Which foods should I avoid while breastfeeding?

Mom breastfeeding baby

Read time: 6 minutes

What should I know about foods to avoid while breastfeeding?

  • Recognize which foods are safe to enjoy now that you’re breastfeeding
  • Which foods and ingredients are risky and why

As with pregnancy, what you eat while breastfeeding is key to your baby’s nutrition.1, 2, 3 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, but will also support baby’s developing (and lasting) taste for healthy foods.4, 5

Read more: Maximizing Healthy Taste Development While Pregnant or Breastfeeding

Good news: Many of the foods you had to avoid during pregnancy you are now allowed to eat! This is 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 baby was in utero.6

What are foods you can eat while breastfeeding but had to avoid while pregnant?

  • Raw or undercooked eggs, fish, meat and poultry (Continue to practice good food safety)
  • Deli meats, charcuterie, and hot dogs (be mindful that these foods are often high in sodium and nitrates)
  • Pâté, meat spreads, smoked seafood and mayonnaise-based salads made in a store, like egg salad, tuna salad, chicken salad or seafood salad
  • Unpasteurized dairy products, ciders, and store-bought unpasteurized juices

Learn more: What To Eat While Breastfeeding

What about honey while breastfeeding?

You can continue to eat honey, even though your baby cannot. 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.

The good news is that a breastfeeding mother’s gastrointestinal system usually destroys any present spores before entering her bloodstream and breastmilk. If the botulism spore does get through her intestines, it is too big to enter breastmilk7

Do I need to avoid ‘gassy’ foods while breastfeeding?

Acidic foods (like citrus fruit and tomatoes), spicy or strong-flavored foods (like garlic or hot sauce), and “gassy foods” (like broccoli and cauliflower) are often associated with baby gassiness and fussiness, but they are no more likely than other foods to bother babies.8, 9, 10 In fact, there are many other reasons a baby may be gassy that has nothing to do with the foods you are eating.

Know that unless you see a direct relationship between specific foods and the same reaction in baby every time, there is no need to limit your diet.

If you are wondering why your little one may be gassy or fussy, our team of registered dietitians, fellow moms, and lactation specialists, are available from Monday – Friday 8 am – 8 pm (EST) and Saturday – Sunday 8 am – 4 pm (EST) to help figure out what may be going on. Chat now!

Think your baby is reacting to something in your breastmilk? Read more here.

Should I avoid food allergens while breastfeeding?

Nope! You should not avoid or limit major allergens (milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish) while breastfeeding, unless medically necessary. 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.11, 12

The bottom line: Eat a varied diet to train your growing baby’s immune system from the start.

Which foods should I limit or avoid while breastfeeding?

It is best to limit or avoid some additives, chemicals, and medications while breastfeeding.13,14  Foods and ingredients that are best limited or avoided while breastfeeding include:

Caffeine

Most breastfeeding mothers can consume caffeine in moderation: no more than 200-300 milligrams per day, or about 2 or 3 cups of coffee.15, 16

While there is no evidence that caffeine will decrease your milk supply, you’ll want to watch your baby to determine how they tolerate your intake. If your baby is wide-eyed, active, alert, or fussy, they may be over-stimulated from caffeine.

Note that your baby’s caffeine sensitivity can change – if baby is 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.

Read more about how much caffeine is in different foods and drinks.

Mercury

Methylmercury is found in foods that certain fish eat and remains in the fish’s body after it is eaten. When a breastfeeding woman 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 many high-quality nutrients, from protein to fatty acids, so don’t avoid all fish while breastfeeding. Do avoid fish recognized as having high amounts of methylmercury, like shark, white tuna, swordfish, and king mackerel.

Aim to eat 8 to 12 ounces each week of these lower mercury fish: wild salmon, canned light tuna, shrimp, tilapia and sardines.17

If you do not eat fish or DHA-containing foods (like roasted seaweed, nori, lean beef and pasteurized dairy products), then consider taking a postnatal supplement with DHA and EPA (omega-3).18

Read more: What’s the Deal with Seafood?

Artificial Sweeteners

There is not much research regarding the impact of artificial sweeteners, but we do know that they are found in breastmilk after mom consumes them.19  Some newer research indicates that baby’s whose mothers drink artificially sweetened beverages may have a higher Body Mass Index (BMI) as well as changes in their gut microbiota (the healthy bacteria found in our intestines).20, 21

Artificial sweeteners include: saccharin (a key ingredient in Sweet-n-Low™), Splenda™/sucralose, Stevia™, Nutrasweet™/aspartame and Acesulfame-K.

If you are trying to reduce your artificial sweetener intake, opt for honey, 100% pure maple syrup, and – yes – plain old cane sugar in moderation to add natural sweetness.

Want more ideas? Alternatives to Sweetened Beverages and Juices

Alcohol

When it comes to drinking alcohol while breastfeeding, it’s best to err on the side of caution. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states that ingestion of alcoholic beverages should be minimized and limited to occasional intake.22   The AAP recommends waiting at least 2 hours after drinking alcohol to minimize the amount in your breastmilk.

If you do enjoy alcohol occasionally, know that it clears your breastmilk at the same rate it does your blood. Pumping and dumping is no longer recommended: it does not clear alcohol from your breastmilk faster.23 You can pump and dump if are intoxicated and need to relieve engorgement 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 and beyond.24, 25

What foods to eat while breastfeeding

Eat a varied nutrient-rich diet filled with fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, low fat dairy (or dairy alternative), beans, nuts and seeds.

Here is a sample meal plan that helps provide the nutrients you need while breastfeeding: Getting the Right Nutrition While Breastfeeding

If you have questions about your diet while breastfeeding, reach out to our team of registered dietitians and lactation counselors for free! They’re here to help on our live chat from Monday – Friday 8am-8pm (EST), and Saturday – Sunday 8am-4pm (EST).

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 or formula?) and how (breast or 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.

Read more: Is Your Baby Reacting to Something in Your Breastmilk?

Let’s Chat!

We know parenting often means sleepless nights, stressful days, and countless questions and confusion, and we want to support you in your feeding journey and beyond.

Our Happy Baby Experts are a team of lactation consultants and registered dietitians certified in infant and maternal nutrition – and they’re all moms, too, which means they’ve been there and seen that. They’re here to help on our free, live chat platform Monday – Friday 8am-8pm (EST), and Saturday – Sunday 8am-4pm (EST). Chat Now!

For more on this topic, check out the following articles

Dealing with Low Milk Supply

Why Omega-3’s Matter for Babies, Tots, and Mama

How much should you eat while breastfeeding

How To Minimize Processed Foods In Your Diet

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