Foods to Avoid While Breastfeeding

By Tom Iarocci, MD. May 7th 2016

You’re doing great, Mom. You can be proud of yourself for carefully watching what you ate and drank during pregnancy. And by choosing to breastfeed, you are continuing to nurture your baby in the very best way known.

As a breastfeeding mother, the dietary rules are generally not as strict as they were during pregnancy, but you should still avoid certain things to ensure your baby continues to gets only the best.

Breastfeeding Basics

Breast-fed babies have a lower risk of developing illnesses such as stomach viruses and ear infections. Children who are breast-fed are also less likely to develop allergies or become obese, and the method appears to have positive correlation with a child’s brain and neurological development. Moms can benefit too — those who breastfeed and keep it up for at least several months may reduce their risk of breast and ovarian cancer. Risk of postpartum depression decreases, too.  

Foods to Avoid

There are certain foods that breastfeeding women should avoid:

  • Mercury-containing fish: Many fish have mercury, but you can limit your intake by staying away from the predators in the food chain, which include king mackerel, swordfish, tilefish and shark. These types of fish contain high levels of mercury that could be harmful to the baby. Solid white and albacore tuna contain moderate levels of mercury, so limit your intake of those types of fish as well.
  • Pineapple: Pineapple contains a mixture of enzymes called bromelain, specifically found in the pineapple's juice and stem. It can cause side effects such as nausea, diarrhea and menstrual bleeding. Though more research is needed, pregnant woman may be better off not eating pineapple.
  • Caffeinated products: Moms and dads alike know the value of protecting a baby’s sleep. Caffeine should be limited to small amounts so as to not disturb the baby's sleep patterns. Caffeine could also cause symptoms like nervousness and irritability for the baby.
  • Alcohol: Alcohol can interfere with breastfeeding and decrease milk production, and it’s unclear what levels of alcohol in breast milk are safe. But if a mother wants to have a drink, she should limit her intake and allow enough time for the alcohol to get out of her system before breastfeeding — typically two to three hours for the body to process an average, alcoholic beverage. If you have had more than a drink or two, you should wait longer (about two hours for each additional beverage), and pumping and dumping can relieve engorgement and help maintain the supply of milk.
  • Saturated fats and trans fats: Foods that contain high levels of saturated fats and trans fats are not healthy for you or your baby. It’s especially important for moms and their children to have a good balance of healthy fats (i.e., not the kind found in many convenience store treats).
  • Pesticides: Though this isn’t a food, many varieties of produce may have pesticides or insecticides on them. Wash produce thoroughly or peel them before eating. You can also opt for organic produce instead.

Good Foods to Eat

In general, women who are breastfeeding should focus on eating a healthy, balanced diet. This is usually sufficient for proper nutrition in breast milk, and most moms can add 450 to 500 extra calories of healthy foods to their diet in order to meet the demands of breastfeeding. Also, breastfeeding moms need plenty of water. Many doctors recommend having a glass of water by your side when breastfeeding.

There are some foods that stand out for the great benefits they provide babies through a mother's breast milk, including:

  • Complex carbs: Complex carbs in whole grains, squash, apples, berries and brown rice are nutritious and provide energy.
  • Healthy fats: These fats include mono and polyunsaturated fats, such as those found in salmon, avocado and nuts, and are great for your diet.
  • Proteins: Eat lean meats, eggs, nuts and other protein-packed foods to achieve proper growth and development for your baby.
  • Calcium: Milk, cheese and yogurt are good sources for the calcium a baby needs.
  • Fruits and veggies: Carrots, sweet potatoes, melons, tomatoes and other fruits and veggies provide essential vitamins and nutrients.

Next Steps

While a majority of moms start out breastfeeding, most will stop six months in. Though it is hard work, try to keep at it, as many health benefits of breast milk are tied to at least several months of breastfeeding. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding up to about six months, continuing longer through the first year as table foods are being introduced.

Many new moms are anxious to lose their pregnancy weight, but those who are breastfeeding should plan to lose weight gradually over time. Moms need those calories not just for the baby, but also for their own stamina when caring for a newborn.

In fact, losing weight too quickly is not good for your breast milk production. Some, but not all, women who cut carbs or go on other diets have found that their breast milk supply dwindles. Simply eat healthy and add in some moderate exercise, and the weight should come off at a steady rate that is healthy for both you and your newborn.

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