foods to avoid while breastfeeding

6 Foods to Avoid While Breastfeeding (and What to Have Instead)

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Are you wondering which foods to avoid while breastfeeding? You’re in the right place. As a breastfeeding counselor and mother of two who nursed both for over 14 months, I understand the confusion around safe foods when breastfeeding from personal experience. What if certain ingredients or drinks upset your baby or worse – harm their growth?

This article identifies foods and drinks that might be detrimental to your breastfed baby’s health or upset your milk supply. From seafood with high levels of mercury to the unsuspecting culprits like certain herbal teas, I’ll help you navigate the do’s and don’ts of a breastfeeding-safe diet.

The good news is that with a few guidelines, you can identify foods to avoid while optimizing nutrition for both you and your baby. In this article, I’ll cut through the uncertainty by outlining:

  • The 6 top culprit foods and drinks disrupting breastfeeding

  • Safer menu options to include in a varied diet that nourish breastfeeding mothers and their babies

  • How to spot signs of intolerance in your baby

Now, let’s uncover risky foods to steer clear of so you can prevent disrupting your baby’s growth and development.

Foods to avoid while breastfeeding (and drinks)

A variety of foods and drinks to avoid while breastfeeding

As mothers, finding the right balance in our diets can be challenging when deciding what to eat while breastfeeding. You want to ensure you’re getting the nutrients you need to maintain your energy and support your baby’s growth, but you also need to avoid certain foods that can harm your baby or interfere with your milk supply.

High-mercury fish, certain herbal supplements and teas, alcohol, caffeine, processed foods, and even some strongly flavored foods can potentially hurt your baby’s health and development. The following sections provide an in-depth look at these categories to help maintain a healthy breastfeeding journey:

  1. High-mercury fish

  2. Herbal supplements and teas

  3. Alcohol

  4. Caffeine

  5. Processed foods

  6. Strongly flavored foods

1. High-mercury fish is a big no-no

Consuming these fish can severely impair your baby’s nervous system development causing permanent damage with delays and impairments. Make sure you avoid these high-mercury varieties in particular:

  • shark

  • swordfish

  • tilefish

  • big eye tuna

  • king mackerel

While avoiding eating fish high in mercury, you can still eat fish of other varieties! There are safer alternatives that are low in mercury and high in essential nutrients. You can safely consume 8 to 12 ounces per week of low-mercury fish like:

  • salmon

  • shrimp

  • pollock

  • catfish

  • sardines

  • scallops

These choices are not only safe for your baby, but they also provide essential omega-3 fatty acids that support your baby’s brain development.

Take a look at this chart from the FDA for more detailed advice about eating fish when breastfeeding.

2. Risky herbal supplements and teas

I remember clearly switching to herbal teas during both of my pregnancies as a replacement for my normal English Breakfast Tea (we Brits are addicted!) But understanding the effects of herbal supplements and teas can be complex for breastfeeding women.

Mothers have often asked me about turning to herbal galactagogues, spanning fenugreek, fennel, milk thistle, blessed thistle, and more to increase their breast milk production. However, few high-quality studies verify these actually increase breastmilk production, despite popular belief.

You may have heard that soy milk can boost your milk supply, but there are some studies, including this one by the NCBI in 2016, show that soy isoflavone in soy milk may increase the risk of developing certain conditions in babies such as Kawasaki disease. The research focuses more on soy milk being directly ingested by babies, as opposed to via their mother’s breast milk, but it’s worth doing your own research on this before switching to a high-soy diet.

So, before you start brewing that fenugreek tea or popping those milk thistle capsules, have a chat with your healthcare provider or a lactation consultant.

3. Alcohol in moderation

Think you can’t have a glass of wine while breastfeeding? Contrary to popular belief, consuming alcohol isn’t entirely off-limits. However, understanding the potential risks and drinking in moderation is important. The reality is that no safe level of alcohol exists in breast milk for babies, so if you do decide to indulge, do so responsibly.

Alcohol from one drink can usually be found in breast milk for about 2 to 3 hours. It may take 4 to 5 hours for it to completely clear out. I won’t deny that I loved a glass of wine in the evenings after a long day of dealing with dirty diapers, but I was always careful not to over-indulge and risk my breast milk becoming too contaminated! I used to either ‘pump and dump’ or use a breastfeeding alcohol calculator like this one if I was ever not quite sure.

Be aware that consuming excessive alcohol can lead to developmental issues in your baby. Therefore, if your baby seems gassy or fussy after you’ve had a drink, track your intake and seek advice from a healthcare professional, especially if you suspect your baby is experiencing baby gassy issues. And of course, if drinking is getting to be more of a crutch then seek specialist medical advice straight away.

4. Balancing caffeine intake

For the coffee-loving moms out there (and tea fanatics like me!), the good news is you don’t have to ditch your morning cup of Joe completely. However, monitoring your caffeine intake is important. Caffeine can get into your breast milk and disrupt your baby’s sleep, making them fussy and irritable.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding moms have a daily caffeine limit of around 200-300 mg, which is about 2-3 cups of coffee. But remember, it’s not just coffee that contains caffeine. Other sources include:

  • tea

  • cocoa beans

  • guarana

  • caffeinated sodas

So, when planning your daily caffeine intake, consider all sources to ensure you stay within the recommended limit.

5. Low-quality processed foods

Just like every new mom out there, I prioritized my baby’s care over my own. This often led to me reaching for the quickest and most convenient meals. But the truth is processed foods are best avoided during breastfeeding. These foods are typically:

  • high in unhealthy fats

  • high in calories

  • high in added sugars

  • low in essential nutrients

Consuming these foods may influence your child’s future food preferences. Particular food containing cow’s milk protein can mean that your baby develops a Cow’s Milk Protein Allergy (CMPA) with various symptoms including a rash, diarrhea, and constipation.

Instead of reaching for that bag of chips or frozen pizza, opt for nutrient-dense alternatives as part of a healthy diet. Focus on foods that are rich in vitamins, minerals, and beneficial fats – great for calorie control if you are trying to lose weight postpartum. Good nutrition not only supports your baby’s development but also establishes a foundation for their lifelong eating habits.

6. Strongly flavored foods

Did you know that breast milk flavors can be influenced by strongly flavored or spicy foods like garlic? These flavors can pass into your milk, providing your baby with a variety of tastes. This can be a positive thing, exposing your baby’s digestive system to a diversity of flavors early on. However, not all babies react the same way to these flavors – my first baby always knew that I had eaten a particularly spicy curry!

While some babies might enjoy the unique flavors in your milk, others might not. If you notice your baby becoming fussy or refusing to nurse after you’ve eaten strongly flavored foods or consumed cow’s milk, consider making some changes to your diet. Keep an eye on how your baby reacts when you breastfeed after eating strongly flavored foods.

Foods and drinks to include in your diet when breastfeeding

Foods and drinks that help boost milk supply

Now that we’ve covered what to avoid, let’s talk about what to include in your breastfeeding diet. Choosing the right foods can not only enhance your milk supply but also boost your energy, improve your mood, and benefit your baby’s development. Goals for every mom, right?

What to eat and drink to help increase milk supply

It’s one of the top concerns for new breastfeeding moms: low milk supply.

From lactation cookies to fenugreek tea, you’ve probably heard about foods and drinks that claim to boost milk supply. But do these remedies actually work? Some foods and herbs are known as galactagogues – substances that can stimulate milk production.

Here’s a list of foods that I encourage lactating moms to incorporate into their diets:

  • Whole grains, especially oats and barley.

  • Protein-rich foods like fish, chicken, meat, or tofu.

  • Legumes or beans like chickpeas and lentils.

  • Leafy green vegetables like kale, spinach, and arugula.

  • Fennel or fennel seeds.

  • Nuts.

  • Alfalfa sprouts.

Some moms swear by protein powders designed specifically for breastfeeding moms. These protein powders contain whey and other ingredients to help boost milk supply, increase protein intake, and improve energy levels. Oh, and they are a quick and nutritious snack too as part of a well-balanced diet!

While the effectiveness of these galactagogues can vary from person to person, they are generally considered safe to include in your diet. Remember, though, that the best way to boost your milk supply is to nurse your baby frequently.

Energy and mood enhancers for breastfeeding moms

My professional and personal experiences taught me that breastfeeding can take a toll on you, both physically and emotionally. Including foods in your diet that can increase your energy and uplift your mood is so important.

  1. Whole grains like brown rice and oatmeal can provide a steady release of energy, preventing those midday energy crashes.

  2. Fruits like apples, oranges, and bananas are also excellent energy boosters. They provide a quick burst of energy and are packed with essential vitamins and minerals.

  3. Including lean proteins in your diet can also help improve your mood and support your overall health during the breastfeeding period.

Don’t forget to drink plenty of water too! Breastmilk is more than 80% water so breastfeeding moms need to hydrate well. Use my calculator to determine how much water you should drink when breastfeeding.

You could also try energy drinks appropriate for lactation – check out our energy drink picks here.

Beneficial foods for your baby’s development

Nutrient-rich foods for baby's development

Your diet influences not only your health but also significantly impacts your baby’s development. Certain nutrients in your diet can strengthen your baby’s bones, aid their heart and eye development, and boost their immune system.

Calcium-rich dairy products, iron-rich foods, and foods high in vitamins A and D are particularly beneficial for your baby’s growth and development. Including a variety of these nutrient-dense foods in your diet can ensure your baby gets the best start in life.

Speak to your lactation consultant about how long to keep taking prenatal vitamins – they may give you the extra boost you need in those first few tough weeks!

Identifying food intolerances or allergies in babies

While it’s rare, some babies can develop food intolerance or have an allergic reaction to certain foods in their mother’s diet. Symptoms such as eczema, bloody stools, diarrhea, and congestion can be signs of a potential food intolerance or food allergy too. Observing how a baby reacts to certain foods is important, and consulting a healthcare professional for accurate diagnosis and management is necessary.

If you think your baby might be negatively affected by something in your diet, consulting a pediatrician is vital. They can guide you through an elimination diet, where you remove the suspected allergen from your diet for a few weeks to see if the symptoms improve. This process can help you and your pediatrician identify problematic foods and create a diet plan that’s best suited for both you and your baby.

Pulling together a breastfeeding diet that works

As breastfeeding mothers, we want to give our babies the best start while also taking care of ourselves. Balancing these needs can feel overwhelming when deciding what’s safe and beneficial to eat. By understanding foods to limit, include, and watch out for, we can meet both our own nutritional needs and our baby’s development.

In my experience counseling nursing mothers, small adjustments avoiding high-risk ingredients, focusing on nutrient-dense whole foods, and monitoring baby’s reactions can allow us to create diets that fuel healthy breastfeeding without stress or confusion. While exceptions exist for every child, the basics remain key: Skip the high-mercury fish, cap caffeine, and emphasize hydration and whole foods rich in vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats.

Remember – our bodies and breasts were designed to optimally nourish our babies. By pairing knowledge of nutritional needs with attention to our baby’s responses, we can feel empowered in choosing meals that sustain energy, mood, and ample milk supply for our little ones to thrive.

Frequently asked questions

What shouldn’t you eat when breastfeeding?

Avoiding foods that could cause allergies or digestive issues in your baby is a good idea while breastfeeding. Dairy, soy, wheat, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish are common culprits nursing mothers to watch out for.

What foods can upset a baby when breastfeeding?

Some babies may get upset when breastfeeding if you consume foods like beans, broccoli, cauliflower, or certain dairy products, as they can cause fussiness or gassiness. Allergy-causing foods such as cow’s milk, soy, wheat, corn, and oats should also be consumed cautiously.

What foods are not good for breast milk?

Avoid consuming too much coffee, tea, cabbage, broccoli, chocolate, garlic, peppermint, sage, and parsley when breastfeeding as they can affect your breast milk and your baby’s well-being. High mercury fish should certainly be avoided altogether.

Can I drink coffee while breastfeeding?

Yes, you can drink coffee while breastfeeding, but limit your caffeine intake to 200-300 mg per day, which is about 2-3 cups of coffee.

Can I drink sparkling water while breastfeeding?

Yes! It may make mom and baby a little gassy, and moms should be careful of caffeinated carbonated drinks but if still water is not your thing then sure, sip on sparkling water!

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