Can I Eat That? Foods to Avoid While Breastfeeding.

Nutrition and breastfeeding

There’s a lot of information out there on eating and diet while breastfeeding. I will say, on a daily basis I get asked if there are foods to avoid while breastfeeding. Or, any foods the parent should eat more of! Most of the information you find online can be confusing and contradict other information you may read.

Here are some examples of diet tips some of my clients have been told and have frequently asked me about:

  • Avoid gassy foods, like broccoli, cabbage, etc.
  • Abstain from caffeine and alcohol
  • You MUST eat healthy while breastfeeding or your milk will not be healthy for the baby
  • You must drink a large amount of water to make milk.

Here’s the thing – none of these recommendations are based in facts.

Let’s break down each myth one at a time and explore them more, shall we?

Should you avoid gassy foods when breastfeeding?

avoid gassy foods

I remember when I had my first baby, there was a rough night where I had eaten cabbage soup (yes I love cabbage soup, no judging!) and she was particularly fussy. I remember thinking that it was the cabbage, and believing that I would have to avoid gassy foods to avoid gas in my baby.

This is a myth.

What we know:

Just because a food causes the breastfeeding parent to have gas during digestion, does not mean it will cause the baby gas. Breast milk is primarily made from the parent’s blood supply, and we know that the properties of food that creates gas in the parent does not pass into the parent’s blood stream.

So for example, fiber from the food does not make it’s way into the milk, and therefore does not cause gas in the baby.

If you eat broccoli and your baby is then gassy, it’s because they are a baby and they get gassy sometimes. It doesn’t really have anything to do with the broccoli you ate.

Now, in certain uncommon situations, babies can have a reaction to something in the breastfeeding parent’s diet. The top three culprits are dairy, soy, and wheat. But we don’t see too many babies reacting to foods like broccoli, cabbage, etc.

So enjoy that vegetable stir fry, broccoli and all!

Can I have alcohol or caffeine while breastfeeding?

can I have alcohol or caffeine while breastfeeding

Okay this is probably the most common nutrition question I get asked by families. Here’s the breakdown with caffeine and alcohol, starting with caffeine.

What we know about caffeine and breastfeeding:

The amount of caffeine that makes it into your milk is low – around 0.06% to 1.5% of the amount you drink. However, you don’t want to drink a crazy amount, because it still gets into your breastmilk. The current recommendation at the time of writing this post is no more than 750 mg per day.

Some studies have shown that more than 750 mg per day can cause irritability, fussiness, and trouble sleeping in babies. If you eat broccoli and your baby is then gassy, it’s because they are a baby and they get gassy sometimes. It doesn’t really have anything to do with the broccoli you ate. 

So bottom line on caffeine while breastfeeding – you can have it, but don’t go crazy with it. Also, keep in mind that babies under six months can be more sensitive to caffeine than older babies. So, if you do feel your baby is becoming irritable due to caffeine intake, you can try cutting back and seeing if it makes a difference in your baby. 

What we know about alcohol and breastfeeding:

You do not have to avoid alcohol while breastfeeding. However, let’s be clear at what is an appropriate amount of alcohol to have.

When I say that alcohol while breastfeeding is okay, I mean an occasional drink in small amounts (1-2 glasses at most).

Daily consumption of alcohol, especially when parents consume 3 or more drinks in one day, can lead to issues with weight gain in baby. It can also decrease gross motor development in baby, and it can inhibit your milk let down. Not good.

Not to mention the dangers of caring for your baby when you are not feeling sober after having three or more drinks. NEVER try to care for your baby if you feel neurologically impaired.

With small to moderate drinking, the amount of alcohol that passes into your milk is less than 2% of what the parent drinks. So again, the milk does not become dangerous when the parent drinks a small amount alcohol – it’s the neurological state of the parent that can be an issue.

Many families use the rule – “If you are sober enough to drive, you are sober enough to breastfeed.”

No need to pump and dump if you have alcohol either. The alcohol typically leaves your milk after 1.5-2 hours, and pumping and dumping does nothing to speed that process along.

What happens if you drink too much? Make sure someone responsible is available to care for your baby safely. Do not try to breastfeed until you are feeling sober again. Pump to maintain supply in the meantime, if you can.

What diet should I have while breastfeeding?

What we know:

What you eat doesn’t really effect how healthy your milk is for baby. In fact, eating sugary foods or other “unhealthy” foods does not change the composition of your milk to make it less healthy for baby.

The exception is fat – what you eat can change the type of fat found in your breastmilk, but only to a certain extent. Eating healthy fats vs non-healthy fats can change the composition of the fat found in your milk.

Eating essential fatty acids can, according to some studies, increase the amount of essential fatty acids found in breastmilk. Essential fatty acids are great for brain growth in baby. Some examples of good sources of essential fatty acids are:

  • Eggs
  • Dark leafy green vegetables
  • Legumes
  • Nuts

What we know:

Bottom line – if you eat “junk” food every day, your milk is still healthy for your baby. However eating healthy is a great way to care of yourself and your body, which will make it easier for you to care for baby. So I always encourage my clients to eat healthy, well balanced meals while breastfeeding.

How much water should you drink while breastfeeding?

What we know:

Milk production is based on a supply and demand system, meaning the more a baby breastfeeds, the more milk a parent makes.

This is not to say hydration is not important. Remember, your milk is primarily made from your blood supply, and dehydration can cause a drop in blood volume. So it makes sense that if a parent is dehydrated, it might affect their milk supply. But this just means you should drink to thirst, with the most common recommendation of 8 eight ounce glasses per day.

Hydration is also part of self-care, which makes it easier to care for your baby. But do you have to down gallons of water a day to make milk? Nope, that’s just a myth.

There you have it – a breakdown of the most common myths I hear about nutrition and breastfeeding. Now go out and enjoy your lattes and….broccoli?

Breastfeeding Answers Made Simple by Nancy Mohrbacher
Medication and Mother’s Milk by Dr. Thomas Hale
Mother Food: Food and Herbs that Promote Milk Production and a Mother’s Health by Hilary Jacobson

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