As a Dietitian I work with women throughout all phases of their pregnancy. Why? Because what you eat can affect your baby beginning at preconception, all the way to postpartum. Yes even after they are outside of your body! If you are planning to breastfeed your child, you still have to watch what you eat and (ahem), what you drink while producing milk as some byproducts can pass into your milk supply and possibly harm or cause discomfort to your baby. However, all babies don’t have the same reactions, which is why I encourage you to use this as a guide to help you make the best decision for your breastfeeding diet. Now, onto the goods!
What you eat can affect your baby beginning at preconception, all the way to postpartum. Yes, even after they are outside of your body!
If you don’t drink feel free to skip this step, but if you do, please pay attention! It is best if you completely abstain from alcohol when breastfeeding as alcohol can be transferred via breast milk. However, if you choose to drink in moderation, I recommend waiting until the alcohol has left your body before feeding your child. How long does this take? In general about three hours for 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of liquor in order for it to not be in your breast milk supply.
I bet you are ready to go out for some serious sushi right about now. After all, you’ve been absolutely craving it for months while you were pregnant. Lucky for you, you can! Go ahead and enjoy, just remember it is still important to limit high mercury fish (tuna, shark, tilefish, swordfish and king mackerel) to two times per week. Seafood is a great source of protein and omega 3 fatty acids so continue to incorporate salmon, tilapia, trout and shellfish as they are lower in mercury and just as delicious!
We all know how we feel when our bellies are bloated and gassy, it’s no fun right? Well, babies can suffer similar symptoms as a side effect of the gassy foods that you eat! Whomp whomp! So if your a breastfeeding mother and enjoy beans, broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts and cauliflower stick to small portions or incorporate them slowly to see how your baby responds. Some children have more sensitive systems but others can tolerate these foods with ease. Since these foods provide lots of vitamins, minerals, fiber and goodness don’t eliminate them completely. I recommend to try them out and go from there.
Along the same lines as gassy foods, spicy foods should also be limited by nursing mothers who are breastfeeding babies with sensitive stomachs. Many spicy foods may cause diarrhea and stomach pain in infants, so look for these signs if you are a fan of jalapeños or hot sauce like me!
Chocolate and Coffee
Chocolate, many cups of coffee, energy drinks and soda may contain caffeine, an ingredient many new moms absolutely crave by the bucket load. However, too much caffeine intake may negatively impact sleeping patterns in both mothers and children, not ideal at all! So just like when you were pregnant, I recommend limiting your coffee to the earlier hours and have that first cup after your first feed. Most importantly, don’t forget to drink water first and in abundance as it will help with milk production and also with energy so you might not need to reach for that afternoon caffeine fix after all!
Certain types of tea contain caffeine, which oftentimes affects mothers and babies ability to sleep (see above). But did you know tea can also make it more difficult for individuals to absorb iron? Since iron is critical for energy, we recommend avoiding foods high in iron such as red meat, leafy greens, beans and fortified breakfast cereals when drinking tea. Keeping them separate will help you maximize your absorption.
Peppermint, Parsley, and Sage
Eating certain herbs can affect the quantity of your milk production. Some can increase your supply while others can inhibit (yes, herbs are powerful plants!). A few to look out for include parsley, peppermint and sage as they can reduce lactation and milk supply.
And of course, since I am a Dietitian I had to point out the obvious. Breastfeeding increases thirst among many women and the demand for liquids. I know water isn’t always the first thing you crave, but it should be your first line of defense. I recommend staying away from sugary beverages and drinks filled with artificial sweeteners that lack nutritional value. Keep it clean to feel your best and to keep your milk production up!
I know it sounds like there are so many foods you can’t eat but think about all the foods you can! There are so many! Just remember, you may feel really hungry and rightfully so, you are feeding another human being. So listen to your hunger cues and fill up on healthy foods that will provide you with the energy you need to continue to heal yourself and support your family. And, keep in mind, these restrictions are only temporary so start planning your big dinner out for when you decide to ween! You got this mama!
Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, CDN is the founder and director of Real Nutrition, a NYC- based private practice dedicated to healthfully and successfully guiding clients to their optimal nutrition, weight, and overall wellness. She is internationally recognized for her individualized, lifestyle-focused approach, which integrates realistic food plans, smart eating habits, and active living. Through encouragement, education, and the right “trick of the trade,” Amy believes that anyone can achieve their nutritional goals while still enjoying the foods and flavors they crave. You can check out more information on Amy as well as other nutrition specialists here.