When you’re pregnant, your doctor gives you a long list of foods to avoid — soft cheese, unpasteurized dairy, lunch meat, raw fish, and more. But, for a lot of parents, the questions around what they can and cannot eat extend to after the baby is born when they are breastfeeding.
While there are no specific guidelines around foods to avoid while breastfeeding, there is some information to keep in mind. So we asked Tinyhood expert, Vanessa Thornton, a pediatric nutritionist, to share some of the most common questions parents ask her when it comes to their diet when breastfeeding. Plus, see her answers below.
Q: What foods should be avoided when breastfeeding? Is there a need to avoid the same foods breastfeeding as you do during pregnancy?
Vanessa: The short answer is: No! You do not need to avoid the same foods breastfeeding as you do during pregnancy, and overall there are no specific foods you need to avoid while breastfeeding.
The main reason some experts recommend avoiding foods during pregnancy is to avoid foodborne illnesses that may affect your growing baby. Once your baby is born, there is less cause for concern as your body is able to filter out harmful organisms while producing breast milk and avoid passing them on to your child.
That being said, it is always a good idea to focus on a balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and proteins to maximize the nutrient content of your breast milk and keep yourself healthy, too.
Q: Are there any foods to limit while breastfeeding?
Vanessa: There are a few foods to limit while breastfeeding. Alcohol and caffeine are safe in small amounts, but they are not filtered out completely from breast milk so larger doses should be avoided.
Aim to drink alcohol or coffee after you’ve nursed your baby and avoid more than 1-2 drinks at a time. Some seafood contains high levels of mercury, so it is a good idea to limit seafood to 2-3x/week and avoid fish that are particularly high in mercury like swordfish, marlin, king mackerel, and tilefish.
Q: What signs should you look for that something you’re eating could be affecting your baby?
Vanessa: Common signs of food allergy or intolerance with babies are colic or constant fussiness, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation or bloody stools, eczema or hives and even slow growth. If you notice any of these, track what you eat throughout the day and talk with your healthcare provider about eliminating some foods.
Many parents worry that something they ate before breastfeeding is causing the baby to be gassy or uncomfortable but the food is not typically the culprit here. Instead, a gassy and fussy baby may have swallowed too much air when eating or is struggling with getting too little or too much milk at once. If this is the case, a visit with a lactation consultant might be the best place to start.
Q: Are there any foods that can affect breastfeeding and/or your supply?
Vanessa: There are some foods called galactagogues that are thought to boost milk supply. The data here is limited and the foods considered to be best for milk production vary across countries and cultures.
That being said, many of the foods considered to be galactagogues are rich in nutrients and absolutely beneficial to mom and baby, even if they don’t cause a huge boost in your milk supply. Some common galactagogues in the United States are oats, leafy greens, nuts and seeds, chickpeas, garlic and brewer’s yeast.
Some dietary choices can actually decrease milk supply over time. Drinking excessive alcohol or caffeine can interfere with breastfeeding and milk production, so stick with 1-2 servings at a time. Hydration is also important for milk production— aim for 10-12 cups of fluids per day.
Finally, simply not eating enough is a big culprit for low milk production. New parents are often so busy caring for their baby that they don’t care for themselves! Make sure you are eating whenever you feel hungry — at least 3 meals and a few snacks per day.
Generally speaking, breastfeeding parents should focus on hydration and a balanced diet packed with nutrients. A healthy balanced diet that focuses on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein and healthy fats like nut butters, olive oil, and avocados instead of lots of processed foods, added sugar and salty snacks is key to helping your body recover from birth, produce quality milk to help your baby grow, and help you feel healthy and strong during this new phase of life.
Have more breastfeeding questions? Check out our FREE class, Breastfeeding 101: What to Expect in the First 30 Days. In this class we will help you discover what milestones to expect in the first few hours, days, and weeks of your breastfeeding journey. We’ll introduce key concepts, including latch and positioning, how much and how often baby needs to eat, and more. Learn the basics and get set up for success. Free for a limited time only.