Many of us start thinking about how to lose that baby weight and clean up our bodies shortly after baby arrives.
We are ready to get rid of the pregnancy hormones that helped bring our sweet little bundle into the world, but changed our bodies dramatically in a short time.
I mean, your body has not been your own for quite some time, am I right?
You want to feel healthy, light, clean, womanly, svelte, energetic, free and happy. (Insert more of your own adjectives here!)
You Are Totally Normal
Sometimes when you have a nursling, the only thing in your power is adjusting your diet to accomplish some of those goals and feelings of normalcy.
But, it’s so confusing! What can you really do to make an impact on your health without affecting baby?
The internet, your doctor, your best friend, a magazine article…all say something different about what we can and cannot eat during a breastfeeding “cleanse.”
My Experience With Breastfeeding
So, I struggled with making enough breast milk. My first baby was a bit colicky. (And, by a bit, I mean he was a holy living terror for the first three months of his life 👶🏻.)
My needs for detox were powerful!
I retained the baby weight (I gained 50 pounds when pregnant with both of my children!) for far too long.
My hormones were a mess and I was desperate to find solutions to my own health desires and demands, while ensuring that I could continue to nurse my babies for as long as possible.
I knew that I could not skimp on calories or else my blood sugar, energy levels and moods would crash and burn. That would not be good.
I also knew that I needed enough calories to keep making sufficient and high-quality breast milk.
I knew that protein was essential for healing my thyroid.
I knew that nutrient-dense foods would give me my health back.
But I also wanted some “quick fixes” to purge the unwanted pounds and pimples brought on by pregnancy.
So I researched and began to implement strategies which would help a nursing mother detox safely.
Importance of Detox
Because detoxification is so super, duper important, it’s happening all the time with or without our support.
The critical detox pathways in your body are meant to keep you healthy and “clean” without even having to think about it.
There are things we can do, however, to encourage our bodies to detoxify more efficiently, more effectively, and help remove the substances, foods, drinks and chemicals that often get in the way of our own innate ability to detox.
Eating fresh, organic, whole foods, in the natural forms intended by Mother Nature is the best detoxification program available!
You can read more about my step-by-step plan for safely detoxing while breastfeeding here.
Detoxing Safely While Breastfeeding
There are definite safety concerns around doing any intense detoxification programs, whether you are breastfeeding or not.
Not all detoxes are safe, tested or effective. Many detox programs are more like a very restrictive fad diet.
The safety of detox while breastfeeding needs to be the number one priority.
During breastfeeding, a woman’s body is already working double-time to detoxify all of the pollutants that she comes into contact with.
Internal toxins (like hormones and by-products) and external toxins (chemicals from plastics and pesticides) are filtered as much as possible by the body to create nutritious breast milk.
If you are breastfeeding, it is important to be gentle with your body. Extreme detox measures (i.e., Master Cleanse – see below) can result in unwanted side effects to your nursing little one.
When we stress the body during any type of rigorous detox protocol, the body begins compensating for lack of nutrients, and that messes up the body’s homeostasis (“balance”).
The organs of detoxification use clean fuel (food) as energy to maintain their cleansing activities. Therefore, real, healthy, nutrient-dense food is needed to support detox and to support the energy needs of both mother and baby.
Finding the Right Balance
Restricting calories, fat, protein or nutritious foods is advised against for a number of reasons. But, primarily because too little of the clean fuel needed for baby adversely affects the quality and quantity of breast milk.
This may in turn affect baby’s growth and development.
Furthermore, while we may feel amazing for a while after doing any extreme detox measures like fasting or juicing, changes to homeostasis in our bodies may result in holding on to or possibly taking on new toxins.
Yes, believe it or not, sometimes the best intentions for cleansing or detoxing the body may actually have the exact OPPOSITE effect. We can actually become more toxic when we detoxify improperly.
Other issues with a stressed homeostasis can occur as well:
- nutrient deficiencies
- increased cravings for sweets or carbs
- slowed energy metabolism
- increased weight gain
- increased toxins/heavy metal load
- worsening of symptoms like aches, pains, headaches, infections, etc.
- long-term negative effects on hormone balance
Myths & Truths About Breastfeeding Detox Tactics
There are so many myths out there.
Just Google search “breastfeeding detox” to see how crazy some of the ideas and suggestions are. (One strange website recommends taking large amounts of castor oil daily and giving yourself diarrhoea for 7 days to lose weight! 😳 YIKES! Do not do that!)
I get questions all the time from my breastfeeding clients about which approaches to safe detox are best.
I’ve done the legwork on this topic so you don’t have to.
My safety ratings on commonly-held popular detox foods and drinks are listed here.
- Green light means go for it and enjoy!
- Yellow light means please discuss this idea with your doctor first and use caution if proceeding.
- Red light means definitely do not try this idea, now and possibly even after you are done breastfeeding as it is just a bad idea all around!
Popular Detox Food & Drinks – My Safety Ratings For Breastfeeding
Fresh squeezed lemon juice in your water is one of the healthiest drinks. It can really help stimulate the body’s natural detox processes and help you feel rejuvenated.
Having lemon water while breastfeeding is a healthy and safe idea because nursing mothers tend to feel tired during the early phases of pregnancy and lemon juice contains antioxidants that can help in raising energy levels.
Lemon water also improves the blood circulation in the body which improves the quality of milk and keeps your baby happy and content.
Lemon water may also help improve digestion in both the mother and baby.
Fresh pressed juices
While fresh juices should not replace any of your other meals (calories, fats, proteins, or complex carbohydrate foods necessary for producing healthy breast milk), FRESH PRESSED ORGANIC juice can be a healthy, energizing snack.
I recommend drinking only ORGANIC juice in addition to eating as healthy as possible. I suggest juicing your own veggies and fruits if you are able to (I love the Hurom juicer) with emphasis on an abundance of leafy greens, which are high in protein, folate, iron, and vitamins C and K.
Also, vitamin C-rich fruits and veggies like navel oranges, kiwi, red and green bell peppers are excellent to support your immune system. Fresh ginger added to your juices is very helpful for alleviating nausea.
Last but not least, you can always sip on coconut water to keep you and baby hydrated.
For me, a cup of herbal tea helped tremendously when I experienced strong food cravings while breastfeeding since tea can help curb appetite.
Rather than having a “not so healthy snack” you can pour a cup of tea instead.
There is a rather short list of what a woman can drink while breastfeeding.
So, focus on these safe and healthy herbal teas which not only have safe cleansing properties, but may also help boost your breast milk supply.
They are ginger tea, linden flower tea, orange peel, lemon peel, rosehip tea (contains extra vitamin C), chamomile tea, cinnamon tea, and red raspberry leaf tea.
Red raspberry leaf tea is especially good for supporting the reproductive organs and may assist in toning the uterus and restoring the pelvic area after giving birth.
Smoothies are one of the best natural detox beverage options available to a nursing mother because you can load LOTS OF NUTRIENTS into a small, easily digestible package.
Nursing mothers need extra calories and a nutritious smoothie is the perfect mini-meal or snack. Some of my favorite smoothie recipes have numerous medicinal properties, including hydrating and liver supportive ingredients.
To any smoothie, you can add a number of different “superfoods” which are safe for breastfeeding. For example, ground flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, acai berries, unsweetened coconut flakes, dandelion greens and dates.
My favorite recipe is perfect for a breastfeeding mamma who wants to detox naturally and maintain superior breastmilk.
- 1 banana (potassium)
- 1 cup coconut water (electrolytes)
- 1 bunch of organic dandelion greens, baby spinach or chopped kale (iron, minerals, vitamins C & K)
- 2 organic pitted dates (iron, minerals, fiber)
- 2 TBS organic shelled hemp seeds (great source of protein, essential fatty acids)
- 1-2 TBS (to taste) unsweetened coconut flakes (fiber, minerals)
- Ice and additional water to your texture/consistency preference
- Blend all ingredients and enjoy right away!
Honestly, for all kinds of protein powders, they aren’t really a crucial part of any type of detox regimen. But, they are an excellent way to get additional protein if consuming animal meat is either inconvenient or not a part of your normal dietary routine.
Protein is critical for supporting a breastfeeding mother’s musculo-skeletal system, healthy glands and tissues, balanced hormones and strong metabolism.
So, in that way, protein powders do support body balance, and our body’s natural ability to cleanse and detoxify. (In other words, when all systems are working well with enough protein, healthy fat and calories on board, detoxification works optimally on its own.)
Whether or not you are breastfeeding, the quality of this type of supplement is of utmost importance.
Look for a protein powder that specifically states that it is safe for use during pregnancy and breastfeeding. That means it will be of a higher caliber, and won’t contain any of the ingredients which can harm your baby.
Many commercial protein powders contain added sweeteners, unnecessary nutrients which have body-builders in mind, endocrine disrupting soy protein isolates, or energy-boosting herbs and nutrients which can adversely affect mom and baby.
Furthermore, the source of the protein is really important.
Things to consider: is the whey from a grass-fed cow? Is the protein plant-based? Are there any allergenic ingredients in the formula? Is the source of plant protein from a genetically-modified organism?
My favorite protein powder for pregnancy and breastfeeding is the dairy-free product by Designs for Health PurePaleo Protein (link goes to FullScript for those with account credentials).
Wheatgrass is an excellent source of plant-based vitamins and minerals – packed into a tiny shot of juice. Many people turn towards a shot of wheatgrass juice as a means of quick cleansing.
There are numerous benefits from drinking wheatgrass.
But it’s not for the faint of heart and certainly not something to start anew during pregnancy or breastfeeding if you have never tried it before.
Wheatgrass juice gets a yellow light because not all wheatgrass is created equal.
Most wheatgrass juice that is available at juice bars, health food stores or even specialty grocery stores comes from greenhouse growing operations where mold is a significant issue. I can’t recommend juice from greenhouse grown plants to anyone at anytime.
Most people are allergic to these molds and they can cause anything from mild (nausea) to severe reactions (anaphylaxis). If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, you want to stay away from all food sources of mold.
If you are going to consume wheatgrass juice, please make sure it only comes from organic, field grown plants.
Celery juice is amazing for total body cleansing on so many levels. There are many reasons why I do support the use of celery juice as part of a healthy, balanced nutrition plan.
Just some of the benefits of celery juice include:
- Balances stomach acid, helps heal digestion
- Contains folate, a critical B vitamin
- Helps to lower cholesterol
- Supports a healthy gallbladder and prevents calcification of gallstones
However, celery juice gets the yellow light because some of the reasons to be cautious of drinking celery juice while breastfeeding are important enough to discuss with your doctor. Especially so if you have other medical concerns or considerations in the postnatal period:
- Acts as a diuretic which may cause dehydration
- Lowers blood pressure which may cause blood pressure to go too low if you already have low blood pressure concerns
Last but not least, celery consistently makes the “The Dirty Dozen” list of fruits and vegetables which, when conventionally grown, test positive for at least 47 different chemicals, with some testing positive for as many as 67.
For all produce on the “dirty” list, you should definitely go organic – that goes for celery as well.
Ahhh, calming, aromatic and soothing essential oils have so many uses for pregnancy and breastfeeding. There are a number of benefits to having an essential oils routine including soothing nerves, promoting emotional wellness and supporting your immune system.
In general, essential oils are not a key component of a detoxification regimen, but they do help to support wellness and body balance.
But, unless you are well-versed in the proper use of oils or are working with a certified herbalist or other practitioner, I suggest you limit or avoid essential oils while breastfeeding.
There are specific oils which can help boost your breast milk supply. But a practitioner should create the appropriate protocol for you, rather than trying to navigate this on your own.
Essential oils get the yellow light because we really don’t know for sure how much of the oils we use topically gets into breast milk.
According to Kellymom.com, essential oils may have a higher/deeper absorption rate, so while it’s unlikely that using oils will affect your milk and your baby at all, caution is still advised.
Internal use of essential oils while breastfeeding is a controversial topic and up to your discretion or with the guidance of your practitioner.
Vitamin and Mineral Supplements
This is such a broad and complex category. First of all, it’s important to know that the best supplements for pregnancy and breastfeeding are those that are specifically designed and clinically tested for that specific stage of life, and are often labeled as Pre-Natal or Baby&Me nutrients.
I am a huge fan of the Metagenics Wellness Essentials for Pregnancy (link goes to FullScript for those with account credentials) prenatal packets and I generally recommend them to all my pregnant and nursing clients.
There are, however, a host of other supplements I commonly get questions about and because there is no one-size-fits-all answer for supplementation for any person.
It’s impossible to say what will or will not be important for pregnancy outside of the prenatal multivitamins.
Therefore, vitamin and mineral supplements get the yellow light. You need to work with a skilled nutrition practitioner before taking any additional supplements.
Also, vitamins and minerals to enhance cleansing or detox are not recommended during pregnancy and breastfeeding (so, red light on those kinds of supplements, ok?)
Furthermore, some vitamins and minerals in excess during pregnancy and breastfeeding can have seriously adverse effects on the baby.
I regularly utilize Spectracell micronutrient testing in my practice to find out exactly what each individual needs and customize the client’s repletion plan based on those test results. This approach to vitamin and mineral supplements is suitable for pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Herbal supplements to promote more intense detox while breastfeeding is not something I recommend (red light).
However, numerous herbs exist that can help to promote a healthy milk supply – with some of the most popular sources being fenugreek, blessed thistle, red raspberry, and brewers yeast.
But, herbs in general get the yellow light. This is because the use of most herbs in pregnancy and breastfeeding haven’t been backed by scientific studies.
Please use caution with all herbs, or consult with a certified herbalist.
Yes, herbal medicine has been used by mothers across the world for hundreds of years. Herbs are a great supplement to a diet that is designed to support breastfeeding. (Which is why I recommend the safer herbal tea options listed above.)
Herbs should not replace healthy eating, sufficient calories and ample hydration.
If you are going to take herbal supplements, be sure to take herbs that are organically grown.
Liquid tinctures tend to be most effective at providing the quickest impact. I love Wish Garden Herbs products for pregnancy and breastfeeding.
People may undertake water fasting to lose weight, for spiritual or religious reasons, or to try combat particular health problems. Research suggests that occasional fasting may help with weight loss, although other methods may be more effective long-term.
Water fasting deprives the body of the fuel it needs, and it’s common to feel tired and low on energy. A lack of food can also make you feel dizzy, weak, or nauseous.
Here’s the problem and why water fasting gets the red light: lack of food will ultimately change your breastmilk composition. Healthy fats, protein and complex carbohydrates are all necessary for quality breastmilk production.
Your baby will be adversely affected by water fasting – regardless of the fasting duration. Anyone who is set on water fasting while breastfeeding should seek medical attention.
A healthier alternative to water fasting is intermittent fasting, which studies show could have more health benefits long-term.
While intermittent fasting is a complex subject with many variables, the easiest approach to intermittent fasting is to simply take a break from eating for 12 hours in every 24 hour period.
That means stopping food intake after dinner (around 7 or 8 pm) and waiting until breakfast the next morning (around 7 or 8 am) to eat again.
Master Cleanse (AKA: The Lemonade Diet)
In this 10-day diet, you only drink lemonade that is prepared according to the given recipe.
Master Cleanse gets the red light because the concerns are very much the same as those above for water fasting: too few calories consumed and no balance in healthy fats, proteins and complex carbohydrates.
Side effects of the program may alter breast milk supply and composition and therefore may negatively impact baby.
The real deal is that many of these so-called “detoxes” (like Master Cleanse) are really just fad diets.
Fad diets tend to focus on restricting what you can or cannot eat. They reduce calories to an unhealthy level, which is clearly not the objective when you are breastfeeding your little one.
Fad diets and detoxes often come with intense side effects and symptoms such as digestive upset, diarrhoea, aches and pains, headaches, poor sleep, low energy, disrupted menstrual cycle, skin problems and more.
The goal of any detox while breastfeeding should be to improve your overall health, reduce minor symptoms and complaints, all while maintaining the best breast milk possible for your baby.
You Got This Girl
Ok, to recap the good news: you can safely detox and there are foods, drinks and appropriate herbs, teas and supplements to help you do so without negatively impacting your baby.
The above suggestions are just a start.
My best advice: trust your instincts and listen to what your body (and your baby) really need.
Check in with the communication signals from you and your little one:
- Do you need to clean up your food plan and eat more organic?
- More veggies?
- Increase water intake?
- Less caffeine?
- More protein?
- More rest?
- Fresh air?
Your own valuable insights will give you beautiful guidance through this process.
But What If…?
I get it. It’s not easy stuff.
Trying to figure out how to take care of yourself as a new mamma (who just wants to feel and look good) and take extra special care of baby at the same time – IS NOT easy.
And, researching via the Internet, talking to a doctor, your friends, your lactation consultant – all with different ideas on the subject of detoxing while breastfeeding – can lead to simply more confusion. 😩
Don’t let this be too hard.
And, don’t worry if you need some extra help.
Consider one of these options to support you:
The Couple/Family Nutrition Program is my program suited to new parents who need a little extra support for baby’s first year. After all, babies don’t come with instruction manuals. This program helps make taking care of baby easier so you have more time to focus on taking care of yourself.
With the Super Girl/Super Guy Program you learn how to balance your body with healthy eating, quality lifestyle choices, and a comprehensive nutritional supplement regimen that is 100% geared towards your needs and goals. Detox options are included!
Hang in there! The postpartum period is intense, but it doesn’t last forever. Even for a nursing mother, balance is achievable. The right nutrition will make you feel incredible!
I found relief, so I know you can too. Drop me a note if you want to get more info.