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May 17 / suzanne

Good Neighbor Q&A: Is it OK to bring broccoli, garlic or spicy foods to a breastfeeding mom?

George W. H. Bush's least favorite vegetable did not cause this baby to cry

So I recently signed up for a meal train for a friend who just had a baby, and the instructions included, “Please, no onions, garlic, or gassy foods (ie: broccoli or cabbage).

Then last week, came this from the Portland Oregonian: “Some new mothers find that particular foods adversely affect their breast-feeding baby. Spicy foods, or those in the brassica (cabbages and broccoli) and allium (onion) family are the most common offenders.”

Guess what?

“Those are old wives’ tales,” says Melissa Kotlen Nagin, a board-certified lactation consultant in New York City, who runs breastfeeding support groups at Yummy Mummy.

Melissa says the issue comes up daily in her practice. “I’ve had clients tell me they’ve been eating plain chicken and boiled potatoes because they’re so afraid of making the baby gassy. I tell them, ‘Throw some Tabasco on that!’ ”

Broccoli and its ilk may be gassy for mothers, and you might get a whiff of that Spicy Broccoli Stir-Fry emanating from the baby, says Melissa, but “no food that a nursing mother eats is going to cause painful gas in the baby, unless the baby is wired for a cow’s-milk sensitivity.”

Two to 7.5 percent of infants are, in fact, allergic to milk protein (and about one-third of these babies may also allergic to soy). But symptoms of those conditions go way beyond fussiness: screaming, grunting, deep knee-bends, mucus-filled and/or bloody diarrhea — wait, this is probably not the sort of stuff you want to read about on a cooking website.

At any rate, none one of these symptoms are caused by George H. W. Bush’s least favorite vegetable. As pediatrician Dr. Alan Greene explains here, newborns are, well, new to the whole swallowing and breathing thing and are not particularly adept at it. When they cry, they often swallow air, which may get trapped in their tummies.

“Everyone wants to find a reason for fussiness, Melissa notes. “Moms say, ‘Last night I ate Indian food, and I swear my baby had the worst night.’ But he could have had the worst night if she’d eaten pizza.”

So if you’re cooking for a nursing mom, know that you needn’t steer clear of Cauliflower Curry — unless, of course, she doesn’t like cauliflower or curry (so be sure to ask in advance about any dislikes).

What’s more, there’s good reason to bring her a flavorful meal. Breastmilk is flavored by the foods the mother eats, and studies like this and this suggest that infants exposed to an array of tastes tend to be less picky, and more willing to eat fruits and veggies, later on in childhood.

Stay tuned tomorrow for some super-flavorful, taboo-busting meals for new moms!


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  1. Alanna / May 17 2011

    OMG!!!! Yay for you! You found one expert who says onions, garlic, and brassica are OK for breastfeeding moms to eat. Guess what, that’s great information, but that is not YOUR decision as someone volunteering to deliver a meal. If the recipient requested “Please, no onions, garlic, or gassy foods (ie: broccoli or cabbage).” then don’t put those items in. YOU are not eating it.

    It may have nothing to do with the breastfeeding, maybe those foods don’t agree with someone in the family. Maybe the mom has anecdotal experience with earlier babies where there was an adverse reaction. Maybe she heard the Old Wives Tale and believes it, so made the request, it is her meal and her baby.

    THIS ISN”T ABOUT YOU. Respect their dietary requests. If you cannot do that, don’t volunteer to cook for them.

    • suzanne / May 25 2011

      Hi Alanna. Alas, I did not word my post very artfully! When I delivered a dish to my friend with the new baby, of course I respected their wishes. I would never deliver a dish with ingredients that someone asked not to receive. I was just trying to make the point that there really isn’t evidence that these foods cause colic or gassiness, as the Portland Oregonian article assumed. And if a recipient doesn’t make a specific request not to include garlic, broccoli, etc. there’s no need to avoid those ingredients if the dish you’re thinking of making contains them. My own mother-in-law assumed I wouldn’t eat broccoli or asparagus or onions and left those yummy veggies out of foods she cooked while visiting. My point was simply: Hey, no need! Also, it wasn’t just “one expert” who says this. I’ve written on the topic before and interviewed several nutritionists, researchers, etc. But your point is well taken: The top priority should be respecting the dietary requests of recipients.

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