How Nutrition Impacts Breast Milk Supply

When it comes to the role that nutrition plays in breastfeeding, there are two primary questions that arise again and again. As a Registered Dietitian specializing in prenatal and postnatal nutrition, these are some of the most common queries I receive:

  1. Does the food mom eats influence the nutrient content of breast milk?
  2. Can certain foods impact mom’s milk supply?

These are important questions.

But there is another possible connection between eating patterns and breastfeeding that is rarely discussed and equally important.

It actually focuses much less on what you’re eating, and much more on how.
Looking to the research we can start to see just why this connection may be relevant.

One fascinating research study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition explored the potential link between mom’s stress levels and baby’s milk intake. The researchers randomly divided moms into two groups. One group received relaxation therapy which was an audio-recording guided imagery. The babies of the moms that received the relaxation therapy gained more weight and consumed more breastmilk.

Now, this is a small study and there are certainly some flaws but it still presents a really interesting aspect that is so often ignored when discussing breastfeeding and milk supply:
Mom’s mental health and stress levels.

Where does nutrition come in?

For so many postpartum moms, eating ends up being a source of stress and anxiety in the day.

  • Is this the right food to eat?!
  • What the heck am I going to make for dinner?!
  • I feel like a bottomless pit, what is wrong with me?!
  • Yesterday was so bad, I need to be extra vigilant about my food today!

Food-induced stress can stem from multiple places. It could be logistical, like figuring out the details around how to make a meal within your time and energy constraints. It could be emotional, like the cycle of guilt felt when eating foods you were trying to avoid. It could be psychological, like overanalyzing each meal to aim for perfection.

While there hasn’t been a research study specifically exploring the link between diet-induced stress and milk supply…it certainly isn’t benefiting anyone.
It’s more likely exhausting you, sucking up mental and physical energy that could be diverted to the thousand other things demanding your attention.

What are some actionable ways to reduce stress around eating?

  1. Eat foods that bring you joy. When is the last time you took the time to reflect on which foods you actually LOVE? Not which foods you think you should be eating more of, but which ones excite your palate or bring back nostalgia and great memories? Incorporate foods and flavors that you enjoy!
  2. Create a plan. Sometimes it’s the mental burden of deciding what to eat that elevates stress and makes meal time miserable. Take some time each week to plan out meal ideas ahead of time and lift some of that pressure.
  3. Look inwards. Trying to eat according to a diet plan or other external factors can create a lot of unnecessary pressure. Trusting your body is a much more freeing place to be. It can take some work to reprogram your approach and reconnect in this way but in the long-run it saves so much energy.
  4. Practice pausing. We all know that on-the-go eating is sometimes unavoidable. But even just taking a few seconds to bring awareness to the meal, eat more mindfully, and remove distractions within your control, can make a big difference in the eating environment.
  5. Repeat a mantra. If the spiral of anxiety starts to unfold as you enter the kitchen or start to eat, stop. Take a breath. And repeat a positive affirmation that helps you feel grounded. It could be something as simple as “Breathe in, breathe out” to help you re-center.

Naturally, mothers are very keen to do anything in their power to support the nourishment and growth of their little one. A common theme in motherhood today is whether we’re all doing enough.

  • Is my milk supply enough?
  • Is the milk nutritious enough?
  • Is my food perfect enough?
  • Am I enough?

Sometimes this can generate more anxiety and overwhelm, bringing more tension to feeds or making meals feel too daunting. Removing the pressure may be one of the best things to do for your mental health and your breastfeeding experience. A rigid diet or perfect eating is not only unnecessary but also unsustainable and ultimately a counterproductive pursuit.

No matter what your feeding experience is like, know that you are very much enough (and then some).

Nurul Husna Mohd Shukri, Jonathan Wells, Simon Eaton, Firdaus Mukhtar, Ana Petelin, Zala Jenko-Pražnikar, Mary Fewtrell, Randomized controlled trial investigating the effects of a breastfeeding relaxation intervention on maternal psychological state, breast milk outcomes, and infant behavior and growth, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 110, Issue 1, July 2019, Pages 121–130,

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