Healthy Diet, Happy Baby: Foods to Avoid While Breast-Feeding

Medically reviewed by Karen Richardson Gill, MD on February 25, 2016Written by Lisa C. Baker on February 25, 2016
foods to avoid when breast-feeding

If your baby is fussy and you’re breast-feeding, chances are someone will blame it on your diet.

They’ll say it’s because you ate broccoli, or spicy food, or milk. But limiting what you eat when you’re breast-feeding can make breast-feeding a lot more difficult. The truth is, in most cases, your favorite foods won’t cause any problems for your breast-feeding baby. 

Most ingredients in food don’t pass into your bloodstream, which means they won’t affect your milk. Here’s what you need to know about what foods you can eat and what foods you do need to limit.

Foods You Avoided During Pregnancy

You may have had a pretty long list of foods you didn’t eat while you were pregnant. 

From sushi to wine, you quit indulging for the sake of your growing baby. However, most of the foods you couldn’t eat while pregnant are perfectly safe to eat while breast-feeding.

Soft cheeses, cold deli meats, and raw fish are unsafe while pregnant because of the risk of bacteria. The listeria bacteria can pass through your placenta and cause serious problems for your developing baby when you’re pregnant. However, it can’t pass into your milk, so those foods are safe while you’re breast-feeding. 

There is one type of food you should continue to limit while you’re breast-feeding, however: Fish that are likely to be high in mercury. Larger fish like sharks, swordfish, and mackerel tend to have high levels of mercury. This is mostly a problem for your developing baby while you’re pregnant, but the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you continue to limit it while breast-feeding as well. You can eat these fish in small amounts; just limit your consumption to no more than one serving a week.

Foods That Are Unsafe for Babies

There are several foods that aren’t recommended for babies till they’re over 1 year old, and some mothers assume these are foods you should avoid while you’re nursing, as well. 

For example, cow’s milk isn’t recommended for your baby until they’re over 1 year old, because it can replace breast milk or formula and it doesn’t meet their nutritional needs. Honey is another example, which isn’t recommended until after age 1 because of the risk of botulism. However, both of these foods are safe for you to eat while you’re breast-feeding.

Foods to Limit While Breast-Feeding

There are some foods you should limit while breast-feeding. 

Caffeine will get into your bloodstream and can affect your baby’s sleep, so according to the Mayo Clinic, it’s best to limit it to no more than two or three cups per day. If your baby is having trouble sleeping, you might want to try cutting out caffeine entirely. But if that gives you headaches, it’s okay to keep drinking your morning coffee. 

Alcohol also passes into your bloodstream, and it’s not considered safe for your baby, even in small amounts. Alcohol can inhibit your letdown and decrease your milk production. However, that doesn’t mean you have to abstain entirely for as long as you’re breast-feeding. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting alcohol while breast-feeding to no more than 2 ounces of liquor, 8 ounces of wine, or 2 beers at a time. Keep it occasional and no more than 1 drink per week. 

Finally, wait at least two hours after you drink to breast-feed again, to be sure your body has eliminated the alcohol from your system. How you feel after drinking is a good rule of thumb: When you no longer feel a “buzz” from the alcohol, that’s a good sign that it’s safe for you to breast-feed. 

It’s also best to wait till your baby is a little older. After your baby is at least 3 months old, their system is more mature, and they can go longer between feedings. If you choose to drink in moderation while breast-feeding, make sure you feed your baby shortly before so you can wait until your body has processed the alcohol. Plan to pump if you need to skip a regular feeding so your production isn’t affected.

When to Eliminate Foods

If you’re concerned that something you’re eating is bothering your baby, discuss it with your doctor. 

It’s possible that something you’re eating is affecting your baby, especially if there’s a history of allergies or food intolerances in your family. Common signs of reaction to something in your breast milk include a rash, eczema, diarrhea, or congestion. 

If you suspect your diet is affecting your baby, your doctor may ask you to keep a food diary for a few weeks to see if you can establish a connection between what you’re eating and your baby’s reactions. However, if the reaction isn’t severe, it might be best to wait it out. If the reaction is mild, your baby might outgrow the problem as their digestive system matures. 

Discuss it with your doctor to see if you should consider eliminating certain foods from your diet while you’re breast-feeding.

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