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Foods to Eat and to Avoid While Breastfeeding: The Hows and Whys

Find out which foods to avoid while breastfeeding, plus all the delicious foods you can eat to support your baby’s health.

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Breastfeeding your child is a journey. Cluster feeding, night nursing, painful nipples, and pumping are only some of the hurdles to jump through. Plus, it often feels like you get so much advice on what you should or shouldn't eat during pregnancy, but suddenly there isn't as much support around breastfeeding once your baby is born.

Just as with pregnancy, breastfeeding requires more calories—up to 500 extra daily.¹ Extra vitamins and minerals are also needed to maintain your milk supply and support daily health needs—for you and your baby.

In reality, there aren't many foods you need to completely avoid now that you are no longer pregnant. There's enough pressure on a new mom to do everything "right," so the last thing you need is to stress about having the perfect diet for breastfeeding. Recommendations on foods to eat and avoid while breastfeeding can also vary by culture and geography.

It is helpful to be mindful and understand how food can affect your baby, why certain foods are problematic, and perhaps even more importantly, the best foods for breastfeeding. So let's dive in!

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3 Foods You Should Avoid (or Limit)

The foods to avoid while breastfeeding are only a few—and most need to be limited but not completely avoided. Still, it's important to be aware of them and their potential effects on your baby. 

1. Fish high in mercury

The health benefits of fish can be tremendous, but certain types of fish are higher in mercury because they are top predators in their food chain.² It's a sad reality that the oceans contain higher levels of mercury than ever before.

Fish contain DHA and EPA, which are omega-3 fatty acids that support the developing brain, and healthy fats and protein.³But since mercury can pass through breast milk and pose a danger to a developing brain and nervous system, limiting your fish intake to two times a week while breastfeeding and avoiding high-mercury fish like shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish is recommended.⁴,⁵

2. Alcohol

According to research, one glass of wine or beer while breastfeeding is likely safe, but moderation is key.⁶ Alcohol can pass through the breastmilk and cause your baby to become fussy or disrupt sleep patterns.⁷ High amounts may also impact growth and decrease milk production.

Ideally, wait to have a drink until after your baby has fed so that the alcohol has had time to pass through your body. It takes 30 to 60 minutes after a drink for alcohol levels to reach their highest amount in breast milk.7 A good rule of thumb is that if you feel the effects of alcohol, there will be some in your breast milk. But once you feel sober, the alcohol isn't stored and will have passed out of your system.

3. Caffeine

Try telling a tired mom she can't have her caffeine, and she may never talk to you again. But the truth is, like alcohol and any other food you consume, caffeine can pass through the breast milk to your baby. Too much caffeine can make a baby irritable and interfere with precious sleep.⁸

You can absolutely have some caffeine while breastfeeding, but it's best to limit your intake to 300 mg or less per day—which is about 2 to 3 cups of coffee.⁹ Look out for tea, chocolate, or drinks that may also contain caffeine. And since each baby is different, keep an eye out for any signs of fussiness.

But what about garlic, spicy foods, or high-fiber foods like beans or broccoli? There's really no compelling evidence that these foods are a problem for every baby. In fact, if you ate spicy, flavor-rich foods while pregnant, your baby has already been exposed to these flavors in the womb.¹⁰

That said, some babies could be more fussy or gassy after certain foods, so if you are concerned, you can talk to your pediatrician or a lactation consultant to see what foods may be causing any issues. But there's no recommendation across the board by lactation experts to avoid these foods while breastfeeding.

Woman-Giving-Fruits-to-her-Children

8 Baby Food Allergens To Keep an Eye On

Food allergies are caused by food proteins passed through the breast milk that trigger an immune response. A family history of food allergies increases the risk of a child developing a food allergy, but breastfeeding may also decrease the risk of developing allergies in the first place. And interestingly, avoiding certain foods while breastfeeding may increase the risk of developing an allergy (versus exposing an infant to the potential allergen).¹¹

Food sensitivities differ from food allergies because they don't involve the same immune response but can still cause a reaction. 

It's easy to try to pinpoint a possible explanation if your baby is fussy or gassy, and the mother's diet is often the first place parents look. Symptoms could be related to food in a mom's diet, but it's just as likely a growth spurt or a developmental milestone, so it's also important not to automatically cut foods out of your diet.

That said, food allergies and food intolerances should not be taken lightly. The top food allergens include that account for 90 percent of all food allergies include:¹²

  1. Cow's milk
  2. Soy
  3. Wheat
  4. Eggs
  5. Peanuts
  6. Tree nuts
  7. Fish 
  8. Shellfish

5 Foods to Eat While Breastfeeding

Now onto the much more fun topic of the foods you can and should eat while breastfeeding. These foods support whole-body health and wellness, and a healthy milk supply.

1. Complex Carbohydrates

Complex carbs are high in fiber, keeping you full while also helping balance your blood sugar levels to keep your energy stable.¹³ They also contain nutrients like B vitamins and iron to support cellular energy and growth in your baby. 

Examples of complex carbs include quinoa, legumes, whole wheat bread, oats, and sweet potatoes. Oats may also increase milk supply (called a galactagogue) and are often used in lactation-supportive recipes.¹⁴

2. Nuts and Seeds

Easy to grab and full of nutrients, nuts and seeds are a great snack option while breastfeeding. They are high in healthy fats, protein, and nutrients like zinc and iron, which can support the immune system and brain development.¹⁵

Walnuts, almonds, pistachios, sunflower, chia, and flax seeds are all great options to grab by the handful or sprinkle on oatmeal, yogurt, or smoothies.

3. Fruits and Vegetables

Eating a rainbow variety of fruits and vegetables is a no-brainer for optimal health, including while breastfeeding. They're packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants to support mama and baby's health. 

Red tomatoes, orange carrots, leafy green vegetables, and vibrant blueberries are just some of the tasty options you can snack on or include as part of your meals.

4. Lean Proteins 

Protein needs jump with breastfeeding to keep up with the baby's needs. It's an essential nutrient for nearly every function in the body, including tissue repair, bone and muscle growth, and so much more.¹⁶ Protein also helps keep blood sugar stable and cravings at bay (especially helpful for sleep-deprived mamas!). 

Choose lean proteins like salmon, tuna, eggs, chicken, and turkey to get the most benefit. Eggs are also a great source of choline, a nutrient sometimes missing from prenatal vitamins but needed in higher amounts while breastfeeding.¹⁷

5. Nourishing fats and oils

Avocado, olive oil, and ghee are delicious and nutritious sources of healthy fats that help keep you full and satisfied while making food extra tasty. They also provide essential fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins for baby's developing brain.¹⁸

One important note: it's vital to continue taking your prenatal vitamin while breastfeeding. Nutrient-dense foods are the best way to get the nutrients you both need, but a prenatal vitamin can help make up for any deficiencies and help ensure you and your baby are getting the optimal nutrients.

Can Your Baby’s Symptoms Be Caused By Your Breastfeeding Diet?

While occasional fussiness or gas from your baby aren't necessarily causes for concern, some signs and symptoms signal a call to your pediatrician for further support to make sure something in your diet isn't causing the problem.

Excessive Gas

Babies are gassy creatures, but too much gas can be uncomfortable and even painful. If your baby struggles with excessive gas, food allergies or sensitivities may be the cause.

Eczema

Eczema is a type of skin rash that can be related to food sensitivities or allergies (although there are many other reasons too).

Vomiting 

Some babies spit up a lot, and it's completely normal. Still, if your baby is frequently vomiting, it's worth the peace of mind to speak with your pediatrician.

Constipation or Diarrhea

It's not entirely abnormal for your little one to skip a day but check in with your doctor if the situation continues. Diarrhea is a cause for concern because babies can get dehydrated quickly too.

Bloody Feces

Blood shouldn't appear in a baby's diaper and warrants a call to your pediatrician.

Wheezing or Hives

Wheezing or hives are big red flags for food allergies. Hives are raised, itchy, red bumps on the skin that can indicate an immune response.

Mother-Carrying-Her-Baby-while-Looking-at-the-Nature-Scenery

Breastfeeding and Weight Loss

The pressure to "bounce back" after having a baby can feel immense, but your body needs time and food to heal from pregnancy and birth. Plus, nutrition is essential for maintaining your milk supply. 

It takes energy to produce milk, so over-restriction of food could decrease milk production. Plus, let's face it, as a new mom, you're just tired. So the last thing you need is to worry about a diet that adds even more stress and depletes your energy stores.

Focus instead on food that nourishes and fuels your body. The good news is that breastfeeding may actually make it easier to gradually make your way back to pre-pregnancy weight without food restriction. In a study comparing postpartum weight loss, mothers who reported exclusively breastfeeding for longer than three lost more weight.¹⁹

Be kind to yourself in your postpartum journey. It took a long time to grow and create a human, so your body deserves respect and love as you take time to heal.

Final Breastfeeding Tips For New Moms

  1. Stay hydrated. Drinking enough water is essential while breastfeeding to keep your body and milk supply happy. Aim for at least 8 to 10 glasses per day.
  1. Get enough food. Your body needs food to make milk and keep your energy up. Don't skip meals or snacks, opt for whole food options that provide energy and nutrition, and don't forget your prenatal vitamin.
  1. Make time to rest. You just went through the marathon of pregnancy and childbirth, so your body needs time to heal and rest. Take breaks during the day and remember that it's ok to ask for help so you can have a few minutes for yourself.

Learn More About Healthy Nutrition with Signos' Expert Advice

Using a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) alongside the Signos app can make it easier to make food choices that nourish you and your baby. Expert nutrition advice from Signos can also help you navigate weight, diet, and lifestyle as a new mom in a way that works best for your body (learn more about how it works here). 

Wondering if Signos is the right fit for you on your breastfeeding journey and beyond? Take this short quiz to find out.

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Read more:</strong> <a href="/blog/start-living-a-healthy-lifestyle">How to Start Living a Healthy Lifestyle</a>.</p>

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References

  1. ACOG. Breastfeeding Your Baby. https://www.acog.org/womenshealth/faqs/breastfeeding-your-baby
  2. Kim, E. H., Kim, I. K., Kwon, J. Y., Kim, S. W., & Park, Y. W. (2006). The effect of fish consumption on blood mercury levels of pregnant women. Yonsei medical journal, 47(5), 626–633. https://doi.org/10.3349/ymj.2006.47.5.626
  3.  Rombaldi Bernardi, J., de Souza Escobar, R., Ferreira, C. F., & Pelufo Silveira, P. (2012). Fetal and neonatal levels of omega-3: effects on neurodevelopment, nutrition, and growth. TheScientificWorldJournal, 2012, 202473. https://doi.org/10.1100/2012/202473
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  6.  Haastrup, M. B., Pottegård, A., & Damkier, P. (2014). Alcohol and breastfeeding. Basic & clinical pharmacology & toxicology, 114(2), 168–173. https://doi.org/10.1111/bcpt.12149
  7.  Alcohol. (2022). In Drugs and Lactation Database (LactMed). National Library of Medicine (US).
  8.  Caffeine. (2022). In Drugs and Lactation Database (LactMed). National Library of Medicine (US).
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About the Author

Caitlin Beale is a registered dietitian and nutrition writer with a master’s degree in nutrition. She has a background in acute care, integrative wellness, and clinical nutrition.
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Please note: The Signos team is committed to sharing insightful and actionable health articles that are backed by scientific research, supported by expert reviews, and vetted by experienced health editors. The Signos blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. If you have or suspect you have a medical problem, promptly contact your professional healthcare provider. Read more about our editorial process and content philosophy here.

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