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Foods to avoid or limit while breastfeeding
Foods with special safety concerns include:
- Fish: Avoid high-mercury fish.
- Alcohol: It's safest to abstain. Be sure to time any occasional drink.
- Herbs: Check with your doctor.
These foods can bother some babies:
- Caffeine: Too much could overstimulate your baby.
- Chocolate: Too much could overstimulate your baby.
- Cow's milk: Your baby could have a food intolerance to a protein in cow's milk.
- Soy: Your baby could have a food intolerance to a protein in soy.
Most breastfeeding moms can eat whatever they like without it affecting their babies. Foods that make you gassy won't make your baby gassier than usual. (Babies are gassy to start with!)
But every baby is different. If you notice that your baby seems to be fussy, gassy, or sleepless after you eat a particular food, talk to your baby's doctor about whether the cause could be your diet or something else.
Is it safe to drink coffee while breastfeeding?
It's fine to have two or three cups of coffee (300 milligrams of caffeine) spread throughout the day, but more than that could disrupt your baby's sleep or make him fussy. Keep in mind that caffeine is also found in some sodas, teas, and over-the-counter medicines.
Is it safe to drink alcohol while breastfeeding?
It's safest not to drink any alcohol while breastfeeding, but it's okay to have an occasional drink if you:
- Time it carefully. It's safest to wait two hours per drink before resuming nursing (or nurse, then have your glass of wine). If your breasts are full before that waiting period ends, you can pump and dump to avoid exposing your nursing baby to alcohol.
- Allow for individual factors that affect blood alcohol level. These include whether you've had any food and how much you weigh.
- Drink in moderation. The same amount of alcohol that makes it into your bloodstream makes it into your breast milk. The more you drink, the more important the waiting period becomes.
Also, an old wives' tale suggests that dark beer increases milk supply, but studies suggest that alcohol, in fact, reduces milk production.
Do I need to limit chocolate while breastfeeding?
Maybe. Don't worry – we're talking large amounts. It's okay to have a piece of chocolate candy or slice of chocolate dessert. But if you eat large amounts of chocolate, the theobromine (a stimulant) in the chocolate can affect your baby in much the same way as caffeine.
Dark chocolate has more theobromine than milk chocolate, and white chocolate has no theobromine (the ingredient is in the cocoa solids). Chocolate also contains caffeine (see above), another reason not to overdo.
Is it safe to eat fish and seafood while breastfeeding?
Yes, as long as you limit the amount you eat and choose low-mercury fish and seafood options when breastfeeding. In fact, it's recommended that breastfeeding moms eat 8 to 12 ounces of low-mercury fish each week, which is a great source of DHA and EPA, two omega-3 fatty acids that are difficult to find in other foods.
Avoid eating the following high-mercury fish species:
- King mackerel
- Orange roughy
- Bigeye tuna
- Tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico
Is it safe to take herbs while breastfeeding?
Certain herbs, including some herbal teas, aren't considered safe for breastfeeding moms. Since herbs can be very potent, check with your healthcare provider before taking any.
Is it true that parsley, peppermint, and sage can affect my milk supply?
No. It's an old wives' tale that these herbs can decrease your milk supply. There's no published evidence to support this. However, large amounts of sage can be toxic, so eat it in moderation.
Can my baby have a food intolerance to something I eat?
If your baby seems to be reacting to a food in your diet, talk to her doctor. She could have a food intolerance, or it could be something else.
An intolerance is a digestive condition – unlike an allergy, which is an immune response. Symptoms of a food intolerance include:
- Bloody diarrhea
The two most common causes of food intolerances in infancy are:
- Cow's milk protein intolerance: If your baby is afflicted, avoid any food that has milk, milk products, casein, whey, or sodium caseinate in it.
- Soy protein intolerance: If your baby is afflicted, avoid all soy products, such as tofu, tempeh, tamari, soy sauce, soy milk, miso, and edamame.
Could my baby be allergic to foods I eat while breastfeeding?
Your breast milk is very unlikely to trigger an allergic reaction in your baby, even if you eat allergenic foods such as peanuts, fish, shellfish, and eggs.
If your baby has allergy symptoms (such as eczema or a rash, runny nose, sneezing, coughing, red and watery eyes, vomiting, or diarrhea), they may be caused by something he's in regular contact with, such as soap, pet dander, dust, pollen, or foods he's eating himself once he starts solids. (Learn how to tell if your baby has a cold or allergies.)
In rare cases, a baby may be allergic to food allergens such as cow's milk protein in the mother's diet. If you're worried about a reaction to allergenic foods you eat, have your baby evaluated by his healthcare provider. The only treatment for a breastfed baby with a food allergy is strict avoidance in your diet.
Will foods I eat while breastfeeding cause my baby to have gas?
No. Your baby will not be gassier if you eat certain foods. Gas is a local reaction in your GI tract, so foods that make you gassy won't affect your baby's digestion.
You may have heard that it helps to avoid certain foods while breastfeeding – such as citrus fruits, spices (cinnamon, curry, chili pepper), and "gassy" veggies (cabbage, onion, broccoli, cauliflower) – but there's no convincing scientific evidence to support that advice.
Should I avoid foods with strong flavors like garlic?
No. While some strongly flavored foods may change the taste of your milk, most babies seem to enjoy a variety of breast milk flavors.
Generally, the dominant flavors of your diet – whether garlic or chili peppers – were in your amniotic fluid during pregnancy. Fetuses swallow a fair amount of amniotic fluid before birth, so when they taste those flavors again in their mother's breast milk, they're already accustomed to them.
What should I do if I think a food I eat is bothering my baby?
If you notice that your nursing baby seems fussy, gassy, or sleepless after you eat a particular food, talk to your baby's doctor to make sure it's not something else. The doctor may recommend eliminating the food from your diet for a week or so and then reintroducing it to see if there's a consistent effect.
My baby's doctor wants me to eliminate a food because it bothers my baby. Will this affect my nutrition?
If avoiding a food could cause a nutritional imbalance (for example, if you eliminate all dairy products because your baby has a cow's milk intolerance), talk to your doctor about seeing a nutritionist for advice on substituting other foods or taking nutritional supplements.
Continue taking your prenatal vitamin, especially while breastfeeding your baby, to help pass along important nutrients as well as cover any gaps in your own diet.