Eating a healthy, balanced diet when nursing is only a good thing, and some foods can even boost lactation. That said, others can have a negative impact. Hence, it’s wise to know what food to avoid when breastfeeding a baby for many different reasons.
And, just like the list of no-go’s during pregnancy, the list of what food not to eat while breastfeeding can be confusing. This is why I’ve put together this post — to help you learn what foods to avoid when nursing — or at the very least, be aware of the main offenders that could be the reason behind your fussy baby.
Does a Mom’s Diet Affect Her Breast Milk?
Here’s a brief biology lesson for you.
When a mom eats and drinks, the substances are digested and molecule-sized components are absorbed into the blood. These molecules pass through the cells in the capillaries near the breast tissue and move into the cells in the alveoli — then into the milk.
This process is called diffusion and allows good things like antibodies and nutrients to pass from the blood into breast milk.
Believe it or not, breast milk is a living substance — evolving to meet your baby’s needs each time they nurse. And, while it is perfectly understandable to ask questions like, does what I eat affect my breastmilk? — it’s important to remember that your body will naturally create the best quality milk that it can for your baby.
That said — although experts believe what you eat shouldn’t affect breast milk quality, it may have an impact in other ways. Hence, you need to be aware that some foods will pass through into your milk, albeit in tiny amounts.
Why Eat a Healthy and Balanced Diet During Breastfeeding?
Breast milk contains vital nutrients, food for healthy gut bacteria, stem cells, and immunity-building cells. If your diet isn’t the best, these substances won’t vanish from your milk. Nursing moms experiencing famine still manage to produce milk that offers optimum nutrition for their babies.
However, given the choice, that doesn’t mean it’s ok to follow a poor diet.
Producing milk is hard work for the body — you use a lot of energy. In fact, official guidelines suggest if you’re breastfeeding, you should be consuming around an extra 500 calories per day. This does depend on age, activity levels, and whether you’re breastfeeding full-time or combining formula feeds).
And, if your appetite does increase as a result, consuming healthy snacks and meals is going to be far better than surviving off caffeine hits and sugar highs. By eating a variety of nutrient-dense foods from all five basic food groups — protein, fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy — making baby milk will be much easier and less exhausting.
Remember, a plate full of nutritional foods should be on your menu, whether you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, or for your general health.
Foods To Avoid When Breastfeeding — Myths And Facts
There are many old wives tales about what foods not to eat while nursing, so I’ve put together some of the more common ones to set the record straight.
You Can’t Drink Cow’s Milk While Breastfeeding — Myth
Cows Milk Allergy (CMA) is a common food allergy found in babies. Infants who suffer from CMA, often experience the following symptoms:
- Skin rashes.
- Facial swelling.
- Congestion or a runny nose and sneezing.
- Digestion issues — colic, constipation, diarrhea, or vomiting.
While this allergy is most common in formula-fed babies, it does also occur in breastfed babies. However, you don’t need to avoid cow’s milk and dairy products — unless your baby begins to show signs of CMA and you’re advised by a pediatrician to cut these foods from your diet.
You Should Avoid Spicy Food While Breastfeeding – Myth
If you’re a lover of hot wings, jalapenos and wasabi, you don’t have to go without your favorite hot dishes while you’re breastfeeding.
Moms who regularly turned up the culinary heat throughout their pregnancy are unlikely to experience any protest from their baby while nursing. Your baby will have grown accustomed to the strong flavors via your amniotic fluid in the womb.
However, if your taste buds are on the tame side and one night you decide on a spicy curry — when nursing your baby, you may notice your child is extra fussy and doesn’t enjoy the new taste of your milk. If this happens, use less spice next time, so your little one isn’t overwhelmed by the strong flavor of your breastmilk.
Caffeine and Alcohol Can Pass Into Your Breastmilk – Fact
When we consume caffeine or alcohol, it’s absorbed into the bloodstream. Hence, going back to our mini science lesson — thanks to diffusion, both these substances have the potential to pass into breastmilk.
Research indicates that alcohol can:
- Lower milk production.
- Increase fussiness in a baby.
- Disrupt infant sleep patterns.
- Reduce milk intake — by up to 23 percent.
In terms of caffeine, this stimulant has the potential to lead to:
- Infant restlessness.
- Elevate irritability.
- More frequent nighttime awakenings.
The severity of the above does all depend on how much you drink and the timing of breastfeeding.
How To Tell if What You Eat Is Affecting Your Baby
Remember that every child is different and what upsets one may be perfectly fine for another. However, there are some common signs that something in your diet is possibly affecting your baby, such as:
- Excessive fussiness.
If your baby does show any of these symptoms it could be to do with a particular food or even a food group that you’re eating.
It may be worth making an appointment with your pediatrician, where you can discuss your diet and possibly what to avoid eating while breastfeeding to alleviate these symptoms.
What Not To Eat While Breastfeeding — Foods To Avoid While Nursing a Baby
Nursing mothers don’t need to drastically change their diet, but there are some foods breastfeeding mums should not eat.
I’ve put together this list of food to avoid when breastfeeding — or at least cut down on — so you can be confident that what you put on your plate isn’t jeopardizing your baby’s health and development.
1. High Mercury Fish
Thanks to us humans polluting the oceans, virtually all fish now contain mercury. This toxic substance can damage the development of a baby’s brain as it can pass into the bloodstream. When consumed in high quantities, it can be harmful to both mom and baby.
Unfortunately, this means that certain fish are on the list of foods to stay away from while breastfeeding. The high-mercury offenders include:
- King mackerel.
- Bigeye tuna.
2. Peppermint and Other Herbs
Anecdotal evidence suggests a link between peppermint and a reduction in a mother’s milk supply. Peppermint is one of many herbs scientifically referred to as a potential anti-galactagogue — a substance that can reduce breast milk production.
Granted, you’d have to be consuming excessive amounts of peppermint tea or candies regularly to notice the adverse effects on your milk supply. However, rubbing essential oils into your skin could suppress lactation faster and in smaller quantities.
I’ve compiled a more extensive list of other herbs that have been found to reduce milk supply. They’re recognized as containing anti-lactogens and should therefore be limited or avoided while breastfeeding:
- Black Walnut.
- Lemon Balm.
3. Highly Processed Foods
One of the top foods to avoid when breastfeeding a baby is junk food — or if you can’t give it up, try to limit it.
High processed foods like pizza, french fries, burgers, or nachos all have one thing in common. While they taste amazing, they’re also laden with salt, sugar, unhealthy fats and come complete with an extreme calorie content.
What’s more, not only do they lack sufficient vitamins, minerals, and fiber, junk food could negatively influence your child’s diet later on in life. Research indicates that the food a mother eats while she is breastfeeding can impact her child’s food preferences as they grow up.
Obviously, there are some things you should avoid while you’re breastfeeding — without question, such as illicit drugs. For prescribed medications, discuss with your doctor whether you can continue taking them and any impact they may have on your baby.
If you fancy letting your hair down with a few glasses of Pinot Grigio, you might want to hold fire painting the town red. When you’re nursing, the safest and most sensible option is to avoid regular alcohol intake. However, experts suggest having an occasional drink is considered acceptable.
You can also reduce the effects of alcohol by trying to find the biggest gap between feeds as possible (a waiting time of 2 hours minimum) — so it has time to leave your bloodstream.
While drinking your morning cup of joe doesn’t have to be strictly off-limits when you’re nursing. Moderation is the operative word. We’ve learned that it passes into your breastmilk, and it can act as a stimulant for your baby in the same way as it does for you and me.
The official line on intake is to keep to less than 300 mg per day, which equates to around two to three cups. However, bear in mind, it’s not just tea, coffee and energy drinks that contain caffeine — it’s hiding in sodas too.
Similar to alcohol, health professionals suggest waiting until after nursing your baby before taking your drink. This gives more time for the caffeine to leave your bloodstream before your baby’s next feed.
We all love chocolate — it’s a little piece of heaven, but unfortunately, it can act as a laxative for your baby. Hence, if you’ve overindulged like Augustus Gloop in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory — keep an eye on your baby’s diapers. You may experience issues such as poop appearing runnier than normal. If that’s the case, think about cutting back a little.
Another issue with chocolate is that it does contain both caffeine and theobromine, which are stimulants. Theobromine has similar effects on the human body as caffeine. But at a considerably lower level, it also acts as a diuretic, which has the potential to cause dehydration.
7. Dairy Products
Dairy products such as milk, yogurt and cheese offer nursing moms a substantial source of calcium — where levels often take a hit during breastfeeding. However, these foods are a common cause of gassy, fussy babies.
They can also cause your baby to have trouble sleeping, develop eczema and rashes. This can be due to a common milk protein allergy which is different from an allergy to lactose. Large protein molecules can easily pass into breast milk and it’s these that can upset a sensitive baby.
If you think your baby might have CMA, check out some of the symptoms above.
8. Citrus Fruits
Citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruit and lemons are loaded with immune-boosting vitamin C, a fab source of fiber and a low-calorie snack.
But, there’s a catch — citric acid.
It can cause your baby to have more frequent diaper rashes, be fussy and spit up more. This is because your baby has an immature digestive system, and the highly acidic fruit could easily upset their tummy.
Many people are sensitive to gluten, and your baby’s sensitivity can show up way before they’re eating solid food. Side effects of gluten sensitivity include bloody stools, upset tummy, and fussiness.
On the plus side, studies indicate that there is no relationship between the amount of gluten-rich foods eaten and the amount of gluten protein in breast milk.
Garlic is present in so many of our favorite dishes, from pasta to fish. It’s also a staple in most household kitchens. But it’s not a taste that everyone likes, and your baby may not be as keen as you are. Hence, for some moms, it’s one of their foods to avoid when nursing.
The truth is that garlic will cause your breastmilk to not only take on that distinctive taste but also the smell — it could deter your baby from breastfeeding. Of course, this will depend on how familiar they are with the flavor. If you ate garlic regularly while you were pregnant, your baby may already be accustomed to the taste.
Now you would think that all vegetables are good for you and your baby while you’re breastfeeding. And for all the positives that veggies offer breastfeeding moms and their babies, there are a few drawbacks too.
A few vegetables can cause your baby to be gassy and can also exacerbate symptoms of colic. Beans, broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts can make you feel bloated and increase gas, and these are passed on to your baby through your milk — making them a fussy and unhappy baby.
While there isn’t an extensive list of what not to eat while breastfeeding, some foods breastfeeding moms should avoid and others you may wish to limit. However, eating a balanced diet while nursing will help keep you and your baby feeling healthy and energized.
It’s important to remember that if you’re ever concerned your child is having an allergic reaction to a food that has passed into your breastmilk, seek professional advice from your doctor as soon as possible
To sum it up.
Knowing what food to avoid when breastfeeding doesn’t need to be a stressful affair — eat nutritious-dense foods, snack smart and keep a lookout for any signs of allergies or foods that could be disagreeing with your little one.
Food To Avoid When Breastfeeding FAQs
What Foods Make Breastfed Babies Gassy?
The top gassy foods to avoid while breastfeeding includes broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts.
If you notice your baby becomes gassy or colicky after you’ve eaten these foods, cut them from your diet for a few weeks and see whether this relieves their symptoms.
What Foods To Avoid When Breastfeeding A Newborn?
The postpartum period is a time for regaining your strength, healing from birth, and establishing breastfeeding. For a full rundown, check out my list above.
Should I Avoid Peanuts While Breastfeeding?
No. Avoiding peanuts (or any other type of nut) while you’re nursing will not prevent your child from potentially developing a nut allergy later on in life.
What Food Can Upset A Breastfed Baby?
Foods that upset breastfed babies causing issues such as a stomach ache, colic symptoms or diarrhea include:
If you notice your baby is regularly having digestive issues, start a food journal. By doing this you can try to pinpoint which foods are triggering your baby’s symptoms — and reduce or remove them from your diet.
What Food Should I Avoid While Breastfeeding A Colicky Baby?
There are some foods and drinks to avoid when breastfeeding as they can aggravate colic in babies — these include:
- Drinks containing caffeine — soda, coffee or tea.
- Broccoli, cauliflower or cabbage.
- Fruits high in citric acid — lemon, lime, oranges and grapefruit.