MS, RD, LDN, CBS
Janel holds a Master’s in Nutrition Communication from Tufts University. As the recipient of the 2010 Massachusetts Young Dietitian of the Year award, she believes in making healthy eating simple, sustainable, and delicious.
As in pregnancy, what you eat while breastfeeding, is key to your baby’s nutrition. So it’s important to continue making healthy choices emphasizing whole foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, lean protein, low fat dairy (or non-dairy alternatives), nuts and seeds. Maintaining healthy eating habits while breastfeeding will not only keep you and your baby well nourished, it will also support her developing (and lasting) taste for healthy foods.
However, because a breastfeeding mother is no longer at higher risk for contracting foodborne illnesses, and because your physiology and babies are not nearly as connected as they were when she was in utero, you can now enjoy many of the foods regarded as risky during pregnancy. It is important to note, however, that it’s just as important to practice good food safety in addition to healthy eating habits while breastfeeding. Some of the foods a nursing mother can now enjoy include:
You can also continue to eat honey, even though your young baby cannot. While honey and some corn syrups pose a risk for babies under the age of 1 due to the potential for botulism (a rare but serious paralytic illness caused by the botulinum toxin), a breastfeeding mother’s gastrointestinal system destroys any potentially present spores before entering into her bloodstream and breastmilk. Acidic foods (like citrus and tomatoes), spicy or strong-flavored foods (like garlic) and “gassy foods” (like broccoli and cauliflower) are associated with baby gassiness and fussiness, but they are no more likely than other foods to bother babies, whose guts are newly getting the hang of all kinds of compounds. Plus, these foods are all part of a healthy diet, so please feel free to enjoy them!
Along the same lines, you should not avoid or limit major allergens (milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish) from your diet while breastfeeding in order to reduce the risk of allergies in your baby. In fact, the opposite is true. Restricting your diet may adversely affect your baby’s nutrition because exposing the immune system to the “offending” foods can actually help the body learn to tolerate them. Complete avoidance or delayed introduction without a medical reason to suspect an early allergy in a baby will prevent the immune system from learning that these foods are not actually harmful. The bottom line: eat a varied diet to train your growing baby’s immune system from the start.
It is best to limit or avoid some additives and chemicals while breastfeeding. Such foods and ingredients that are best limited or avoided while breastfeeding include:
Most breastfeeding mothers can consume caffeine in moderation (no more than 200-300 milligrams per day, or about 2 or 3 cups of coffee). While there is no evidence that caffeine will decrease your milk supply, you’ll want to watch your baby to determine how she tolerates your intake. If your baby is wide-eyed, active, alert or fussy, she may be over-stimulated from caffeine. Babies whose mothers avoided caffeine completely during pregnancy seem to react more to caffeine in mom’s diet. But note that your baby’s caffeine-sensitivity can change – if she’s affected now, try to limit or stop your caffeine intake and then try again in a few months.
In addition to coffee (both regular and decaf), caffeine is also present in non-herbal teas (like green, matcha, yerba maté, chai, black and oolong), medications (like certain headache and migraine medications), chocolate, soda, certain herbal products and supplements (that contain guarana/paullinea cupana and kola nut/cola nitida) and certain energy drinks.
Methylmercury is found in foods that certain fish eat and remains in the fish’s body after it is eaten. When a breastfeeding woman then eats these fish, some of the methylmercury passes into her breastmilk and can cause harm to the baby’s developing nervous system.
Fish is an important source of a number of high quality nutrients, from protein to fatty acids, so don’t avoid all fish, but do avoid fish recognized as having high amounts of methylmercury, like shark, white tuna, swordfish and king mackerel. Instead, aim to eat 12 ounces each week of these lower mercury fish: wild salmon, canned light tuna, shrimp, tilapia and sardines. If you do not eat fish or DHA containing -foods (like roasted seaweed, nori, lean beef and pasteurized dairy products), then we recommend taking a postnatal supplement with DHA and EPA (omega-3).
Research regarding the impact of artificial sweeteners is lacking, therefore it is recommended that breastfeeding women use artificial sweeteners with caution, including saccharin (a key ingredient in Sweet-n-Low™), Splenda™/sucralose, Stevia™, Nutrasweet™/aspartame and Acesulfame-K. Instead, consume whole foods and when you do want a little sweetness, opt for honey and 100% pure maple syrup, and, yes, plain old cane sugar in moderation.
When it comes to drinking alcohol while breastfeeding, it’s best to err on the side of caution. The American Academy of Pediatrics states that ingestion of alcoholic beverages should be minimized and limited to occasional intake, and that nursing should take place 2 hours or longer after the alcohol intake to minimize its concentration in the ingested milk.
If you do enjoy alcohol, know that it clears your breastmilk at the same rate it does your blood. If you are no longer feeling the effects of the alcohol, it’s usually ok to nurse your baby again. A general rule of thumb is to wait 1-2 hours for each drink consumed before resuming breastfeeding. Pumping and dumping is no longer recommended, unless of course you are intoxicated and need to relieve yourself or pump in place of a skipped feeding in order to maintain supply. In this case, the milk pumped during this session should be discarded.
While current research suggests that having 1-2 occasional drinks does not seem to harm the nursing baby, daily or consistent use of alcohol while breastfeeding has been linked to less milk intake by baby, lowered milk ejection reflex, and possible delays in motor skill development at one year.
Eat a varied nutrient-rich diet filled with fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, low fat dairy, beans, nuts and seeds.
Minimize known risks by avoiding risky foods and practice good food safety.
Limit your total daily caffeine intake to no more than 200-300 milligrams (or roughly 2-3 small cups of coffee) from all sources of caffeine. Avoid high mercury seafood like tuna, shark, king mackerel and swordfish and choose low mercury seafood instead like salmon, tilapia, canned light tuna and shrimp. Limit your alcohol intake to no more than 1-2 servings per day and only occasionally (remember that 1 serving equals 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits or liquor like rum). And note that Kombucha tea also contains alcohol (and caffeine). Due to the lack of research on the safety, benefits and potential risks associated with Kombucha, it is best to avoid it while breastfeeding.
Keep a food log if you notice a reaction or sensitivity in your baby
If you suspect your breastfed baby is reacting to something in your diet, keep a food log to note what you are eating and drinking and when. Also specify what (breastmilk? formula?) and how (breast? bottle?) your baby is eating and when, as well as your baby’s position when feeding (side-lying? cradled?) and any symptoms.
A detailed food log will help you identify patterns, and it will help your healthcare provider give you better guidance.
Sylvetsky, AC, AL Gardner, V Bauman, JE Blau, HM Garraffo, PJ Walter, and KI Rother. “Nonnutritive Sweeteners in Breast Milk.” J Toxicol Environ Health A. Volume 78. Issue 16 (2015): pages 1029-32.
Bonyata, Kelly. “Breastfeeding and Alcohol.” Kellymom.com. Date accessed 5 Mar. 2018.
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