Building better breast milk

March 16, 2012 at 11:20 pm

Giving your babies breast milk is one of the greatest gifts you can give them, regardless of your nutritional status. But over my 8+ years as a momma studying pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding, I’ve learned of several ways we can take that wonderful gift of breast milk and make it even more beneficial to our babies. We’ve probably all heard that consuming lots of omega-3 fats (through fish and plant sources) will benefit our babies’ brains and our own emotional health, but there are other ways to improve the quality of the milk we produce for our babies. Here are just a few of them…

1. Chlorella

Not long after my fourth baby’s birth, my mom flew into town with all sorts of supplements. One of the supplements she wanted me to take was chlorella. I wasn’t sure whether it was safe to take while breastfeeding, so I started doing a little internet digging to find out. That’s when I found a Japanese study about the effects of maternal chlorella supplementation on breast milk. I’ll quote from the abstract:

Dioxins [environmental pollutants] have been detected at high concentrations in breast milk, raising concerns about disorders in nursing infants caused by breast milk containing dioxins in Japan. We analyzed dioxin levels in breast milk and maternal blood samples from 35 pregnant women in Japan. We also measured immunoglobulin (Ig) A concentrations in breast milk and investigated correlations with dioxin concentrations. In addition, 18 of the 35 women took Chlorella pyrenoidosa (Chlorella) supplements during pregnancy. . . . These results suggest that Chlorella supplementation by the mother may reduce transfer of dioxins to the child through breast milk. . . . IgA concentrations in breast milk in the Chlorella group were significantly higher than in the Control group (P = .03). Increasing IgA levels in breast milk is considered to be effective for reducing the risk of infection in nursing infants. The present results suggest that Chlorella supplementation not only reduces dioxin levels in breast milk, but may also have beneficial effects on nursing infants by increasing IgA levels in breast milk. (Source)

Chlorella can help us purify our breast milk of toxins and enhance its immunity-building properties. Cool! When I saw this good news, I wished I had started taking chlorella during my pregnancy. As always, be sure to educate yourself about possible side effects and precautions before taking any new supplement.

2. Coconut oil

Sometimes I probably sound like a broken record, touting the same health foods over and over. I’ve talked about the benefits of coconut oil before. Coconut oil is high in lauric acid, which is a component of breast milk.  The higher your intake of lauric acid, the higher your breast milk’s lauric acid content will be.  And that’s a big plus for you and your baby because lauric acid is powerful, wonderful stuff.  ”When lauric acid is present in the body, it is converted into monolaurin, a monoglyceride compound which exhibits antiviral, antimicrobial, antiprotozoal and antifungal properties. It acts by disrupting the lipid membranes in organisms like fungus, bacteria and viruses, thus destroying them” (source). One source I consulted explained that “when nursing mothers include coconut oil in their diet, the level of [lauric acid] in their breast milk can triple” (source). Coconut oil can help you to help your baby’s immune system defeat even more nasty bad guys. Fabulous.

3. Vitamin C

Boosting your intake of vitamin C will also boost the levels in your breast milk. However, excessive doses of vitamin C will not help or harm babies as breast milk levels plateau at 50 to 158 mg per liter, depending on which study you reference (see here). I’ve written in the past about how beneficial vitamin C is for skin health, but vitamin C has so many health benefits beyond that. A study from Finland found that breastfeeding women who consume lots of vitamin-C-rich foods reduce their infants’ risk of developing atopy (eczema, hayfever, asthma, etc.) (see “Higher Concentration of Vitamin C in Breast Milk Linked to Lower Rate of Infant Atopy“). These benefits were not found with supplemental vitamin C, however. Eating lots of foods high in vitamin C is a great gift breastfeeding mothers can give to their babies. Some great sources include: papaya, red bell peppers, broccoli, brussel sprouts, and strawberries.  Find more here.

What are your favorite power foods for breastfeeding?