The information included in this post is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult your healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for your own situation, or if you have any questions regarding your treatment plan.
By Stephanie Greunke, Whole30 Dietitian and Education Manager
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 members of our community. Some 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 those who are nursing and 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 your milk supply while on the Whole30. These questions came straight from nursing parents 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.
Some Frequently Asked Whole30 and Nursing Questions
Is it bad to drastically transition into a Whole30 after being on a SAD (Standard American) diet? Will it kill my milk production? – Linnéa G
It’s not “bad,” but it may make your transition a little harder. As Melissa Urban 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, you could 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 sugary yogurt, granola, oatmeal, or a large bagel, 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.
This isn’t necessary from a supply standpoint (granted your caloric intake, hydration, and nursing/pumping frequency are adequate). However, 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.
The short answer is no. Grains are not a necessary component of maintaining your milk supply. However, if you are dropping calories (and likely carbs) too low, too fast, that can impact your supply. Some of the factors that can influence your supply include hydration, total calories, hormones, (thyroid, cortisol, insulin, estrogen, progesterone), and milk removal.
If you are staying on top of these factors, you have a greater chance of ensuring a consistent milk supply. Some swear that oats boost their supply since they’re considered a galactagogue (a 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, 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. Always run any new supplements past your provider(s). In many cases, galactagogues aren’t necessary to increase/maintain supply.
With that being said, if you believe your supply responds well to gluten-free grains (such as oats) while nursing and you’d like to keep them in while doing a modified reset, you can. It just wouldn’t be a true Whole30 reset. Feel free to use the principles of the Whole30 program, such as eating whole, nutrient-dense food, and modify accordingly. (Melissa Urban outlines several resets, incuding a process for designing your own, in Food Freedom Forever.) You will still benefit from the removal of other potentially inflammatory foods and may be able to pinpoint certain foods that aren’t working for you upon reintroduction.
If you eat oats, try to include a source of protein and fat with the meal, such as ghee and eggs to reduce the impact on your blood sugar. Stay away from The Pancake Rule lactation cookies or sweet fat bombs (even if they’re sweetened with dates).
Can you help me visualize what a Nursing Whole30 looks like and what sufficient carb intake looks like? – C. Jones
Everyone’s dietary needs and preferences are going to be different. We’ve shared more tips in this post on nursing to give you more ideas. Some people 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. Others swear that even slight decreases in their carbohydrate intake noticeably impact supply. In short, there’s no set amount of carbs that works for everyone.
With that being said, many 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. We recommend that as a starting point.
If you are currently consuming a diet higher in carbs (45-60%+ of your total calories), at least a week prior to starting your Whole30 you can consider gradually reducing the number of carbs you are eating. This way, your body is still getting a similar (albeit lower) amount of carbs at each meal. This could mitigate 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 of carbs), you could have 1 cup of sweet potato noodles (20+ grams).
The goal isn’t to remove all carbohydrates on a Whole30. A lower-carbohydrate diet is not inherently better for everyone. We just want to make the transition to eating lower-glycemic carbohydrates from fruits/vegetables work with your body’s energy needs and milk supply.
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 will be on the higher side. 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 remember to include starchy vegetables and/or fruit at most meals.
How can I be sure that a nursing 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.
I often remind parents (including myself!) that the only thing consistent with your baby is inconsistency. They’re changing every day.
There are huge developmental leaps that happen during the first year 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. 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. 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.
While the Whole30 could affect your milk supply, there are things you can do to set yourself up for success. I hope these Nursing Whole30 FAQs help you succeed. I’d highly recommend connecting with a lactation consultant before your baby is born. This ensures you will 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. LLLI.org can help you find in-person nursing support groups.
I’ve personally completed three Whole30’s while nursing and following the modifications discussed above without noticing any impact on my supply; however, we 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 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.
Stephanie Greunke is Whole30’s Dietitian and Education Manager. Stephanie has a master’s degree in nutrition and specializes in women’s health. She is also certified in perinatal mental health (PMH-C), is a certified personal trainer (CPT) and a prenatal and postnatal corrective exercise specialist. You can find Stephanie on Instagram,@stephgreunke, and visit her web-based private practice, Stephgreunke.com.
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Dietitian and Education Manager