Foods To Avoid When Breastfeeding Made Simple!

By  Paula McLaren - Norland Nurse NNEB RSH | Updated - 30 January 2021

Welcome Mums! Congratulations on your new beautiful baby! I bet you've got a million things running through your head right now... So let's help clear one of them up right now... What foods to avoid when breastfeeding?

Well there's no need to look any further... We will be covering it all in this post!

So... you have just spent 9 months carefully avoiding certain foods including certain dairy products like soft cheeses, undercooked eggs and processed meats and now that you are breastfeeding, you are aware that what you eat can have an effect on your baby. 

Foods to Avoid While Breastfeeding

The good news is that there really are not any strict restrictions to the food you can eat while breastfeeding but rather... precautions to be taken.

All new mothers go through the same thoughts when they begin to breastfeed and even mothers with several children can find each child reacts differently to her milk. 

I want to share with you the truth about your diet when breastfeeding and demystify this wonderful time in your parenting journey.

In this post, I will share with you...

But first things first...

Breast milk Production

Milk production is a concern for many mothers but this very rarely has anything to do with what you eat as it is the art of feeding your baby that stimulates your milk production.

This does mean that your baby needs to be a happy feeder and so giving him milk he enjoys the taste of will ensure you have a healthy milk supply.

It is perfectly natural for new mothers to feel protective of their baby and want to know what constitutes a good breastfeeding diet.

Therefore, it is important to make healthy choices when breastfeeding, making sure your diet contains foods like fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats to name but a few.

Maintaining a healthy diet will not only keep you healthy but will keep your baby well nourished and will support her development towards a healthy diet later on.

So what exactly should you eat and stay clear of?

6 Foods and Drinks to Avoid or Limit

1. Caffeine

The good news is that caffeine is not strictly off-limits when breastfeeding.

Moderate consumption is perfectly acceptable so feel free to have a guilt-free morning coffee or a mug of tea in the afternoon. 

It is advisable to keep your caffeine consumption to no more than three cups of caffeine-containing beverages per day and you should try to have these drinks AFTER you have finished nursing rather than before.

Just like alcohol, caffeine passes into your bloodstream and into your breast milk so there is the chance that your baby could become jittery if you drink caffeine before feeding.

If you avoided caffeine completely during your pregnancy, your baby may react more to your caffeine intake via your milk, so if your baby appears to be more wide-eyed and active after a feed it may be due to that cup of coffee.

However, this sensitivity can change and if it occurs, limit or stop your caffeine intake and try again in a few months.

2. Alcohol

After avoiding drinking while you were pregnant it is quite natural to feel like that occasional glass of wine while breastfeeding.

This is perfectly fine as long as you keep in mind that any alcohol you consume will pass to your breast milk and into your baby's system.

Top Tip

A good rule of thumb is that if you feel drunk and unable to drive, for instance,

you should not breastfeed until you have sobered up. 

In the meantime, substitute with your preferred baby formula or pre-pumped milk for feeds.

The general guideline for breastfeeding mums is that having one alcoholic drink on an occasional basis is generally safe.

It is also best to have your drink AFTER you have breastfed so you have 2 - 3 hours before the next feed. 

You could also pump before you plan to have a drink so that you have some expressed breast milk at hand should you feel it unwise to feed.

Finally, it should be noted that daily or consistent alcohol consumption while breastfeeding has been linked to baby taking less milk, lowered milk supply and even possible delays in motor skill development at one year old.

But as I always say, moderation is key and the occasional drink is absolutely fine.

3. Fish

So what is all the fuss about fish and breastfeeding and why is it on the list of foods to avoid while breastfeeding when we are told that fish is good for us?

The fact is that, sadly, nearly all fish contains some level of mercury but generally the health benefits of eating fish (high protein and low in fat) outweighs the risks and most fish contain only trace elements of mercury. 

Therefore, you need to make an informed decision about the fish you CAN and CANNOT eat...

Types Of Fish To Avoid

The types of fish recommended to be excluded from your breastfeeding diet or at least limited to one portion a week are shark, swordfish, marlin and king mackerel. 

In addition, breastfeeding mums should limit their diet to no more than 2 portions a week of oily fish and avoid uncooked shellfish all together.

Types Of Fish To Include

Adults are recommended to eat at least 2 portions of fish a week with at least one of these being an oily fish as part of a healthy diet.

The same is true of breastfeeding women and with the exception of the fish listed above this is a good rule of thumb.

There is no need to avoid white and non-oily fish like cod, haddock or plaice and there are also no restrictions on tuna both canned and fresh.

4. Peppermint, Parsley, Sage

While it is easy to think that herbs are good for you and many are, there are a few exceptions.

It has been found that consuming dishes with too much peppermint, parsley or sage can decrease milk supply so it is a good idea to take note and avoid dishes or foodstuffs that contain a large amount of these ingredients.

Sage is found in a lot of stuffings, for example, and parsley in dishes like tabbouleh.

In addition, peppermint is a common ingredient in sweets, chewing gum and certain teas.

So just be sure to give your ingredient lists a good read - but don't fret if you do have the occasional bit of peppermint, parsley or sage... this change in milk production comes from consistent consumption.

5. Cow’s Milk

In rare cases, babies can react to proteins in their mother’s diet and the most common of these is the protein in cow’s milk.

If you suspect that your baby is having an adverse reaction to you drinking cow’s milk then you should avoid drinking cow’s milk and other dairy products.

Signs your baby may be having a reaction are, excessive fussiness in conjunction with mucus or blood in their stool and eczema. Click Here to jump to common food allergy symptoms in babies.

Cutting dairy from your diet should mean that these symptoms should ease or disappear within a few days. 

To eliminate any other cause for the symptoms described I would recommend consulting your doctor or health visitor to have a definitive diagnosis.

6. Highly Processed Foods

Highly processed foods are not regarded as being high in nutritional value.

Therefore, it is recommended breastfeeding mums limit their intake of these foods as they offer little to no nutritional benefit to your baby. 

There is some initial research that is suggesting that a mother's diet while breastfeeding may influence her child’s diet later in life and that by reducing their intake of highly processed foods while breastfeeding, their baby will be less likely to develop a sweet tooth later on.

6 Foods to Limit or Avoid When Breastfeeding

Other food considerations

Below are a few more food considerations that you may wish to limit when breastfeeding.

Typically, these food sensitivities are common in babies if you, as the mother, have the sensitivities.

However, feel free to test them out with your baby and see if they show any symptoms after being fed.

Onions

Onions are in fact a very healthy food for a breastfeeding mum when eaten in moderation. They are an antioxidant and an excellent source of vitamin C and other essential nutrients.

In many cases they offer very positive benefits for lactating mothers from boosting immunity, increasing good cholesterol, aiding digestion and being an anti-inflammatory. 

As with all foods, moderation is key while breastfeeding.

Like any other food that you eat while breastfeeding onions may cause an adverse reaction in your baby in which case you should limit or stop eating the offending food.

Garlic

Garlic is a food that can flavour breast milk and there has been some evidence that it can turn baby off your milk.

Again, it will be your eating habits during pregnancy that will determine how your baby reacts to garlic. So, if you regularly ate garlic then it is highly likely that your baby will enjoy it when it comes through when you are breastfeeding.

Interestingly, and adversely, there has been a study carried out that found babies who have not been exposed to garlic actually nurse for longer periods as they enjoyed the flavour. 

Spices

Strong flavoured spicy foods are always on the list of breastfeeding foods to avoid, but the truth of the matter is that this particular subject is very much influenced by cultural cuisine. 

Therefore, spicy foods and breastfeeding can go hand in hand.

If spicy food was a regular part of your diet while pregnant as your baby will be primed for these flavours. But for those less used to spicy foods, your occasional curry may upset baby and if this happens, just cut back on the spices that you eat.

High FODMAP foods

High FODMAP foods and their effect on breastfeeding babies is a new area of research so it is not easy to say if they have an impact on breastfeeding.

If you suffer from IBS you are more likely to be affected by High FODMAP foods which may be a reason for you to avoid them.

However, it should be remembered that foods in this category are good for you and your baby and their micronutrients enrich your milk.

Therefore, I would not recommend cutting out any High FODMAP foods unless you feel one of them is causing an adverse reaction to you and your baby (just like you would for any other suspect food).

Examples of some High FODMAP foods are:

  • Cauliflower
  • Green peas
  • Garlic
  • Onions
  • Mushrooms
  • High lactose dairy
  • Wheat products

If you suspect high FODMAP foods might be triggering your baby, and you'd like a more thorough list, be sure to check out this website.

Chocolate

Chocolate is a mixed bag when breastfeeding... It contains very little caffeine but can sometimes be flavoured with spices and peppermint etc or contain milk. 

A piece of dark chocolate in the evening is a good place to start and you can test different chocolates and see how your baby reacts.

So go ahead and enjoy in moderation. 

A good healthy well balanced diet should benefit both you, your milk and subsequently your baby.

- Paula -

Could my baby be allergic to food I eat while breastfeeding?

Breastfeeding mums often wonder about the effect of foods that are known to cause gas such as beans and cabbage.

So it is logical that these may be included in the foods to avoid while breastfeeding.

HOWEVER... The truth of the matter is that, if your baby is gassy it is because he has a specific sensitivity to these foods.

Whenever a baby has a food allergy or sensitivity the molecules from whatever the mums eat makes its way via her breast milk to the baby's gut where it can irritate the lining and cause gas and pain.

Naturally, food sensitivities are going to be unique to each child and are more likely if there is a family history of food allergies.

So what foods should you be cautious of and what symptoms should you be looking out for?

7 Foods That May Cause Food Allergy Symptoms

There are some guidelines for breastfeeding mums to highlight the foods that can be common culprits of food intolerance including:

  1. Dairy
  2. Soy
  3. Gluten
  4. Peanuts
  5. Fish
  6. Eggs
  7. Citrus

The best way for breastfeeding mums to determine whether their baby is sensitive to any of these foods is by exposing them to all types of food and observing how they react.

There are a few telltale symptoms which can help you diagnose a problem within 12-24 hours.

How to tell if your diet is affecting your baby

If your baby experiences any of the following symptoms there is a high chance that they may be exhibiting a sensitivity to a certain food that in turn you may need to eliminate from your diet.

  • Gas
  • Crying and Colic
  • Rash
  • Eczema
  • Blood or mucus in stool
  • Diarrhoea
  • Runny nose and coughing
  • Trouble settling

The most common allergen for young babies is cow's milk and is more likely to occur in babies that were given formula in the first few days.

This is because early exposure to a cow's milk-based formula can sensitise an immature digestive system.

The best rule of thumb is that if you suspect your baby has reacted to something you have eaten, you should eliminate it from your diet for up to three weeks and see if the symptoms subside.

However, it is important to consult with your doctor first to make sure there are no other underlying reasons why your baby is exhibiting symptoms.

Food Allergy Symptoms In Breastfed Babies

No need to cut out….

Moderation is key when breastfeeding.

And as with most diets, a well balanced and varied diet is best for both you, your milk production and your baby. 

So while there is no definitive guide on what not to eat when breastfeeding, there are some foods that you can cut back on to keep your milk production levels up.

A sensible well-balanced diet that includes the following will ensure that your baby is happy and healthy and as a result, you will have peace of mind.

Below are my recommendations of what you should try and include in your diet to ensure you and your baby are healthy:

  • Lean meat and chicken (or a suitable vegan alternative - be aware of soy products, as mentioned above)
  • Cheese and yoghurt (or a suitable vegan alternative)
  • Eggs
  • Red and orange root vegetables
  • Potatoes
  • Green leafy veg
  • Variety of fruit
  • Beans and lentils
  • Nuts
  • Avocados
  • Fennel
  • Oats
  • Wholemeal pasta and bread
  • Rice
  • Pulses
  • Turmeric
  • Seeds such as hemp, flax and chia

Healthy Snack Ideas

Looking after a newborn and breastfeeding is hungry work and it is vital that you keep yourself healthy and your strength up.

However, there is a great temptation to grab an unhealthy snack when you are short of time and energy.

Having some healthy snacks ready to hand that you can easily find time to eat or prepare when time is short is a good way to ensure you do not succumb to the biscuit tin. (We've all been there!)

Here are some healthy snack options for you to consider. Some can be made in advance and kept in the fridge whilst others are ideal quick snacks that you can prepare in those precious minutes while baby is asleep.

  • Fresh fruit
  • Veg sticks and hummus
  • Soups
  • Dried fruit such as apricots, figs or prunes
  • Yoghurt
  • Fortified unsweetened breakfast cereals
  • Sandwiches made with whole wheat bread, cheese, salad, cold meat or tinned tuna
  • Baked potato
  • Beans on toast
  • Nuts

Breastfeeding Vitamins and Supplements

So what are the best breastfeeding vitamins?

Nursing mothers should aim to take some sort of daily multivitamin. This could be the same multivitamin that you were taking while pregnant.

Just be aware that your pregnancy vitamin will probably contain much more iron than is needed while breastfeeding. So, be sure to double-check the label before taking it.

Breastfeeding mums in the UK and those who live high in the Northern Hemisphere should consider taking a vitamin D supplement due to the lack of sunlight between the months of October to February. 

There are also some multivitamins on the market specifically designed for breastfeeding mums and I would recommend finding one that suits your needs as they are great at complementing a healthy diet to ensure you remain healthy while breastfeeding.

Medicines to avoid while breastfeeding

Many of the medications that were not safe to take during pregnancy are fine to take during breastfeeding.

However, there are some medications that you should avoid while breastfeeding unless recommended to do so by your doctor.

If you are on regular medication your doctor or midwife will have advised you on what to do with regard to continuing your medication while pregnant and after birth.

Some common over the counter medications to avoid while breastfeeding are:

  • Decongestants both tablet and nasal
  • Aspirin
  • Herbal remedies (unless checked with your doctor first)
  • Any medication containing codeine
  • Certain cough syrups

Before taking any medication while breastfeeding you should check the contraindications to ensure they are safe or alternatively consult your doctor. 

Top Tip

If you are taking medication it is best to do so directly after a feed.

In Conclusion

So the good news for breastfeeding mums is that it is important to realise that there are no foods that you should not eat while breastfeeding unless a certain food has flagged up as a problem for your baby. 

Breastfeeding can be difficult enough to establish as it is, so you should try to focus on what you SHOULD eat rather than what you should not eat.

Be sure to check out my post Breastfeeding 101: The Ultimate Guide! for a comprehensive insight to breastfeeding. 

I cover everything from when to feed; how to feed; bottle vs breast; as well as answer all your boob questions in one place!

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Teething to Tantrums Author

Paula McLaren is the founder of Teething to Tantrums and has been in the childcare industry as a Norland Nanny since 1982. Since then, her mission has been to help parents become the best they can possibly be. And each year, she continues to help more families understand their child's development, the trials and joys of parenting and of course, how to care for their little ones.

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