Tuesday, March 28, 2023

The birth of a child is always a great event and life-changing for most. Most often new parents are unprepared to face the challenges of parenthood. New mothers are often fatigued and have anxiety about doing things “right.” One of the first tasks as a new mother is to feed the child. Pediatricians are all in agreement that breast milk is best for the child and most obstetricians agree that breastfeeding is also good for the mother. So this most natural event should be no problem at all. In fact mammals seem to have this act down pat without any help from support groups, feeding specialists, nurses or doctors. They just seem to do it.

I remember feeding my daughter for the first time and thinking, “This is really easy and I don’t have to sterilize bottles or get up to fill bottles or mix anything in the middle of the night”. Of course there was the small detail that I would be doing this alone since my husband couldn’t help but I still thought this was the better way to go. She was a healthy, vibrant baby and everything proceeded well until the day after I had my first Chinese takeout.

My daughter seemed to hate my milk and arched her back as if something was really bothering her while feeding. It is difficult to be a pediatrician and a mother. I thought calling my pediatrician with questions I should have known the answer to would have made me look stupid. My daughter’s pediatrician was also a doctor who worked in the hospital I worked in which compounded my anxiety about calling. I waited a few days then noted again how something I ate which was spicy seemed to bother my daughter. I remembered the lectures I attended about breast milk. I was told that women have digestive systems and therefore breast milk should not be affected by what a woman eats. My daughter was irritable during the feeds, kept arching her back and crying, spitting whatever milk was in her mouth! I was torn between being a doctor and therefore a “scientist” and a mother. At the end the mother prevailed and I made the call. Teary-eyed I asked my pediatrician if maybe my baby did not like the taste of my milk! Thankfully I was not laughed at! While most doctors believe that breast milk is not affected by mother’s diet most grandmothers know differently. After researching the subject, I found the following guidelines to be important.

Keep a diary of foods consumed and when a baby is fussy. As a rule, you should eliminate caffeine, fish and alcohol. I am not in complete agreement with the alcohol. (I am European after all!) I do not believe a glass of wine ever hurt anyone unless that glass was the size of a “supersize” soft drink in most fast food restaurants.

Fish needs to be eliminated since there is a possibility of the presence of mercury which would be concentrated in breast milk. Mercury becomes more concentrated as we go higher up on the food chain. This is why it is recommended that you eat small fish instead of large ones. Humans are the highest on the food chain and therefore mercury and other heavy metals are concentrated in breast milk and then passed to the newborn. Other foods which should be eliminated if a child is fussy when breastfeeding are foods which are highly allergenic—such as cow’s milk, peanuts, soy and wheat. Cow’s milk and gluten, which is the protein in wheat, are highly allergenic and promote inflammation

While there is no scientific data to support it, women have been aware for generations that some foods do affect the baby’s behavior. Foods that are spicy or have peculiar tastes or too much garlic may affect the taste of milk. As with almost anything involved in raising a child, common sense should prevail. Since breast milk contains fats, protein and water, women should increase their consumption of fats, protein and drink plenty of water. It is estimated that at least 500 calories a day are needed for breast milk production. A woman breastfeeding should drink at least eight glasses of water.

Lastly, while dietary supplements are not really necessary if one has a good balanced diet, this is not true for breastfeeding women. Since natures favors the survival of our newborns, many vitamins and minerals become depleted in the mother when she is breastfeeding. It is always a good idea to supplement with a good multivitamin.

I will wrap this up with a pearl of wisdom I learned a long time ago. Our children will grow despite us, so relax. You are doing things right and enjoy the journey! If you have any questions you want answered please address them to Dr. Giuseppina Benincasa-Feingold at [email protected]

Dr. Giuseppina Benincasa-Feingold

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