After doing the September Whole30, I received a lot of questions from other moms who were thinking about participating in one, but had concerns on the effects it would have on their milk supply or their babies. I asked the team over at Whole30 Healthy Mama, Happy Baby to answer some of the questions you had, and I think you'll really enjoy their article. I also posted on Eco-Friendly and Plastic-Free Breastmilk Pumping and Storage last week, so be sure to head to that post if you missed it!
Always run any dietary changes past your provider, to ensure it’s an appropriate option for you.
Interested in trying a Whole30 while nursing, but afraid of losing your milk supply? You’re not alone. This is a common concern we hear from the women in our Whole30 Healthy Mama, Happy Baby program. Some moms swear they notice a decrease in supply after starting a Whole30, some don’t notice any change, and others believe the dietary changes actually increase their supply.
This leaves breastfeeding moms who are seeking the benefits of a Whole30 in a tricky situation. While they may want to follow a Whole30 with modifications for nursing (see page 114 of The Whole30), the fear of “what if” can scare them off from even trying it. My hope is that with this blog, I can help ease some of your fears regarding breastfeeding and Whole30. These questions came straight from mamas like you.
Can you still eat well and nourish yourself and your little one without doing a Whole30? Absolutely! But for those of you who would like to do a Whole30 while nursing, (with approval from your provider), these answers can help make this decision a little more clear.
Is it bad to drastically transition into Paleo/Whole30 after being on a SAD (Standard American) diet? Will it kill my milk production? – Linnéa G on Instagram
It’s not necessarily “bad,” but it may make your transition a little harder. As Melissa Hartwig so tough-lovingly states on days 2-3 of the Whole30 Timeline, “the amount of suck you experience in this phase is directly proportional to the amount of crap you consumed before you began the program.” To make the transition a little easier, start with a week of 1-2 small to moderate changes to your diet right now before going “all in” with a Whole30.
For example, instead of having a carb-heavy breakfast of flavored yogurt with granola and fruit, you could focus on a Whole30-friendly breakfast of scrambled eggs with sliced avocado over a bed of greens with a side of fresh berries.
While this isn’t necessary from a supply standpoint (granted your caloric intake, hydration, and nursing/pumping frequency are adequate), it may help reduce the amount of fatigue, headaches, and general malaise experienced during the initial week of your Whole30.
Will my milk production drop without grains? – Addie D. on Instagram
The short answer is no. Grains are not a necessary component of maintaining your milk supply. However, if you are dropping calories (and potentially her carbs) too low, that could be the culprit. Some of the factors that can influence your supply include hydration, calories, hormones, (thyroid, cortisol, insulin, estrogen, progesterone), blood sugar levels, and milk removal.
If you are staying on top of these factors, you has a greater chance of ensuring adequate supply. Some moms swear that oats boost their supply, since they’re considered a galactogogue (medication or substance believed to assist milk production). If you’ve ruled out other potential causes of a low supply and want to include food or herbal galactagogues (with the approval of your provider), there are non-grain options, such as fennel seed, fenugreek, alfalfa, goat’s rue, brewer’s yeast, and blessed thistle, delicious tea blends or capsules. I’d caution against immediately jumping into using herbs as there may be side effects and drug interactions, and in many cases, galactogogues aren’t necessary to increase/maintain supply.
With that being said, if you believe your supply responds well to grains (such as oats) while nursing and you’d like to keep them in during your reset, feel free to use the principles of the Whole30 program, such as eating real, nutrient-dense food, and modify accordingly. You can still benefit from the removal of other potentially inflammatory foods. If you eat oats, try to include protein and fat, such as ghee and eggs to reduce the impact on your blood sugar, and stay away from SWYPO lactation cookies or sweet fat bombs (even if they’re sweetened with dates!).
Can you help me visualize what a #BreastfeedingWhole30 looks like and what a sufficient carb intake looks like? – C. Jones on Instagram
Check out our posts on breastfeeding here and here to get more ideas, but know that everyone’s dietary needs and preferences are going to be different. Some moms are able to maintain their supply eating a lower-carb diet as long as they stay hydrated, consume sufficient calories, and nurse/pump on demand or at regular intervals with sufficient milk removal. In short, there’s no set amount of carbs that works for everyone.
With that being said, many moms find they’re better able to maintain their supply when they include a source of starchy vegetables and/or fruit at most of their meals, which is why we recommend it as a starting spot for nursing mamas.
If you were consuming a diet higher in carbs (45-60%+ of your total calories) prior to starting your Whole30, you could consider gradually reducing the quantity and quality of the carbs you are eating. This way, your body is still getting a similar (albeit lower) amount of carbs at each meal, mitigating potential issues from quickly dropping carbs with this transition.
For example, instead of going straight from eating 1 cup of steel cut oatmeal with fruit (50+ grams of carbs) at breakfast to eggs, spinach, and sugar-free bacon (<5 grams), you could add in sweet potato hash or fruit at breakfast to meet somewhere in the middle. Instead of having 1 cup of spaghetti at dinner (40+ grams), you could have 1 cup of sweet potato noodles (20+ grams) with marinara and ground beef. You can see an example day from my #BreastfeedingWhole30 in this post.
You can also use the Whole30 Meal Planning Template to get an idea of what portion sizes look like. Keep in mind that your needs may be on the higher side, and you may need a fourth meal or a few mini-meals throughout the day to keep up with your increased calorie demands. Make sure you’re eating enough and don’t limit carbs. You’re allowed to snack, and you’ll want to consider starchy vegetables and/or fruit at most meals.
How can I be sure that a breastfeeding Whole30 isn’t negatively impacting my supply? Should I be looking at pump output or at the baby's nursing habits or behavior? – Lindsay R. on Instagram
I tell moms (including myself!) that the only thing consistent with your baby is inconsistency. They’re changing every day. A few factors to consider when your baby is having an off day:
There are huge developmental leaps that happen during the first year (and beyond), that can cause your little one to act differently (check out the Wonder Weeks for more info!) Growth spurts may cause your little one to nurse more often. Some babies have “witching hours” (certain times of the day, often in the evenings) where they tend to be more fussy. Another theory is that your milk supply is naturally lower at this time of day, or maybe baby is overstimulated or just tired! These can cause frustration while nursing.
The following factors may also impact your baby’s “typical” nursing patterns and/or behavior:
- In baby: teething, illness, poor sleep, increased stress.
- In mom: illness, starting hormonal birth control, ovulation or your period, increasing exercise without increasing calories, insufficient hydration, poor sleep, or increased stress.
Know that crying, crankiness, clinginess, and more time spent nursing may not necessarily signal lower supply. But believe me, I know this is easier said than believed, because with every leap or growth spurt, major nursing self-doubt crept up on me too!
Kelly Bonyata (BS, IBCLC) of the website Kelly Mom, says, “It’s important to note that the feel of the breast, the behavior of your baby, the frequency of nursing, the sensation of let-down, or the amount you pump are not valid ways to determine if you have enough milk for your baby.” Her post on increasing low supply is full of solid information regarding misconceptions about milk supply and how to increase it.
Some signs to look out for that could mean a lowered supply after settling into your Whole30:
- Less output (less wet or poopy diapers)
- Consistently less pumping output than your norm (granted you’ve considered these factors)
- Poor weight gain could be something to look for, but it may not be caught in a 30 day span and it depends on the age of your baby.
The Whole30 may or may not affect your supply, but know that there may be other considerations for you to investigate with your lactation consultant/pediatrician, if you’d like to continue. I’d highly recommend connecting with a lactation consultant before your baby is born so that you can have individualized attention and support at the ready if and when you need it. If you need other great resources to support your nursing questions or concerns, check out Kellymom.com and LLLI.org (where you can find in-person breastfeeding support groups!).
I’ve personally completed three Whole30’s while nursing and following the modifications discussed here without any impact on my supply; however, know that everyone’s experience is different. Should you experience any dips in supply, while ruling out some of the factors mentioned above, please don’t feel bad for stopping early. The last thing we need is more mom guilt. What matters is that you and your baby are happy, healthy, and thriving on whatever works best for your situation. Remember, fed is best. Please don’t beat yourself up no matter what you decide.
Still on the fence? We discuss reasons you may want to wait to do a #BreastfeedingWhole30 in a two-part series you can find here and here. We also answer the safety of a #Breastfeedingwhole30 in a three-part series. (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3). If you’d like extra support with your #PregnantWhole30 or #BreastfeedingWhole30, consider joining our HMHB program, which includes access to a private facebook page that I moderate. I answer your questions and provide unlimited support to help you rock your Whole30, pregnancy, and postpartum.
Stephanie Greunke is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in nutrition who specializes in women’s health. She is a certified personal trainer and prenatal and postnatal corrective exercise specialist. Stephanie guides and supports women locally and globally through her web-based private practice, RockYourHormones.com.
photo by Jennifer Skog