Although few studies have examined the impact of malnutrition on breastfeeding, it seems that the quality and quantity of breast milk may be affected in cases of severe malnutrition only.
Malnutrition occurs when the body does not receive enough energy, protein and nutrients to function properly. In other words, the body’s needs are not met. The body will draw on its own reserves until they are exhausted; the body will then enter a state of nutritional deficiency. Long-term deficiencies lead to malnutrition.
It is known that the production of milk and the act of breastfeeding requires more energy from the body. Generally, women produce milk adapted to the needs of their baby in terms of quality and quantity. Even among women with moderate malnutrition, the quantity and quality of milk would be little or not at all affected. So even if a mother eats little or less in a day, the quantity and quality of her milk are not affected. The body favors the production of milk by drawing on the reserves of the mother, if necessary, if the supply is not adequate.
Having a low income is a factor leading to malnutrition. In fact, in this context, the budget for food is the most reducible and food purchases are limited. However, breastfeeding remains the recommended and most beneficial choice for the child and the mother, even if the diet of the mother is not optimal. In addition to that, breastfeeding requires no cost compared to infant formulas, which are very expensive.
It is recommended to continue taking a prenatal vitamin even after childbirth.
When the body is deprived daily of a large amount of energy (at least 1500 calories per day), the production of breast milk should diminish, but such a situation is somewhat rare.
It seems that a deficiency of certain vitamins in the mother would affect the nutritional quality of her breast milk. These are the B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, B6 and B12) as well as vitamin A, C and D found in breast milk that are mainly influenced by the mother’s diet. These vitamins are of concern since the breastfed child will also show a deficiency and accordingly, the child becomes at risk for neurological and skeletal problems, as well as growth retardation.
Apart from these nutrients, fat and protein in breast milk should not be affected.
In case of concern for the nutritional status of the woman or the child, consult a nutritionist or a doctor. In times of financial insecurity, refer to the following resources or contact a CLSC: