Are there any Foods to Avoid While Breastfeeding?
That certain types of foods are forbidden during pregnancy, or should at least be avoided, is something that most women are already familiar with when they realize they’re carrying. That’s why it’s also pretty normal, once the pregnancy is over and your little one comes into this world, to ask yourself whether you should continue on with this particular “diet” during the months of breastfeeding as well. Yes, certain molecules from the food you consume can make a way through the breastmilk and end up in your baby’s organism. But, it’s actually not as scary as it seems - as much as it seems counterintuitive, there isn’t, in fact, a particular list of foods to avoid in the breastfeeding months.
There may be some foods that you should consume lower quantities of, but ones you should avoid completely - not really. Once you give birth and start breastfeeding, you can continue to eat the foods you’ve always eaten before. The only truly important thing to remember is to consume in moderation, which is a good idea at any time of your life, regardless of whether it’s pregnancy or post-pregnancy related. A well-balanced diet is the key to feeling good and healthy, and this goes both for you and your baby.
As we mentioned above, yes, there isn’t a particular list of forbidden foods during breastfeeding, but there are some foods that should be consumed in smaller quantities. Next, we’re going to cover what these foods are in more detail, and also give you some info on how much of them are actually safe to consume while breastfeeding.
Foods You Should Cut Back While Breastfeeding
Moms that breastfeed don’t have to worry too much about the foods they consume, but it is nevertheless important to be conscious of the stuff you eat in larger quantities. Some foods, when eaten in higher doses, can have an effect on your milk supply, and to some extent the baby’s health as well. The following are the most important types of food you need to cut back on, as well as some of the reasons why you should do this.
Coffee and Other Caffeinated Beverages
Sure, we all understand the morning impulse of reaching after that wonderful, warm coffee that will provide you with the necessary morning energy, especially if you’ve spent the whole night catering to your little one.
And while caffeine itself is not harmful to the baby, and it also won’t have any impact on your milk supply, it’s a good idea to enjoy it moderately while you’re in the breastfeeding months. This means that you can definitely have your much-awaited morning coffee; you can also have soda or tea later in the day. You should just limit the intake of caffeinated beverages to around three cups a day. Also, if you want to have a drink that contains caffeine, it’s recommended that you do it once the breastfeeding session is over. The reason for this is that, similarly to alcohol (which we’re going to cover next), caffeine also goes into your bloodstream and from there into the breastmilk as well. This means that if you have too much caffeine in your body, it might also make your little one jittery and restless.
And what about chocolate and caffeine, you’d ask yourself? Well, you definitely won’t have to worry about that (phew!). Chocolate has a much smaller amount of caffeine than coffee or soda and it won’t have the same effect on your baby. So you can enjoy that bar (or a few) totally unburdened!
While during pregnancy it’s recommended to avoid alcohol completely, during the breastfeeding months it’s okay to have the occasional glass of wine or beer. But don’t overdo it. Alcohol is also one of those substances that enter your bloodstream and also your breastmilk, which ultimately ends up into your little one’s system.
Moderation is key here, as well as self-assessment. If you feel you’ve drunk too much then it’s a good idea to wait it out until it leaves your system before you set out to breastfeed. Otherwise, it’s considered generally safe to breastfeed after one alcoholic beverage (which translated into wine or beer would be around 5 ounces of wine or 12 ounces of beer). It’s always better, however, to actually have that drink after a breastfeeding session and then wait for 2-3 hours till the next one, so your body can have enough time to take care of the alcohol in your system.
If you want to be more relaxed in certain occasions when it comes to drinking, it’s a good idea to have a ready set of pumped milk supply which you can use until the higher amount of alcohol has been processed by your body and won’t be present in the breastmilk.
Fish are the usual boogeyman when it comes to pregnancy and pregnancy-related conditions. This is so because of the presence of mercury, which is present in more or less all fish - an element which is also considered as a neurotoxin, something that can affect the brain health of developing babies.
The thing is, though, most of the fish out there contain very, very small amounts of mercury. This means that the health benefits that come with consuming fish (such as the fact that they’re high in protein and low in fat) outweigh the risks associated with mercury.
According to the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics), there are only a handful of fish that should be avoided while breastfeeding: swordfish, shark, king mackerel and tilefish. These are predator fish, higher on the fish hierarchy food chain and contain the highest levels of mercury.
If you regularly include fish in your diet, focus instead on fish with lower mercury content, such as salmon, shrimp, catfish, and pollock - you can eat about 12 ounces (or about two meals) per week of them.
Parsley, Sage, and Peppermint
This trio of herbs is also known in medicine and chemistry as ‘antigalactagogues’, which basically means that consuming high doses of them can affect (decrease) milk production during the months of breastfeeding.
But, you won’t have to worry much about accidentally overdoing it with these herbs because you’d have to consume very large amounts of them in order for them to have a significant effect on your milk supply. You should, however, vary when you’re applying peppermint essential oil on your skin, let’s say during a massage. Skin oil can get into the bloodstream, and spread out across the whole body meaning that larger quantities may be entering than you’d otherwise want.
If you notice a decrease in milk supply after consuming even small quantities of these herbs (which is not that likely but still), then it’s best to avoid them while you’re breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding, Spicy Foods, and Strong Flavors - What’s the Verdict?
Some women think that it’s also a good idea to avoid foods and dishes that have a strong flavor or are spicy in some way, during the months of breastfeeding. This is, however, not that much backed up by hard science or research, and there aren’t any strict rules about the tastes you’re allowed to enjoy during breastfeeding. Food flavors depend heavily on one’s culture and are different all around the world. This also means that there isn’t one particular and strict breastfeeding diet or limited-flavor option that you can or should follow, for that matter.
Some studies show how it’s actually a good idea to expose your little one to different flavors and tastes from a very young age because it might help them be more accepting of various types of flavors as they grow up. Research shows that certain flavor compounds, present in the foods the mother eats, show up in the breast milk within 1-2 hours after the meal. This means that babies get an exclusive preview of the tastes they’re about to experience later on when they begin feeding on solid food. That being said, babies are in fact more likely to accept new solid foods if they’ve been exposed to a diverse diet and flavors during the breastfeeding period.
No problem whatsoever here. Spicy foods and breastfeeding go perfectly fine together. As we said, it all depends on cultural tradition and personal habits and preferences. If you’re a habitual spicy food eater, and you’ve eaten your way through pregnancy with predominantly spicy food, then your little one will be more than ready for those kinds of flavors when the breastfeeding time comes.
But, if you’ve just started to consume more spicy food than before, then your little one might be less accustomed to the taste and might end up not enjoying it. Since every baby is different, you should see for yourself - if it bothers them, and they respond strongly to it, try and cut back a little on it.
Garlic definitely affects the flavor of the breastmilk, but here it also depends on how accustomed the baby is to its taste. If you’re a regular garlic eater and have eaten a lot or often during pregnancy, then your baby is much more likely to enjoy the taste.
Food Allergens - What Other Foods to Limit During Breastfeeding
If you’ve experienced a certain food sensitivity or allergic reaction to some type of food during pregnancy, then you might also wonder about the same thing during breastfeeding - especially if it might affect the baby as well.
Lots of women have issues with gassiness during pregnancy, for example, which also means that most likely they’ve been advised by the doctor to avoid certain foods that cause gassiness to the body. But the foods that you consume during breastfeeding will only be able to cause a reaction in your little one if they’re particularly sensitive to either of them.
The molecules from the food the mother eats can make their way through the breastmilk and end up in the baby’s stomach. This means that when babies that are being breastfed have some sort of allergy or food sensitivity, these molecules can cause irritation in the baby’s digestive system - irritate the lining of their gut and thus cause pain and discomfort. And while food sensitivities vary from baby to baby, there are several foods that regularly seem to take the blame for it:
- Peanuts and tree nuts
This, however, doesn’t mean that moms should completely avoid these foods since some babies might not be affected by them at all. The most important thing is to find out which foods cause food sensitivities and allergies to your little one in particular. And the best way to find out is to expose them to different kinds of foods. Usually, babies develop signs and symptoms of allergy or food insensitivity 12-24 hours after breastfeeding. Here are the most common signs and symptoms you should watch out for in your little one:
- Colic and frequents bouts of crying
- Mucusy or bloody stool
- Vomiting or excessive spit up
- Coughing, wheezing, runny nose or congestion
- Trouble sleeping
If you notice that your little one is exhibiting some of these symptoms, and you suspect that it’s a reaction of something you’ve eaten, then the best thing you could do is to temporarily eliminate that particular food from your diet (2-3 weeks) and see how your baby is going to feel at that time, if there’s going to be any significant difference. You should always, however, consult with your pediatrician before beginning with the elimination diet by yourself, just to make sure something else isn’t the matter behind your little one’s symptoms.
So, several things are important as a conclusion to this topic: there isn’t a strict or definitive list when it comes to foods you should avoid during breastfeeding. It all depends on the preferences and body responses of your baby, and your own organism as well. If certain foods cause allergies or intolerances to your little one, then, of course, you’re going to make some changes in your diet. But otherwise, you’re free to do whatever you want with your post-pregnancy diet - just make sure you consume in moderation, and your diet is varied and as much nutrient-dense as it can be.