Kefir is undoubtedly an irreplaceable addition to any health-conscious diet, but is kefir really safe for the sensitive period of breastfeeding?
Most specialists are positive that consuming kefir while breastfeeding is considered safe, provided that both mum and baby are not affected by milk-related allergies.
Indeed, allergies are a widespread problem and should always be addressed with adequate consideration. Still, it is worth mentioning that milk allergies are often mistakenly confused with milk intolerance (a.k.a lactose intolerance). These two terms are very different.
While milk allergy is a severe autoimmune disease that may lead to violent reactions, lactose intolerance is a relatively common health condition, affecting between 65 and 70% of the world population, which can be easily prevented and cured.
In case of doubt, it is always a good idea to start with small, “testing” quantities of kefir first, and then increase the dosage to normal levels (up to 200-300 ml. per day) if no allergic reactions occur.
So, aside from potential allergic reactions, kefir is considered safe and beneficial for breastfeeding mothers.
Experts suggest that kefir is useful and even necessary for breastfeeding because it not only helps to increase the amount of breast milk but also improves its quality.
What are the benefits of kefir while breastfeeding?
Kefir stimulates lactation. As we all know, the food the mother eats directly affects the quality of her milk. If a woman cannot breastfeed due to a lack of sufficient milk, the use of kefir will help, as in the first place, kefir contributes to lactation and stimulates it.
Saturates milk with nutrients
In addition, regular consumption of kefir saturates breast milk with nutrients and microelements that are extremely useful for the baby. It is a valuable source of calcium, which is extremely necessary for breastfeeding mothers.
Kefir improves mum’s digestion
Kefir also improves digestion and protects against constipation, and after childbirth, many women may often experience manifestations of hemorrhoids, which hard stools may aggravate. That’s why the consumption of kefir could be very beneficial for alleviating these symptoms due to its laxative effect.
Kefir helps to populate the baby’s gut with probiotic bacteria
Most importantly, before babies are born, their intestinal microbiome is almost non-existent. At the moment of birth, the gastrointestinal tract of the baby is virtually sterile. It starts to populate with the beneficial probiotic bacteria during and right after delivery, most notably through the mother’s breast milk.
That is why the inclusion of probiotic bacteria in the mother’s diet may be crucial for developing a balanced microbial population in the baby’s gut that will later serve as the base of a reliable immune system.
Although the beneficial bacteria from kefir do not get directly transmitted to the baby through breast milk, the mother’s gut microbiome plays a vital role in the quality of her breast milk. Therefore, a healthy mum’s gut is essential for beneficial breastfeeding and connected to all aspects of a baby’s health and immunity even before delivery.
Human milk contains 700 different types of bacteria, including probiotic strains such as Lactobacillus, Streptococcus, Staphylococcus, and Bifidobacterium. So, as we said, although kefir’s probiotics do not get directly transmitted from the mother to the baby through breast milk, the mother’s healthy gut microbiome plays a vital role in both the quantity and quality of her breast milk.
Bifidobacteria contained in kefir are amongst the typical inhabitants of the human intestinal tract throughout the entire life. They are also the predominant microorganisms in the gut of breast-fed babies. It has been confirmed that breast-fed babies are considerably less prone to diarrhea and other gastrointestinal problems than infants that don’t get breast milk.
Here are the main benefits of kefir to breastfeeding mums:
- Kefir improves the absorption in the intestines of various nutrients, vitamins, and minerals.
- Kefir replenishes the calcium reserves of mum’s body. Kefir contains large amounts of calcium, and the body of a newborn requires significant amounts of calcium and mineral salts for the growth and maturation of its muscular system and skeleton.
- Kefir strengthens the immunity of the nursing mother and her baby due to a series of biologically active compounds and beneficial bacteria.
- Kefir increases regenerative abilities. Kefir contains complex carbohydrates that stimulate the healing process in any damaged tissues.
- Kefir reduces the likelihood of developing allergic reactions due to the modulation of the immune system.
- Kefir improves the functioning of the nervous system – it is a source of the water-soluble B vitamins, which are necessary for all metabolic processes in the cells of the nervous system.
Beyond that, the intake of kefir while breastfeeding can reduce the likelihood of the baby developing lactose intolerance in the future.
How to introduce kefir to breastfeeding mum’s diet?
Kefir may rarely cause any undesirable reactions while breastfeeding. Yet, including any new foods in lactating mum’s diet should be done with care.
First, the breastfeeding mother should ensure that she and her baby are not allergic to dairy products.
As we already said, milk allergy and milk (or lactose) intolerance are very different health conditions. While lactose intolerance is a relatively mild condition due to the inefficient processing of milk products in the gastrointestinal tract, milk allergy is a severe autoimmune disease that may result in violent and dangerous reactions of the body, including anaphylaxis.
That is why it is essential for breastfeeding mothers to introduce kefir in their diet slowly and carefully.
An initial trial dose of no more than 50-60 grams (2 oz) is recommended. Then, if everything looks fine (for both the mum and the baby), the dosage may be gradually increased to 1 or 2 cups per day.
Kefir is generally not recommended for any gastrointestinal diseases such as stomach or duodenal ulcers, gastritis, or pancreatitis.
The nursing mother should, by all means, ensure that the kefir she takes is of good quality.
Breastfeeding mothers should never take any fermented milk products (including kefir) made of unpasteurized or “raw” milk.
Raw milk may contain hazardous bacteria like Brucella, and the fermentation process in kefir does not eliminate them. Always use pasteurized or, at least, pre-boiled milk.
Even though kefir contains a negligible amount of alcohol, nursing mothers can consume it without any problems. Numerous studies in this regard show that alcohol does not penetrate milk due to its shallow concentration in kefir (up to 0.7% max).
With regular use, yogurt helps to normalize the digestive process. This point may be essential for mothers who face constipation and other gastrointestinal problems during pregnancy and lactation.
Kefir also prevents any processes of putrefaction and unwanted fermentation in the mother’s intestine that may often cause severe deterioration in the quality of her breast milk and even be dangerous for the baby.
Finally, kefir contains Tryptophan, which has a calming and relaxing effect on the nervous system and relieves fatigue. Kefir also allows mothers to lose the excess weight accumulated during pregnancy.
Note that most scientific studies and research data declaring usage of kefir safe while breastfeeding is based on advised dosage and may not be entirely accurate for higher dosage. Therefore, in the beginning, it is always a good idea to be careful and slightly conservative.