7 Foods to Avoid During Breastfeeding for Better Wellness
You carefully avoided certain foods during pregnancy. But now you’re craving spicy pad Thai or sushi rolls. What do your food options look like now that you’re breastfeeding? The good news is that you can eat most everything, with a few exceptions. Luckily, the list of foods to avoid or limit during breastfeeding is fairly short!
How Your Food Choices Impact Your Breast Milk
You likely already know that what you eat, drink or ingest can make its way into your breast milk. Here’s a few key points to keep in mind when it comes to what you’re consuming and how it can impact your milk:
- Breast milk is not made directly from the food you eat. In a process called diffusion, ingested substances break down in the digestive track and only molecule-sized parts are absorbed into the blood.
- Be mindful of the lag time. It takes about 4 to 6 hours for something ingested to enter breast milk.
- Diet won’t increase milk supply. In fact, no particular food will increase your milk supply. Though some moms' anecdotal experiences may suggest that certain herbs, vitamins or foods may boost your milk supply, there is no clinical evidence that supports this to date. Your milk supply is maintained by a consistent routine of nursing, pumping or a combination of both.
- Strong flavors are okay. It’s possible that spicy or strongly-flavored foods (such as garlic or onions) may alter the taste of breast milk. That’s okay! If you were already eating a specific food regularly during pregnancy, chances are high your baby is already accustomed to it.
The Importance of a Healthy Diet While Breastfeeding
Variety is the spice of life and it’s also good for your breast milk. While you don’t need to follow any special diet (if you don’t already), be sure to eat plenty of whole, real foods. Your body is working hard to make milk that’s chock full of protein, vitamins, minerals and bioactive components that fuel your baby’s healthy growth and development, so be sure to support and care for your body in turn!
Eating a healthy diet, getting enough rest and staying hydrated will energize you to provide vital nutrition to your baby. You may even find that you’re hungrier when breastfeeding, with many nursing moms needing around an extra 500 calories daily.
7 Foods to Avoid During Breastfeeding (or Strictly Limit!)
1. Mercury-Rich Fish
Fish is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, but some seafood has a high mercury content. Mercury can be toxic and exposure to high levels can affect a baby’s central nervous system. Fish high in mercury should be avoided while breastfeeding and include:
- Orange roughy
- King mackerel
- Tuna (big eye)
Stick to low-mercury fish. You can eat anywhere from 1 to 3 servings (at about 4 ounces per serving) each week, depending on the level of mercury. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) offers a chart that breaks down seafood to avoid, good choices and the best choices. Some of what the FDA deems "best choices" includes salmon, shrimp, sardines, whitefish and crab.
Don’t worry, you can still get your daily coffee fix! We know it can be especially helpful for functioning after a long night of baby wake-ups or during a full day of chasing your little one around. In moderation, caffeine is considered safe in the 200 to 300 mg per day range. That’s equivalent to about 2 cups of coffee. If your baby is preterm or a newborn, check with your healthcare provider before resuming your daily dose of caffeine.
Caffeine does make its way into breast milk and heavy caffeine consumption (10 or more cups of coffee daily) may result in fussiness or poor sleep patterns. Heavy caffeine intake also can lead to mild iron deficiency anemia in some breastfed infants.
Common drinks with higher levels of caffeine to watch out for include:
- Coffee (8 ounces) - 96 mg
- Espresso (1 ounce) - 64 mg
- Black tea (8 ounces) - 47 mg
- Green tea (8 ounces) - 28 mg
- Matcha (2 grams of powder) - 68 mg
- Cola soda (8 ounces) - 22 mg
- Energy drink (8 ounces) - 71 to 240 mg
- Energy shot (2 ounces) - 215 mg
In moderation, chocolate is safe to consume. Chocolate contains small amounts of caffeine but larger amounts of a compound called theobromine, which is another stimulant. Since it’s detectable in breast milk, large amounts of chocolate could cause jitteriness and in some cases even can have a laxative effect.
When breastfeeding, milk or white chocolate are better choices. Dark chocolate is still an option, but know that it has a higher caffeine count. When tracking your daily intake of caffeine, be sure to include anything with chocolate:
- Hot cocoa (8 ounces) - 2 mg
- Dark chocolate bar (3.5 ounces) - 80 mg
- Milk chocolate bar (3.5 ounces) - 20 mg
- White chocolate - 0 mg
4. Highly Processed Food
As part of eating a nutrient-dense diet, limit your intake of fatty or high-sugar foods like cookies, candy, bacon, cold cuts, sausage and anything deep fried. Eliminating ultra-processed foods as much as possible can also have a positive effect on your mental health, as well as your physical health.
In addition, some research suggests that a mother’s breastfeeding diet can influence a child’s future food preferences. To play it safe, keep an eye on how much junk food you’re consuming and, if you want to encourage your baby to love their veggies as they grow, don’t forget to integrate them into your daily diet now.
5. Artificial Sweeteners
Avoid or limit your use of artificial sweeteners, such as those found in sodas. Artificial sweeteners make their way into breast milk and there’s limited research on the long-term impact on babies. Instead, opt for moderate use of natural sweeteners like pure maple syrup, honey and even organic cane sugar.
6. Herbs and Herbal Supplements
Use herbal supplements only after discussing with your doctor first. Due to a lack of research, it’s generally recommended that nursing parents avoid herbal supplements. The FDA does not approve supplements for safety or effectiveness.
As for garnishing and cooking with herbs, be aware that sage, parsley and peppermint are considered anti-galactagogues, which could affect milk production if consumed in large quantities. Used in small quantities, these herbs should not affect your breast milk supply.
7. Alcohol, Medicines and Other Substances
All illegal substances should be strictly avoided and are not safe for you or your baby. Approach others like alcohol, prescription medications and over the counter medicines with extreme caution:
- Alcohol: The consensus by experts is that one standard drink daily is safe if you wait at least 2 hours afterward to breastfeed. If you’d like to have a drink, the best timing is right after you’ve breastfed. Otherwise, it’s best to “pump and dump” if you need to express milk.
- Medicines: Whether over-the-counter or prescribed, verify with your doctor that all medicines are safe to continue taking while breastfeeding. Trace amounts will usually transfer into your breast milk.
- Tobacco: Cigarettes, cigars and chewing tobacco contain nicotine and other chemicals that can harm your baby – and you. According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, smoking is a risk factor for lower respiratory illness, impaired lung function and sudden infant death syndrome.
- Marijuana: In any form, marijuana can be passed to babies through breast milk. While data is insufficient on the potential effect on infant neurodevelopment, the CDC recommends abstaining while nursing to limit risks.
Signs Your Diet May Be Negatively Affecting Your Baby
Concerned you ate something that’s affecting your baby? Symptoms often appear about 12 to 24 hours after eating, so you may be able to trace it back to a specific food. Common signs of upset in your baby include:
- Gassier than usual
- Fussiness or crying
- Bloody or mucousy stool
- Rash or eczema
- Excessive spit up or vomiting
If your baby exhibits any of the symptoms above, be sure to call your pediatrician right away. If you suspect something you ate is causing an issue, also begin a food log detailing what you ate and drank (noting the times). A detailed record will help you spot any patterns, so you know what to avoid or eliminate from your diet.