How to Boost Breastmilk Quality
Breastmilk is often described as the perfect food for baby. And that’s true! But it does leave out the fact that breastmilk composition is not fixed. You can influence the quality of your breastmilk through your diet and lifestyle. Here are our top tips for how to boost breastmilk quality.
The nutrition content of breastmilk shifts based on a mother’s diet and/or nutrient stores. While certain nutrients will be present regardless of dietary intake, many others will only be present if mama is consuming them. Yes, this means that breastmilk can actually be deficient in nutrients.
To be clear, this is NOT to suggest that you should ever stop breastfeeding for fear that your quality isn’t enough! It is to empower you with information on how you can boost nutrient content if you want to. Even if a mother’s diet isn’t “perfect,” her milk is still a superfood containing immune-boosting antibodies, human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) for her baby’s microbiome, easy-to-digest proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, and many trace minerals. Breastmilk also has the amazing ability to adapt to baby’s needs in the case of illness or infection.
Because nutrient content in breastmilk varies, a comprehensive prenatal vitamin can help ensure that you’re meeting the needs of both you and baby. Postpartum can be a busy and overwhelming season, and trying to meet all of your needs through food while adjusting to the dynamics of newborn life can be a challenge.
Research shows that the amount of the following nutrients varies with mamas intake:
However, just because a nutrient doesn’t vary with mama’s intake doesn’t mean your intake of it doesn’t matter. For some nutrients, like Calcium, if mama isn’t getting enough, baby will pull from mama’s stores to take what they need and leave mama depleted. In other words, if mama isn’t getting enough Calcium through her diet and supplementation, she will likely end up with compromised bone density as baby takes from the stores of Calcium in mama’s bones.
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Omega-3 fatty acids like DHA are essential for infant brain development. In fact, research has shown that infants of mothers with high DHA levels in their breastmilk have better neural and visual development. However, concentration of DHA in breastmilk varies significantly and depends on mama’s own intake.
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Fat is absolutely essential for baby’s development and for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins needed for just about every other aspect of physical and cognitive development. Analysis of breastmilk content shows that fat content does indeed vary. However, perhaps more interestingly, research shows that the type of fat in the diet directly impacts fatty acids in breastmilk. This means that you can influence the quality of the fat that exists in your milk by eating higher quality fats yourself.
It’s a good idea to include a healthy fat in every meal and snack, both for your milk and to help manage your blood sugar and breastfeeding hanger. Good sources include nuts and seeds and their butters (almonds, walnuts, flax, chia, sunflower, pumpkin), coconut and olive oils, avocado, egg yolks, full-fat grass-fed dairy, and grass-fed butter or ghee.
Fat sources to limit or avoid include vegetable oils (canola, corn, cottonseed sunflower, safflower, grapeseed), fried foods, and trans fat (shown on labels as “hydrogenated fats”). There is really no safe level of trans fats in the diet, and research has shown a “highly significant linear relationship” between mama’s intake of trans fats and the level of trans fats in the blood of their infants.
Our world is full of toxins, from environmental pollution, to chemicals found in our cleaning products, makeup, personal care products, fabrics, food containers, and more. Unfortunately, just as so many amazing nutrients can transfer to breastmilk for baby, a wide body of research has shown that everything from heavy metals to chemical toxins transfer to breastmilk.
A very recent study of breastfeeding mothers in Seattle, Washington analyzed per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in breastmilk. PFAS are found abundantly in a number of food packages and plastic products. Incredibly, every single sample tested positive for PFAS, with levels ranging from 52 parts per trillion(ppt) to more than 500 ppt. Interestingly, the study tested for 39 types of PFAS, many of which are not currently being actively used. Researchers found breastmilk contaminated with both actively used and “legacy” PFAS, indicating that these chemicals can be stored in the body and liberated into breastmilk.
Limiting your exposure to these toxic chemicals can help limit those transferred to baby. Learn more about where in your life you might find toxins and how to expose them in our three-part series on detox. (Note: we don’t recommend any type of detox while breastfeeding, but this series can help you identify sources of toxic exposure in your life so that you can avoid them as much as possible). The Environmental Working Group is another great resource for identifying sources of toxins in a number of products you interact with daily - from produce and drinking water to sunscreen and makeup.
Breastmilk is inherently rich is probiotics and prebiotics. Many researchers even refer to this as the milk microbiome. Research also suggests that breastmilk can be further enhanced through mama’s probiotic supplementation and that bacteria present in the maternal gut could reach the mammary gland during late pregnancy and lactation.
Our Prenatal Pre/Probiotic contains targeted strains that have been studied to reduce the incidence of eczema, allergies, and asthma in children.
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You're Doing a Great Job
There are already so many things on our minds in postpartum, so these tips aren’t meant to increase pressure or instill feelings of mom guilt. Instead they are meant to educate and empower you, to be helpful and actionable, and to meet you where you are so that you can make whatever small changes resonate with you. Because what you put in your body matters to both you and baby, mama. And you both deserve the best!
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