As a new mom, you are a tastemaker. Many mothers don’t realize that the same imprinting process that lets babies learn about taste and smell in utero also applies to breast-feeding.
Breast milk is constantly changing its composition based on what you eat. When nursing, your little one is not only getting a nutrient rich meal—they are also detecting traces of flavor, which benefits them. Babies learn about and imprint on the new flavors they experience in breast milk, and they develop ongoing preferences based on this exposure to new foods.
Among of the benefits of breast milk is that the fruits, vegetables, meats, grains, herbs, and spices that you love are going straight to your baby. Studies show that when your baby makes the transition to solid foods, she is more likely to enjoy her first pureed vegetable or fruit if she recognizes its flavor from breast milk, or even if it’s a food you ate during pregnancy.
Hints of many flavors come through breast milk
Bananas will pass through breast milk quickly, while a mint flavor stays longer. Most moms are able to enjoy a variety of flavors (even spicy food) when breast-feeding without any difficulties for their babies. Some moms report that certain foods they eat result in gas or discomfort in their babies. Foods that may trigger gas include cabbage and other vegetables in the cabbage family, like broccoli or brussels sprouts. But also dairy, citrus, and even chocolate. As is always the case with your child’s health, err on the side of caution: if you think something you’re eating make your child uncomfortable, go ahead and eliminate that food from your diet.
Although it’s uncommon, a baby can have an allergic reaction to something you’ve eaten. Indications of an allergic response can be a rash, hives, mucus in stools, or congestion. If any of these occurs, consult with your pediatrician before continuing your consumption of the guilty food. Also be aware of how much caffeine you are ingesting. If you have a cup of coffee, half of its caffeine may have left your blood five hours later—but some of it may still be passed to your newborn in breast milk as much as four days later. Newborns take a long time to eliminate caffeine from their bodies, but by 3 to 5 months old they do it as quickly as adults.
Not an option?
If breast-feeding is not an option for your family, though, you shouldn’t feel guilty. Formulas available today are the best we have ever had and provide your baby with all the nutrients they need. Parents also have the option to introduce solids earlier so that baby’s diet can include rich flavors and complex, real-food nutrients from an early age.