaspoon of ghee in a pan and cook this blend for about 10-20 seconds. Pour a glass milk on this cooked mixture. Add sugar / gur to sweeten it. Take off the flame and drink it. It is easy to make and fills you up quickly.
  6. Eggs- They cater to your protein and energy needs apart from supplying B-vitamins. Also, you can whip up delicious breakfast or snacks for the whole family — scrambled eggs, boiled eggs, fried eggs, omelettes, French toast, etc.
  7. Khajoor/ Dates- These are used to sweeten the foods. They can be carried everywhere and snacked on, even in the office – easy energy bites for busy moms. They come with the added benefit of dietary fibre and anti-oxidants.
  8. Khus khus (poppy seeds)- it is used in cakes, breads, bagels etc. as a confectionary topping for its flavour. In India, it is soaked and blended to use in gravies, also called ‘posto’. It acts as a relaxant and relieves pain.
  9. Turmeric milk – Turmeric’s anti-inflammatory, and antiseptic properties are proven and documented(2). It is shown to be harmless even in high doses. It is rich in anti-oxidants also. It’s a common household remedy for various ailments and internal injuries in India. When your mom made you drink ’haldi wala doodh’, she was right about the benefits.
  10. Green leafy veggies- palak, bathua, chaulai, methi are few green leafy vegetables cooked widely across the Indian subcontinent. They are a rich source of iron, fibre and beta carotene. You may have to start slow with them if your digestion is weak. 
  11. Badaam/ Almonds– These are added to many lactogenic food preparations in India. For a busy mother, they serve as a handy snack in a bag. They are a rich source of calcium and other micronutrients essential to building up the body. They also have good fats, which promote brain growth in infants
  12. Water– You need plenty of fluids to be hydrated. Think of at least 7 glasses of water apart from milk, soups, smoothies etc. If you are not interested in drinking plain water, take thin porridges, kheers, infused water or herbal teas. 

When preparing a diet for breastfeeding mothers, the primary aim remains to plan just an overall healthy diet with fruits, veggies, whole grains, and enough fluids will keep you and your baby healthy. Keep a lookout of the things that cause trouble in your baby. Something that you may have consumed will affect her. Keep away from things that cause colic and gas in the baby. 


Sometimes, it can be overwhelming to care for a new baby, the information overload, and the physical exhaustion coupled with anxiety, can take a toll on you. Always take time to relax. Don’t be shy to accept whatever help is offered. Involve the father and siblings, if any, in baby care. It is a time to cherish the baby, not to fret over laundry!! 

Welcome to the phase that is motherhood.



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