From moderation around caffeine to conflicting reports about alcohol, conversations about a safe diet during breastfeeding have a tendency to start to sound like conversations about eating during pregnancy. Some doctors even recommend continuing to take prenatal vitamins, to make sure breastfeeding moms are getting enough folic acid. There’s no reason for one’s diet during breastfeeding to be restrictive, though – again, like pregnancy, the guidelines around nutrition during breastfeeding is mostly centered around staying generally healthy.
Still, there are a few specific foods that could cause problems during breastfeeding, and a few others that probably won’t, but have gotten a lot of bad press over the years.
More than anything else on the ‘potentially banned’ list, caffeine is one of those substances many new moms of newborns have a hard time doing without. Having to cut down on sleeping longer than 3 hours at a time and losing caffeine can seem practically unfair. Fortunately, medical resources from the Mayo Clinic to the American Academy of Pediatrics agree that there’s no harm in drinking a moderate amount of caffeinated beverages like coffee or tea while breastfeeding. Though caffeine can be transmitted through breast milk, only a small amount is transmitted, which isn’t dangerous, but can lead to fussiness.
For most babies, the moderate amount recommended, 2 to 3 servings per day, won’t even have any significant effects. Some babies may be more sensitive to caffeine, especially when they’re young, so if you start to notice some extra fussiness from your baby after drinking your morning cup of coffee and nursing, you can decide how to moderate your intake in the way that works best for your family. That might mean anything from cutting caffeine out altogether to just switching to half-caf. Timing breastfeeding so that the first cup of the day comes just after a feeding can help with any effects of caffeine as well.
One substance that’s a little more controversial than caffeine is alcohol. Both the Mayo Clinic and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend limiting alcohol consumption during breastfeeding because the level of alcohol in breast milk generally mirrors the amount of alcohol in the bloodstream, and there is no level of alcohol in breast milk that’s considered safe. This means that it’s safest to wait 2 to 3 hours after having a serving of alcohol before breastfeeding. If you have more than one serving of alcohol, a safe rule is to wait to breastfeed at least 2 additional hours for each drink. On the other hand, though, the March of Dimes recommends against drinking alcohol while breastfeeding entirely. They also suggest that women who do drink alcohol during breastfeeding limit drinking to two alcoholic drinks per week, and wait at least 2 hours after having a drink before breastfeeding.
The fact that the alcohol in breast milk mirrors the alcohol content in the blood means that pumping milk after drinking, or “pumping and dumping”, isn’t necessary, and won’t help clear the alcohol out any more quickly.
There’s a lot to love about fish – it’s a high-quality protein, rich in omega-3s and other nutrients, and it can be an important part of a healthy diet for a breastfeeding mother and baby. It’s also well-known for containing trace amounts of mercury and other heavy metals due to pollution. For this reason, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends limiting the amount of fish and shellfish you eat while breastfeeding to about two servings (8 to 12 ounces) a week, and to cut certain large, ocean fish out of your diet entirely. These fish are:
- King mackerel
- Tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico
The FDA also recommends limiting white (albacore) tuna to 6 ounces per week.
They also recommend checking for local advisories and warnings before buying or eating local seafood, and following the same recommendations for young children, but with smaller portions.
Garlic and other strong flavors
Some breastfeeding advocates and authorities recommend avoiding certain foods, especially highly spiced, flavorful, or garlic-filled dishes, but there is no evidence that babies are fussier with these foods in their systems. Although only a small amount of research has been done on the subject, it looks like the impact that different flavors can have on breastfeeding are based on a baby’s preferences and tastes. Some babies may dislike certain strong flavors when they show up in breast milk, but others may love them. Allergies from breastfeeding are very rare.
In fact, the strong flavors in breast milk might be beneficial to Baby. It’s been suggested that the variations in flavors can help to prepare babies for the eventual massive variations in table foods when they’re older. It’s certainly not a guarantee against later picky eating, but every little bit helps, right?
Citrus fruit is another food that has been recommended against during breastfeeding in the past. While it’s not impossible that eating a lot of citrus while breastfeeding could cause or add to diaper rash, studies have found no evidence that it will. In fact, the Mayo Clinic suggests eating citrus fruits during breastfeeding, since the vitamin C helps the body to absorb the iron it needs during breastfeeding.
- Julie Mennella. “Alcohol’s Effect on Lactation.” National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. National Institutes of Health. Web.
- “Breastmilk and your diet.” HealthyChildren. American Academy of Pediatrics, November 21 2015. Web.
- “Fish: what pregnant women and parents should know.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, June 2014. Web.
- “Food and Beverages not Likely to Make Breast-fed Babies Fussy.” Loyola Medicine. Loyola University Health System, February 12 2013. Web.
- “How a healthy diet helps you breastfeed.” HealthyChildren. American Academy of Pediatrics, November 21 2015. Web.
- “Keeping breast milk safe and healthy.” March of Dimes. March of Dimes, May 2016. Web.
- “Things to avoid while breastfeeding.” HealthyChildren. American Academy of Pediatrics, November 21 2015. Web.
- “What about alcohol and breastfeeding?” La Leche League International. La Leche League International, December 19 2015. Web.