A mother’s nutrition has very little influence on the composition of her breastmilk

A mother’s nutrition has very little influence on the composition of her breastmilk

Julio Basulto is a bestselling author of several nutrition books; he is the father of three beautiful daughters and happily married to dietitian-nutritionist Olga Ayllón. His books are highly recommended, as he has published 5 books on different subjects, and in all of them, he talks about the importance of breastfeeding in maternal and child health. In his book “Eating and running” he doesn’t speak about breastfeeding, although he does insist that exercise shouldn’t be a (another) hindrance to breastfeeding.

Today, we want to talk about his book: “Mom Eats Healthy. Healthy Eating in Pregnancy and Breastfeeding” in which he talks about women’s diet before, during pregnancy, and during breastfeeding.

Most of all, Julio has a high scientific rigor; everything he writes is based on scientific evidence, which allows him to dismantle myths and false beliefs at once.

On many occasions, and for convenience, some want to make breastfeeding mothers believe that in order to breastfeed, they need to follow an absolutely complete diet, very strict and very perfect, because if they don’t, this puts at risk the composition of their breastmilk. This would supposedly negatively affect the feeding and development of the baby.

But we have to confess that when we had the book in our hands, the first thing we did was read the section on lactation. And the first impression was a surprise: that’s it? Compared to the rest of the book, the space dedicated to the nutrition of breastfeeding mothers was very little. Why is that?

Well, just by reading the title of the chapter, we understood that the nutrition of breastfeeding mothers is not rocket science. Breastfeeding mothers don’t need to accurately count the amount of minerals, proteins, and fats they consume.

So we took advantage of the fact that we had some time with him to ask some questions:

What are the main questions of breastfeeding woman regarding their nutrition?

Before answering, allow me to thank you so much for this wonderful introduction. Priceless. And I am going to refer to something you mentioned there to answer your question. Because I want to keep that wonderful adjective that you have given me as a rigorous person who tries to base statements on scientific research, my answer can be no other than “I don’t know.” The honest truth is that I don’t remember having reviewed studies (although I’m sure there are) that have evaluated the main doubts of the majority of breastfeeding women in relation to their diet. I suppose that’s why in the book, I have left no stone unturned: that is to say, I have reviewed macro and micronutrients, as well as the typical food myths (“drink more water,” “avoid asparagus,” and so on), with the intention of not leaving anything in the unknown.

What myth about breastfeeding and babies makes you angry the most?

Any myth that promotes the formula milk industry. These are the most harmful because they undermine. They tell us that breastfeeding is ideal, but at the same time, they let us know that the mother’s diet “is fundamental because a large part of the composition of breast milk will depend on her.” I didn’t make up this sentence. It comes from Danone, a multinational company that sells infant formulas in addition to yogurts.

It’s not true: the mother’s diet has very little influence on the composition of her breastmilk, as you can see in any breastfeeding manual. Why this small, fragile, and almost safe lie? To try to convince mothers, in a very subtle way, that they have to clean up their diet, which only a very small percentage of the population is willing to do. And even among women who want to change their habits, many will not be able to do so because their environment makes it very difficult for them.

In general, mothers believe that they do not eat well enough, and surely this is so. Is breastfeeding the ideal excuse to change and improve our diet?

No one follows a perfect diet, and that includes my wife, our daughters, and me. Perfection doesn’t exist. One of the wisest men who has ever walked the earth, Eduardo Galeano, invited us in his text “The right to dream” to be imperfect because perfection is, according to him, “the boring privilege of the gods.” I think like him, of course. I don’t think we should be looking for “nutritional perfection” but rather try to improve our knowledge, try to learn from mistakes, and try to improve day by day.

Is breastfeeding a good excuse to improve your habits? If that doesn’t cause you to get stressed out, which means you end up giving the baby a bottle, go ahead.

A couple of years ago, it was stated that in the Barcelona region, many malnourished mothers did not have enough breast milk for their babies. What do you think about this?

It’s false. Even if these women suffered from “malnutrition,” which is not the same as “undernutrition,” they would be able to breastfeed perfectly. In Spain, there is malnutrition, but it is mostly found amongst almost two-thirds of the population who are overweight.

As you know, in the book, I pick up this statement from the Breastfeeding Committee of the Spanish Association of Pediatrics: “The nutritional status of the mother, except in cases of extreme undernutrition, does not interfere with the capacity of milk production or the quality of breast milk.”

Many times, we have heard that you can not differentiate a breastfed child from one who has taken a bottle. Can you?

Not at an individual level but at the population level. That is to say, a baby that takes the bottle can be as healthy, or more, than one that breastfeeds. But if instead of comparing the health of a breastfed baby with that of a non-breastfed baby, we compare one million breastfed babies with one million bottle-fed babies, of course, we will notice differences. In the text “Breastfeeding: A delicious connection between mother’s and baby’s immunity” I detailed that the diseases that can be prevented by breastfeeding in a dose-response relationship are as follows:

  • Asthma
  • Bronchiolitis due to respiratory viruses
  • Atopic dermatitis
  • Type 1 or type 2 diabetes
  • Celiac disease
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Necrotizing enterocolitis
  • Gastroenteritis
  • Upper or lower respiratory tract infection
  • Leukemia
  • Obesity
  • Middle ear infection
  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)

Has anyone influenced your life, leading you to promote public health?

Yes, there was that someone. His name was Luis. He was a family member who died more than ten years ago. At the age of 90, he could perfectly climb four floors up the stairs without stopping to talk so amicably. He was in magnificent health, both mentally and physically, to the point that I couldn’t help but ask him from time to time, “But are you sure you don’t have any pain at all, Mr. Luis?” And no, he didn’t. You can imagine the key to his health: he followed a good lifestyle for decades. A very good example to follow.

What would you like to be asked, but nobody has done so yet?

Well, I would swear that nobody has asked me what I think is the key to a well-functioning life as a couple, which determines not only the emotional and physical health of a couple but also that of their children (it is unlikely that we will improve our health habits when there is a bad environment in our home). I think it’s essential to ask your partner every day: what can I do for you? If the partner loves you, which is logical and normal, that is why you are their partner; they will not take advantage of you, and there will be more harmony in the home. And if they take advantage of you (which is very unlikely), they don’t love you, and the sooner you know, the better.

You can find more information about Julio Basulto on his website, and we are looking forward to the day his fantastic books will be translated into English.

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