Breastfeeding benefit, role of diet, alcohol, breast milk
August 28 2018 by
Ray Sahelian, M.D.


A mother's milk has just the right amount of fat, sugar, water, and protein that is needed for a baby's growth and development. Most babies find it easier to digest breast milk than formula. Breast milk has antibodies to help protect infants from bacteria and viruses and to help them fight off infection and disease. Human milk straight from the breast is always sterile. The omega-3 fatty acids found in breast milk boost premature infants' growth and development soon after birth.

How long should a mother breastfeed?
The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life to promote optimal infant health and development. If new mothers could follow medical experts' recommendation to exclusively breastfeed for six months, the U.S. would save billions in healthcare and other costs each year. Infants who are exclusively breastfed for three to six months are less likely to develop middle-ear infections. Pediatrics, May 2010.


Alcohol intake not only reduces milk formation but alcohol has an adverse effect on the baby.


Immune system health in the early years
Breastfeeding is a means of nutrition for infants, providing essential components for their unique growth and developmental requirements. However, breast milk is also rich in immunologic factors. At birth, the infant’s immune system is immature, and although it was exposed to the maternal microbial flora during pregnancy, it experiences an abrupt change in its microbial environment during and after birth, which is challenging and renders the infant highly susceptible to infection. Active and passive immunity protects the infant via breast milk, which is rich in immunoglobulins, lactoferrin, lysozyme, cytokines, and numerous other immunologic factors, including maternal leukocytes. Breast milk leukocytes provide active immunity and promote development of immune competence in the infant.


Breastfeeding and supplements, herbs, vitamins
Q. I have ordered Passion Rx, and need to know if I can safely take it while I am still breastfeeding my child. He is an 11 month old. I do not know if the age of the child would matter. I will probably be weening him soon, but until I do I would like to know the effects it might have on him.
   A. We are not aware of any problems with taking Passion Rx while breastfeeding but we only have had feedback from 2 other women who did not notice a problem. But we don't know for sure. If your doctor approves, you may consider one third of a capsule 2 days on, 2 days off, and keep it at a very low amount.


Q. Is it okay to take graviola herb or mangosteen while breastfeeding? Would it create a breast feeding problem? I also wanted to ask you about lycopene extract and Lyprinol.

   A. These supplements are probably safe to take while breastfeeding, but I can't be 100% certain certain until actual studies are done.


Q. I was wondering if is ok for me to take Glucomannan now then i'm breastfeeding my 2 months old baby.
   A. It may be okay, but this is something you have to clear with your doctor who can read this glucomannan page.


Q. I took a look at the Passion Rx supplement on your website. My question is: Is it ok to take this supplement if you are breast feeding? I have 7 month old twins who I'm still nursing, and wonder in this product is recommended during breast feeding. I had to take Tegratol for a number of years, throughout my teenage years, for epilepsy. I feel this may have had a adverse effect on my sex drive. My Husband, and I are researching different herbs, and feel this may be a fit.
   A. We have not tested Passion Rx in women who are breastfeeding, but since the babies are 7 months old, it may be safe, particularly if you take half a capsule of Passion Rx every other day. However, the final decision is up to your doctor who may wish to read up on the ingredients in Passion Rx and guide you as to whether you can take it.


Q. I am currently breastfeeding but am trying to find ways to better my health without compromising any nutrients or side effects that may be passed on to my son through my milk. I am interested in the acai berry juices that are currently on the market and was wondering if there were any concerns or cautions against drinking acai juice while breastfeeding? Are there any resources that you can direct me to that would offer more insight on the use of supplements to mothers breastfeeding?
   A. There are hardly any studies regarding the role of supplements and their safety or benefit during breastfeeding. We have no reason to suspect that reasonable amount of acai juice drinking or taking an occasional acai supplement would influence a breastfed baby. However, we have not seen any studies regarding the influence of acai use by the mother on the breastfed baby.


Q. Is nattokinase safe for use while breastfeeding? I don't want to take it if it affects my baby adversely at all. Also, is it effective in eradicating systemic and vaginal yeast infections? I'd read that it breaks down the yeast cell's defensive layer so that the body can eliminate it, itself.
   A. I am not aware of studies regarding the use of nattokinase blood thinner during pregnancy, and until we learn more it is probably a better option not to take it. Also, I am not aware that it is of benefit in yeast infections.

Benefit of breast feeding
Breast milk is the most perfect food for a baby. It contains easily digestible proteins, many factors that support a baby's immature immune system, and other factors that aid in digestion. It is also low in cost and requires no preparation. Breast fed babies are less likely to have colic, upper respiratory infections, ear infections, constipation, asthma or allergies. Breastfeeding burns up almost 500 calories a day, helping mothers return to their pre-pregnancy weight sooner. Breast-feeding in the first few months of life shields children from developing food allergies.


During infancy the gut bacteria of breast-fed babies are different than the gut bacteria of babies who are not breast-fed. These differences may affect immune system development. For example, breast-fed babies are less likely to develop allergies to pets at the age of 1 month.


A few months breastfeeding protects against maternal diabetes. MMW Fortschr Med. 2014.


Breast-feeding a premature infant may reduce the risk of a serious eye problem known as retinopathy of prematurity (ROP).


Breast Cancer
Breast-feeding lowers the odds for estrogen receptor-negative and progesterone receptor-negative (ER/PR-) breast cancer.


Celiac disease and digestive health
Sufferers from celiac disease can't tolerate wheat and gluten in their diet, but people who were breastfed as babies seem to be less likely to develop the condition. Dr. A. K. Akobeng, of Booth Hall Children's Hospital, Manchester says "recent observational studies suggest that breastfeeding may prevent the development of celiac disease." In an analysis of available evidence, he reviewed six studies published between 1966 and 2004 that examined the relationship between breastfeeding and celiac disease. An association between increasing duration of breastfeeding and a decreased risk of celiac disease was seen in all of the studies except one small one. The results of the analysis also demonstrated a 52 percent lower risk of celiac disease among people who were being breastfed at the time when gluten was introduced into their diet, compared with those who were not breast feeding at this time. "It could be that continuing breast feeding at the time of weaning limits the amount of gluten that the child receives, thereby decreasing the chances of the child developing symptoms of celiac disease," Dr. A. K. Akobeng and colleagues suggest. Another mechanism through which breast milk could protect against celiac disease is by preventing gastrointestinal infections in the infant. Archives of Diseases in Childhood, 2006.


Breast milk delivers beneficial bacteria from a mother's gut to her baby's digestive system. Environmental Microbiology, news release, 2013.


Iron status of infant
Full-term babies who are exclusively breastfed are not at increased risk of low iron stores by the age of 6 months, even if their mothers are iron-deficient during pregnancy. Breast milk alone provides most infants with adequate nutrition for the first 6 months of life. International Breastfeeding Journal, online March 1, 2008.


Breast-fed babies seem more likely to do well at high school and to go on to attend college than infants raised on a bottle. Infants breastfed for six months or longer, especially boys, do considerably better in school at age 10 compared to bottle-fed tots, according to Wendy Oddy, a researcher at the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research in Perth, Australia.

 hildren who are breastfed for longer than six months are at lower risk of mental health problems later in life. Dr. Wendy H. Oddy of the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research in West Perth says breastfeeding could help babies cope better with stress and may also indicate a stronger mother-child attachment and these benefits may last. Dr. Wendy H. Oddy adds "Interventions aimed at increasing breastfeeding duration could be of long-term benefit for child and adolescent mental health." The Journal of Pediatrics, online Dec. 14, 2009.


Lung Disease Prevention
Exclusive breastfeeding for at least the first six months of an infant's life reduces the risk of respiratory tract infections, compared with breastfeeding for shorter durations. The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended a 6-month breastfeeding duration -- in part, based on study findings showing protection against gastrointestinal infection. It had been thought that this practice would also protect against respiratory tract infections. Dr. Caroline J. Chantry, from the University of California Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, and colleagues analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey III, a home survey conducted between 1988 and 1994. The rate of pneumonia in infants breastfed for at least 6 months was 1.6 percent, significantly lower than the 6.5 percent rate seen in infants breastfed for 4 to less than 6 months. Compared with babies breastfed for the recommended 6 months' duration, those breastfed for 4 to less than 6 months were more than four times more likely to develop pneumonia, and almost twice as likely to have three or more episodes of otitis media, or severe ear infection. Source: Pediatrics, 2006.

Breast feeding diet
A diet specifically for breastfeeding is not required as long as the mother maintains a healthy diet and is not deficient in protein, fat, or vitamins. It would be a good idea to supplement with calcium or eat calcium rich foods. Women who breast-feed may need to be careful about getting enough calcium to keep their teeth and gums healthy, animal research suggests. In experiments with rats, researchers found that lactating rodents were particularly susceptible to the effects of low calcium intake on the bones that support the teeth. Such bone-density loss can speed the progression of any existing gum disease.


Breastfeeding and Vitamin D
Breastfed babies living in northern latitudes often lack healthy levels of vitamin D, and may even be severely deficient. In northern latitudes, such as that in Iowa (41 degrees North), sunshine is too diminished in the winter for the infants to generate enough vitamin D on their own. Many infants are vitamin D deficient during winter than during summer. The vitamin D deficiency is less prevalent as babies get older. Many decades ago it was standard practice to give infants a teaspoon of cod liver oil, which averages about 400 units of vitamin D per day. When the use of baby formula became popular, enough vitamin D was added to the formula to prevent deficiency. Then since the 1970s women returned to breast feeding, but they did not think of giving their babies vitamin D supplements. Breastfed infants require about 200 units of vitamin D per day. It may be a good idea for women breastfeeding their infants to give them cod liver oil supplements during the winter months. Pediatrics, August 2006.

The longer infants are breastfed, the lower the likelihood they'll be overweight as adolescents. The findings add to the not always consistent body of research on breastfeeding and childhood weight gain. While a number of studies have suggested that breastfed babies are less likely to become overweight than bottle-fed infants, others have found no such benefit or that the weight difference does not last far into childhood. In the new study, however, Harvard researchers found that even within a single family, children who were breastfed for a longer time were slightly less likely to become overweight than their siblings who were breastfed for a shorter period. The difference within families was similar to that found in the study population as a whole, where each 4-month increase in breastfeeding was linked to a 6 percent dip in the risk of becoming overweight by adolescence. SOURCE: Epidemiology, 2006.


Breastfeeding in public photo on Babytalk Magazine

A headline on MSNBC said: "Eyeful of breast-feeding mom sparks outrage... Magazine cover blasted by public squeamish over sight of nursing breast."
     Apparently editors at Babytalk magazine were surprised that their August, 2006 cover, which features a nursing baby, offended readers. Babytalk is a free publication distributed at doctor's offices and maternity
     One viewer apparently is quoted as saying: "I was SHOCKED to see a giant breast on the cover of Babytalk magazine." "I immediately turned the magazine face down," wrote another. "Gross," said a third.
     Babytalk is a free magazine whose readership is overwhelmingly mothers of babies. Yet in a poll of more than 4,000 readers, a quarter of responses to the cover were negative, calling the photo — a baby and part of a woman's breast, in profile — inappropriate.

     Dr. Sahelian says, "I am SHOCKED on how silly these people are. What is more natural on this planet than a baby sucking on his or her mother's breast for nourishment? All I have to say to these women is, "Grow up. Go spend some time as a Peace Corp volunteer in Africa for a few weeks, and after you return I guarantee you will no longer be shocked by a photo of a baby nursing on the mother's breast. You will see there are more pressing problems on this planet than being upset by a photo of a breastfeeding baby. Some Americans are so prude, it boggles my mind."


Q. Why are there people against breast feeding in public? I don't want to stop breast feeding just because I am in public.
   A. I don't understand their viewpoint. Breastfeeding is one of the most natural things to do between a mother and a child, and I don't see the problem of exposing a nipple in public. Our society condones violence on TV with blood and gore, but a mere showing of a nipple by a mother breastfeeding her infant makes some people quite uncomfortable. I think this is a reflection of some people in our society being immature.


Concurrent medications
2014 As a general rule, most breast-feeding moms can safely take the medications and vaccines they need, without fear they'll harm a nursing infant.


Giving a vaccine while breast-feeding an infant appears to reduce the pain associated with the vaccination. Dr. Dilek Dilli and colleagues at Ankara Training and Research Hospital randomly assigned 158 infants younger than 6 months of age to breast-feeding or no breast-feeding during routine immunization. They also randomly assigned another 85 children between 6 and 48 months of age to receive a 12 percent sucrose solution, topical lidocaine-prilocaine cream, or no intervention during immunization. Dr. Dilek Dilli found breast-feeding infants under age 6 months and use of sucrose or lidocaine-prilocaine in children age 6 to 48 months reduced crying time and pain. The researchers say, "Given considerations of expense and time, topical anesthetic use should be reserved for children who are phobic or particularly anxious about a pending injection. Sucrose, which is inexpensive and easily administered by individuals without professional training, may be preferred and used during immunization in young children." The Journal of Pediatrics, 2009.