Breastfeeding is one of the best ways you can give your child a great start in life. It is nature’s perfect food, uniquely calibrated to meet your individual child’s needs each and every time you nurse. It is packed full of nutrients that cannot be duplicated by us no matter how hard our scientists try! And, unlike formula, it tastes different every time your child drinks, generously flavored by what you have been eating and drinking.
Throughout your pregnancy you were probably given a list of things you should NOT eat and drink during pregnancy including soft cheeses, seafood, deli meat and I’m sure most of us have also been told to avoid spicy foods, cabbage, broccoli, chocolate, caffeine, cauliflower and so on. Most of those recommendations are based on anecdotes and should not be taken seriously. The list of what you shouldn’t eat or drink while breastfeeding is much, much shorter than most people believe. In fact, for most of us (mothers), there really isn’t anything you can’t eat.
According to Dr. Nancy Brent, a pediatrician, lactation consultant and the medical director at the Breastfeeding Center of Pittsburgh,
There are no foods that mothers ought to avoid while breast-feeding. In fact, most mothers can eat anything they want while breast-feeding.
That being said, if you feel your child is troubled by excessive gassiness, seems to spit up more frequently when you eat certain foods, or has bloody or mucusy stools, you may want to try eliminating dairy or wheat. If you think either is the culprit, the general rule is to remove it from your diet for a few (2-6) weeks and then gradually re-introduce it. If the symptoms disappear and reappear, the re-introduced food was likely the cause of the symptoms. Likewise, if particular food allergies run in your family or your partner’s family, you may want to avoid those foods while breastfeeding (even if they are not foods you yourself are allergic to) and introduce them as solids later than you normally might, in case of allergy. Other signs that something in your diet may be bothering your little one are frequent constipation or diarrhea, eczema, or bloated and distended stomach. Frequent fussiness is often listed as a possible sign of an infant food issue but fussiness can be for so many reasons, food is usually not the issue in this case.
While you can eat most things, there are a few things that you probably should be avoided or, at least, limited. First on the list is alcohol. Unlike during pregnancy, you don’t have to avoid it altogether. Your baby gets about 1% of any drinks or medications you partake in within your breast milk. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t have a drink a few times a week. It is considered safest to drink shortly after feeding your child. You shouldn’t attempt to breastfeed again until you are sure the alcohol has left your system. If you are feeling the effects of alcohol, it is present in your milk. It may even be present if you aren’t feeling the effects. The general rule is to wait 1-2 hours per drink. If you are unsure if you are safe to nurse, it may be better to feed your child previously pumped breast milk instead of nursing your little one.
Caffeine does not have to be avoided altogether, but it should be limited somewhat. Most professionals advise not consuming more than 250-300 mg of caffeine a day. That is about 2 good sized cups of coffee. More than this may affect the sleeping habits of your baby and you and may make them irritable or fussy. Watch out for caffeine in chocolate and tea as well as caffeine in these two substances also counts towards your recommended daily limit.
It is okay to enjoy sushi again, but watch out for tuna, mackerel, shark, swordfish, and tile-fish because these fishes contain high amounts of mercury which can be toxic to your baby’s nervous system. Salmon is a great substitute for some of these choices as it is high in protein and essential omega-3s which are crucial for brain development and functioning.
While not specifically foods, there are herbs, such as peppermint and parsley that, in large amounts, can reduce your breast milk supply or can be harmful to mother or baby when present in the breast milk. Many of them are not commonly consumed unless you use a lot of herbal remedies or drink large amounts of herbal teas.
For a full list of herbs and their effects, refer to: www.earthmamaangelbaby.com
The herbs that can reduce your breast milk supply usually only have this effect when taken in large amounts, so unless you eat lots of parsley, drink liters of peppermint or spearmint teas, or cook with lots of jasmine and sage, you should be fine. However, if you do notice that one of these herbs has this effect, it is best to reduce your use.
Let’s talk medications. Most medications are safe to take when breastfeeding. Again, only about 1% or so of the medication ends up in your breast milk and will have little effect on your child. However, if you are unsure, it is best to check LactMed, an online database on the interaction of medications and lactation.
LactMed is a great resource! I have found that it is much more reliable than most doctors. Many doctors aren’t really aware of how medications affect your breast milk, especially with new ones flooding the market weekly, and will often tell you not to breastfeed when using something they prescribe. This is the last thing you want to tell a new mom who is already stressing about so many things. Especially when it often isn’t true, they would just rather be safe than cause harm to you or your child. Informing your self is your best defense in this case.
Other than alcohol, caffeine, medication, some herbs, and fish high in mercury, unless you or your child have known allergies, sensitivities or a condition like celiac’s disease, there is no real reason to limit your diet. This however, is not a reason to bust out the potato chips or candy. Just as when you were pregnant, the food and beverages you consume literally provide the fuel for your baby. It’s best to stick to whole, healthy foods like organic, grass fed meats, whole dairy products, organic vegetables and fruits and whole grains. Avoiding the extra salt, sugar and preservatives in processed foods is better for both of you now and in the future.
I hope this information has been helpful and will lead to a stress free breastfeeding relationship for you and your sweet one. Happy nursing!
Rachel Reeves is a mother of two, a doula, childbirth educator, a breastfeeding counselor and an M.S.W. She has lived in Palestine, Honduras, and most recently Seoul, South Korea. She currently resides in Michigan in the U.S.A and enjoys supporting women, teaching classes and writing about anything birth, baby or parenting related.