How to Tell If You Have Low-Quality Breast Milk
Breastfeeding moms sometimes worry about the quality of their breast milk. Fortunately, the milk you make for your baby is almost always nutritionally ideal for your child. Even severely malnourished mothers produce great breast milk, because the body takes nutrients from the mother's own body to supply the baby. If you're still worried, there are some things you can look at to reassure yourself that you are giving your baby the very best food every time you nurse.
Assess your own diet for vitamins and minerals. While breast milk will usually have all of the essential vitamins and minerals your baby needs no matter what you eat, there are a few areas you should watch out for. If you are a vegan, your milk could be deficient in vitamin B12, which is only found in animal products. A vitamin supplement can easily keep your own levels up so that your baby gets enough, too; you should get your doctor's approval before taking supplements of any kind, particularly if you're pregnant or breastfeeding. Vitamin D, which is produced by your body during sunlight exposure, is another area of concern for breastfeeding moms and babies who don't get much sun.
Take stock of the fats you eat. A breastfed baby will get whatever kinds of fats you do, so if your diet is high in trans fats, your milk might also be high in these unhealthy fats. Mothers who consume a lot of fish and flaxseed have higher levels of brain-boosting omega-3 fatty acids in their milk, so if you don't get a lot of these foods, your milk might be considered of lower quality than some other mothers' milk, although it's still of higher quality than any infant formula. Omega-6 fats, found in butter, eggs and sunflower oil, are another important type that contributes to breast milk quality.
Observe your baby's diapers. Your infant's output can tell you a lot about the quality of your milk, as well as the quantity. If your baby has at least three bowel movements a day by the middle of the first week up through the sixth week, this indicates a good intake of high-quality milk, according to La Leche League International.
Chart your baby's weight gain. A breastfed baby should return to his birth weight by 2 weeks and gain about an ounce a day during the first few months of life. However, if your baby is falling behind on the weight and height charts at your pediatrician's office, the problem is more likely to be quantity, not quality, so talk to your doctor or a lactation consultant about ways to increase supply.
Keep in mind that for most women, breast milk quality is never an issue. As long as you are healthy, your breast milk remains the best food possible for your infant. If you do have concerns, a lactation consultant or dietitian can assess your own diet to make sure you are getting everything your baby needs.
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- "La Leche League International: The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, 8th Edition"; Dianne Wiessinger, Diana West and Teresa Pitman; 2010