In addition to the special connection you may feel with your baby while nursing, you are also providing them with a complete mix of nutrients to help them thrive. Getting into the grove of breastfeeding can feel a bit overwhelming though, especially if your diet is not in “perfect” order. While you don’t need to stick to a strict diet, there are some foods to avoid while breastfeeding.
Read on to learn which foods you may want to reduce or eliminate, plus a breakdown of the reasons why these foods may want to be avoided. We even have tips for what you may be able to replace some of them with.
How Do Nutrients Get Into Breastmilk?
When you consume food and drinks, or even medication, your digestive tract breaks them down into tiny molecules. These molecules are absorbed into the blood, which flows to the mammary alveoli — the place in your body where breastmilk production and storage happens.
The breastmilk then travels through the milk ducts and out through the nipple. Your baby won’t be getting the same exact food you eat, but they will get the same nutrients from those foods.
Even though your baby isn’t eating what you eat, some of the molecules broken down from the food may bother them. Certain foods may cause gas, fussiness, and even skin rashes. Other foods may be so strong in flavor that they change the taste of breastmilk.
Which Foods to Avoid While Breastfeeding
Many cultures have different recommendations on what you should and should not eat while breastfeeding. These recommendations are often passed down through generations without being thoroughly researched. Many of these foods are unnecessarily restricted.
Some foods are not safe to eat in high quantities, and those should be avoided. For other foods, pay attention to your baby to decide whether or not to restrict them. If eating certain foods causes them to react negatively—gassy tummy, colicky, diaper rash, or a skin rash—you may want to stop eating that food temporarily.
To find out what foods may be bothering your baby, you can use the elimination diet. This takes certain foods out of your diet—like some of the ones mentioned below.
Take one food out that can aggravate your baby, and wait about two weeks to see if they are experiencing the same issues. If the issue stops, you know what to avoid. If the food you eliminated did not make any positive changes, you could try eliminating another food.
Here are the top foods to avoid while breastfeeding:
Fish High In Mercury
One of the most important foods to avoid while breastfeeding is fish high in mercury. Predatory fish like shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish all fall under this category. High levels of mercury can cause harm to the neurological system, immune system, heart, and kidneys.
When you are breastfeeding, you do not have to cut fish out of your diet altogether. In fact, fish, specifically fatty fish, can provide your baby with omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids help support neurological development in infants.
Salmon, anchovies, herring, trout, sardines, and albacore tuna may all provide the benefits of omega 3s without high levels of mercury. It is thought to be beneficial to eat 12 oz per week of these fish.
A common misconception when breastfeeding is that if you drink alcohol, you have to pump and dump your milk. Often referred to as “pump and dump.” Women who are breastfeeding do not have to eliminate alcohol completely, but you should limit it. The amount of alcohol in your breastmilk is about the same as your blood alcohol level.
That being said, one or two drinks may be safe to consume, but it’s probably best to have a drink after you finish nursing or wait two or three hours after drinking to nurse again. Alcohol may also reduce your milk supply temporarily or change the taste of your milk, which your baby may be unhappy about.
If you need that cup of morning coffee in the morning, go for it mama. The recommended max amount of caffeine in a day is 300 mg, and the average cup is about 100 mg of caffeine. While it might cause some unpleasantness for you, the primary side effect of caffeine in your breastmilk is more frequent wakings at night. High levels of caffeine can cause jitteriness in babies, but this will stop after caffeine is eliminated.
Remember, caffeine is found in more than just coffee. Tea, soda, and chocolate all contain caffeine. Don’t forget to include these in your caffeine count.
Pro-tip: If you want to remove caffeine from your diet while breastfeeding, but keep up the energy, there are other ways to get a boost. Staying hydrated, exercise, and foods like walnuts, oatmeal, eggs, and berries may all provide you with extra energy.
If you are concerned about your milk supply, pay attention to the herbs you are consuming. Herbs like sage, peppermint, and parsley can all cause your milk supply to drop.
If you have the occasional sage or parsley to add flavors to your dishes, you shouldn’t have any issues. You can also have the occasional peppermint tea. Just try to avoid over consuming them or having them every day. If your supply seems low, eliminate these herbs altogether.
You can still get the flavor in your food by adding different herbs and spices. You may even create a new favorite flavor combination!
Highly Processed Foods
You may feel like you need to maintain a strict diet to give your baby all the nutrients they need. While you don’t have to be perfect, it is recommended you follow a diet that is well-balanced. After all, the foods you eat contribute to the nutritional content of your breastmilk. If you happen to be deficient in certain nutrients, they may not be able to pass through your breastmilk.
That said, you should try to avoid an abundance of highly processed foods. Some studies show that babies of mothers who eat a lot of “junk food” while they breastfeed may crave fatty, sugary, or salty food over nutritionally dense food as they get older. They may also have increased body weight.
This doesn’t mean you cannot have the occasional treat here and there, but try to incorporate more whole foods and keep moderation in mind.
Certain foods can be perfectly fine for some babies, and others can have an allergy to them. The most common foods for an allergy are dairy products. Dairy allergies affect 0.5% to 1% of breastfed babies. Signs of a dairy allergy may be gas, bloody stools, and fussiness.
If you suspect an allergy, eliminate milk from your diet. It takes about 72 hours for the dairy to clear the breastmilk. If you have to cut out dairy from your diet, make sure to get your calcium from other places, like leafy green veggies.
The good news is dairy allergies are often outgrown by the time kids reach five years old. Some children will continue having a dairy allergy through adulthood, but this is not common. Work with your child’s pediatrician to find the safest way to add dairy back into their diet.
Some babies are more susceptible than others to strong flavors (think garlic, asparagus, or spicy peppers). If your baby gets fussy or refuses milk any time you have an especially flavorful meal, you may want to incorporate those flavors a little less. Try adding them slowly, gradually adding more. This may allow your baby to get used to these flavors.
If your baby seems to tolerate a highly garlicky or super spicy meal, carry on!
Gas Causing Foods
You may notice that after you eat certain foods, your baby gets a little extra gassy. Some babies even get severe gas pains and become fussy or colicky. In this case, try removing these foods from your diet to see if it helps relieve their gas. Foods that can cause excess gas include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and beans.
Understanding what foods to avoid while breastfeeding depends a lot on your baby’s sensitivity levels. While there are certain foods you should always avoid—like fish high in mercury—others are okay if they don’t cause an upset stomach or other adverse reaction.
While you don’t have to cut them out completely, keep in mind those other foods that should be greatly reduced while you are nursing: like alcohol, caffeine, and certain herbs.
If you have any questions along the way, Expectful is here to support you while you navigate the journey of breastfeeding. If you need an extra hand, we have lactation consultants and nutritionists that can offer you personalized advice.