Breastfeeding is on the rise. After decades of numbers dropping, many women are finding the science convincing. There are a lot of health benefits to both mother and baby that are persuading more and more mothers to breastfeed. Most mothers will still supplement with formula, but incorporating breastmilk in the early days is especially healthful for your little one. In the days right after giving birth, your body will produce colostrum, a superfood packed full of nutrients.
Once you start settling back into your routine, however, keeping your milk nutritious and in enough supply can be challenging. And after nine months of avoiding sushi, alcohol, runny eggs, and plenty of other treats your diet finally opens back up. You may want to dive straight into all your favorite things.
While a breastfeeding diet is nowhere near as strict as your pregnancy diet, there are still a few things to keep in mind. In this article, we’ll walk you through foods you should avoid or limit, some misconceptions, common allergens, and the nutrition you should be focusing on for both you and baby to flourish.
- Foods to Limit While Breastfeeding
- Some Common Misconceptions
- Making Healthy Choices
- What Else Can Affect Breastfeeding?
- Final Thoughts
Foods to Limit While Breastfeeding
Fortunately, nothing is completely off-limits. Most foods can be safely consumed in moderation by most moms, though of course things vary person-to-person. Some moms may find that these foods affect them and their baby more. So it’s important to be mindful and check in with yourself and your little one and observe how different foods make you feel.
Keeping a food diary can be a helpful way to track how different foods affect the two of you. That can help you tune in to what you works and doesn’t work when it comes to your diet.
You can have a small amount of alcohol while breastfeeding, but try to keep it to only a few drinks a week. It’s also better to avoid nursing after having a drink. If you’re still feeling the effects of alcohol on your body, that means it’s still in your bloodstream and can be passed to your baby.
Pumping won’t remove it if you’re still intoxicated, but it can help you feel more comfortable if it’s your regular time to nurse and you’re feeling some pressure. Pumping before having a drink also ensures that your baby can eat on schedule. If you need recommendations for a good breast pump, check out our list of recommendations here.
After a long night trying to convince your baby to sleep, you probably need a little boost to get you going. Fortunately, a little caffeine is perfectly fine. It’s probably best not to have a triple shot before breastfeeding, this can interrupt your baby’s sleep more and make them feel a little jittery. A cup of coffee or tea after breastfeeding, though? You should be absolutely fine.
Don’t start getting your regular sushi order just yet. While a couple servings of fish on your weekly menu should be fine, you want to be moderate. Fish is full of healthy fats that are great for both you and baby, however, fish contains trace amounts of mercury. Frequent exposure can affect your baby’s brain development.
A bit of tuna or salmon every week should be fine, but the CDC has stated that tilefish, shark, king mackerel, and swordfish should be considered off-limits to women who are pregnant or nursing. These have the highest levels of mercury.
Highly Processed Foods
Doctors and nutritionists agree that everyone would be better off without these in our diets, nursing or not. However, we live busy lives where fast food and frozen meals are occasional necessities. And sometimes you’re just really craving french fries. For the most part, though, these are high in calories, salt, and preservatives, but low in nutrition.
Sticking to whole foods with few ingredients is much better. The occasional chicken nugget isn’t the end of the world, but there are more and more convenient and healthy options available on the go or in the freezer. Read the ingredients and if the list is as long as your arm, full of phrases from high school chemistry, consider looking elsewhere. Sticking to food that’s all food will help avoid any nutritional deficiencies in you or your baby.
Sugary Soft Drinks
You need to stay well-hydrated while producing milk, so having a drink before or during a breastfeeding session is a good idea. Having a large glass of soda or sweet tea, however, isn’t the best idea.
Water is the best thing for hydrating. And since everything you consume gets filtered into your breastmilk, you might be passing some of those sugars onto your baby and giving them a taste for sweets. Most doctors recommend avoiding all added sugars for children under two to help them develop healthier eating habits for life.
You may be tempted to try to get rid of your pregnancy weight as quickly as possible. Many women feel pressure to start dieting right away. The problem with pre-packaged diet foods are that they tend to be low in nutrition and high in preservatives and additives.
Your body is recovering, so you need real food; healthy fruits, vegetables, whole grains, proteins, and fats– especially plant-based fats. Breastfeeding actually burns extra calories, so you’re already working hard and putting any extra pounds to work feeding your baby.
Certain Herbs and Essential Oils
Parsley, sage, and peppermint can actually reduce your milk production. While for most people, it would take a high dose to have a measurable effect, if you are having a hard time producing enough milk, you should probably be careful.
If you love using essential oils in massage, avoid adding those herbs to your carrier oils or lotion. Essential oils are extra concentrated and get absorbed into your bloodstream through the skin. Oregano and lemon balm have also been suggested as possibly risky herbs as well. Sprinkle a little on your dinner, or have a mint tea, but don’t go overboard.
Some Common Misconceptions
Some misconceptions still prevail that there are foods that you have to avoid if you don’t want your baby to have allergies or be gassy. If you notice that your baby is extra gassy or fussy after feedings, then you may want to start eliminating possible triggers from your diet.
However, doctors have found no evidence of any one specific food or food type that causes gassiness in all babies, so it’s about testing things out and seeing how they work specifically for you and your baby.
A little fussiness while feeding isn’t likely to indicate a sensitivity to any particular food. Instead, look out for warning signs like diarrhea, vomiting, and rashes. These can indicate something more serious and you should contact your doctor to help figure out what the problem is and how to manage it. If your baby isn’t gaining weight that can also indicate more serious digestive issues. Your doctor can test for allergies and conditions if they suspect your baby has a problem.
With that in mind, the following are some foods that parents often think should be avoided while breastfeeding, but in actuality haven’t been proven to have any consistent negative effects
Spicy and Garlicky Foods
Some moms worry that strong spices and heavy doses of garlic will be bad for their baby. If you ate these things regularly during pregnancy, though, your baby might already be used to them. It’s true that some flavors will get passed through your breastmilk, including strong spices.
This isn’t a bad thing! You’re expanding your little one’s palate, which will help them eat a healthy variety of foods as they get older.
If you enjoy these strong flavors, there’s no reason to avoid them. You might be raising a less picky eater because of it.
Some may worry that vegetables, particularly cruciferous ones (think broccoli, cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts) will make your baby gassy. Just as some adults eat them with no problem and others are seriously affected, every baby will be different too.
There’s no reason to avoid these nutritional powerhouses. In fact, the benefits will probably outweigh the risk of increased gas. Cooking these vegetables helps make them easier to digest and reduces the risk of gassiness for you as well. Raw cruciferous veggies are more likely to cause mild gastrointestinal distress.
Many people attribute fussiness to dairy allergies. While dairy sensitivity is more commonly diagnosed than any other food allergy in infants, it’s still only found in about 2-3% of babies. If you have no issues digesting dairy, you probably don’t need to completely eliminate it from your diet.
If you notice your baby’s gassiness increases every time you have a yogurt, though, you may want to try avoiding cow’s milk for a week or two to see if there’s any improvement in your child’s symptoms. Most babies will outgrow any dairy sensitivity by the time they are school age, fortunately.
Nuts, soy, eggs, and wheat are common allergens in adults and some parents wonder if they should avoid them while nursing. Fish and citrus fruits are also somewhat common sensitivities for babies.
In spite of this, you shouldn’t swear off them all from the start. Food sensitivities in babies are very rarely severe. If severe allergies run in the family, then you should perhaps take a little extra care to observe your child after any exposure. That will carry over to when you start introducing solid foods as well.
By exposing your baby to a variety of foods through your breastmilk, you can discover if they have any sensitivities, but exposure to many foods is beneficial. In fact, studies have shown that early exposure to common food allergens can actually reduce your child’s risk of developing allergies.
Making Healthy Choices
After so much discussion of foods you should limit and things to avoid while breastfeeding, you may be wondering what you should be doing. A breastfeeding diet should look very similar to any healthy human diet. Here are a few guidelines to keep in mind.
Now isn’t the time to try the ketogenic diet. Having a balance of protein, carbs, and healthy fats in your diet will be best for both you and baby. And by carbs, we don’t mean white bread and candy (though indulging in a sweet treat once in a while is fine).
Having about 3 servings of complex carbs a day will help give you the energy you need to produce milk and take care of your baby. Think sweet potatoes, brown rice, beans, and oatmeal. These are heart-healthy nutrient-dense options that should be on your menu.
If you’re vegan or vegetarian, you can get plenty of protein from plant sources. Beans, tofu, tempeh, nuts, and seeds can pack a ton of protein and other nutrients. Even leafy greens can add a little supplementary protein. Plant-based fats from olive oil, nuts, seeds, and avocados are also beneficial, though the omega-3s in fish can be especially good for your body and your child’s development.
Vitamins and Minerals
The best way to get these micro-nutrients is through a diet of fresh fruits and vegetables. Having a fruit smoothie for breakfast (maybe with a spoonful of chia seeds added in for a fat and protein combo) and green salad with a healthy dressing a few times a week can help you boost your vitamin intake.
Frozen fruits veggies are a great way to get the produce you need even out of season. They tend to be less expensive and are easy to keep on hand. Nutritionally, they are very similar to the fresh stuff.
You may want to take some supplements as well. For women, calcium and iron are particularly vital, even when you’re not breastfeeding. It can be hard to get enough, especially if you avoid meat and dairy. There are plant-based foods that can help give you a boost, but your doctor can recommend supplements that will help keep your levels high enough.
Breastfeeding can especially sap your calcium reserves and as you get older, keeping your bones healthy becomes more of a priority. It’s recommended that you continue your prenatal vitamin into nursing. If you need recommendations, check out our list here.
What Else Can Affect Breastfeeding?
If you’re having trouble producing enough nutritious milk for your baby, you’re not alone. It’s estimated that about five percent of women simply can’t produce enough breastmilk to feed their baby (though some medical professionals suggest that figure could be as high as 15%). Sometimes the breast glands simply can’t support adequate milk production. In primary lactation failure, your milk supply never arrives. This can lead to feelings of anxiety and upset for many women who were determined to breastfeed their baby. It’s understandable to be upset. You’re already going through a tumult of hormone-fueled emotions, after all.
Breastfeeding has plenty of benefits, but it’s not the only way. The most important thing is that your baby has enough nutrition, whether it’s from a breast or a bottle, or most likely both, and that you’re taking care of yourself as well.
Most women will need to at least supplement with formula at some point. Your doctor can recommend one that will best suit your baby’s needs, and we’ve got a list of the best formulas available. Many new mothers will experience secondary lactation failure at some point, they won’t be able to sustain their milk supply as needed. There are many reasons this can happen.
Dealing with Stress and Anxiety
Feeling overly anxious or stressed can actually reduce your milk production as well. Physical stress from a difficult birth can make it harder for your milk to come in initially, especially if you don’t get to hold your baby immediately after birth. Emotional stress from the many life changes you’re experiencing can also make it harder to produce enough milk down the road. If you’re feeling stressed, it’s important to find someone to talk to, maybe other new moms who will understand what you’re going through. And asking your family or partner for more help and support isn’t selfish, it’s essential.
Don’t Rush to Lose the Baby Weight
If you’re desperate to lose your pregnancy weight, you may be sabotaging both your recovery and your breastmilk. Breastfeeding can burn up to 500 calories, so if you’re already cutting back, you may leave yourself undernourished. This can start to reduce the amount and quality of your breastmilk. It can also leave you feeling weak and fatigued. Carrying and giving birth to a child can be very taxing, so your body needs to be nourished and nurtured, not punished for needing a bigger pants size.
Watch Your Health
Being under the weather can also reduce your milk supply. Your body may not be able to keep up with production because its resources are focused on your recovery. However, the medication you take to reduce your symptoms can also cause issues. Pseudoephedrine is an active ingredient in many over the counter cold and flu drugs and it can have a serious impact on your milk production when taken early on. So, if you get a cold in the first few weeks after giving birth, you may have to suffer through it to establish your milk supply.
If you’re having concerns about your milk supply, you may want to meet with a lactation consultant. Most hospitals will provide one to new mothers after birth, but you can still ask for a referral later on. They can help you get to the bottom of any issues with your milk supply. And, they may recommend supplementing or primarily using formula. Formula is not a bad thing. It can really help eliminate nutritional deficiencies in your child.
Like most things in life, the key to maintaining a good diet while breastfeeding is all about moderation and balance. Being mindful and observing how you and your baby respond to different foods will help you figure out how to keep both of you healthy.
While it’s easy to get hyper-focused on being a mom, you can’t forget to take care of yourself as well. You’re recovering from a huge physical change. Eating what makes yourself feel good, even if that means having a treat or a glass of wine once in a while is fine. You don’t need to be perfect all the time. You may be a mom now, but you’re still human.