Which Foods to Avoid While Breastfeeding

Apr 11, 2022 Women's Health

Which Foods to Avoid While Breastfeeding

Quick Health Scoop

  • A breastfeeding mom needs extra calories to help nourish herself and her breastfed baby—and to help her maintain an adequate milk supply.
  • Nursing moms  should focus on eating healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.
  • A breastfeeding mom should limit or avoid certain foods such caffeine, alcohol, seafood containing high levels of mercury, and highly processed foods.
  • If the baby often seems gassy after breastfeeding, mom should note the specific food that might be the culprit and eliminate it from her diet to see if that is the cause.

As the ultimate baby food, breast milk provides all the nutrition your baby needs for a healthy start. Breastfeeding mothers need about 330 to 400 extra calories a day to provide the energy and nutrition to produce and sustain an adequate breast milk supply.1

But you want to make those calories count by eating a healthy, balanced diet while breastfeeding. This means consuming lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, legumes, nuts, seeds, and low-fat or fat-free dairy. This fuels your milk production and ensures your milk supply is packed with all the nutrients your baby needs. But are there any foods to avoid while breastfeeding? For instance, do certain foods make babies gassy?

Let’s dig into what the research says about what foods to avoid while breastfeeding.

What Foods Can Upset A Breastfed Baby?

In general, breastfeeding moms don’t need to follow a specific diet. Of course, eating a healthy, balanced diet that nourishes both mom and baby should be a top priority. But whatever you eat or drink can be passed along to your baby through your breast milk. With that in mind, it would be smart to limit or avoid certain foods.

  1. Certain seafood: Babies need Omega-3 fatty acids (called DHA and EPA) for healthy brain, eye and nervous system development.2 Omega-3s are often found in oily fish, and those with the lowest levels of mercury include Atlantic (not King) mackerel, Black sea bass, catfish, flounder, salmon, trout, and canned tuna.3 These fish—and other safe seafood options—also provide vitamin B12, vitamin D, protein, iron, selenium, zinc, and iodine.3 However, while fish delivers Omega-3s, most fish contain mercury, which you can pass to your baby through breast milk. This can adversely affect the brain and nervous system of a developing breastfed infant.4 To reduce exposure to mercury (for both mom and baby), breastfeeding moms should avoid eating large bottom-dwelling fish with high levels of mercury, including: 3,5
  • Bigeye tuna
  • King mackerel
  • Marlin
  • Orange roughy
  • Shark
  • Swordfish
  • Tile fish
  1. Caffeine: If you drink two or three cups of coffee a day (which equates to roughly 300 mg or less of caffeine), this moderate consumption typically does not adversely affect nursing babies.4 However, drinking high amounts of caffeine—such as 10 cups of coffee or more every day—is associated with irritability, poor sleeping patterns, fussiness, and jitteriness in breastfed babies.4 Therefore, you might want to limit your caffeine intake. Coffee isn’t the only culprit, either. Other caffeinated drinks include energy drinks, soda, and tea. The caffeine content in drinks can vary widely, but here’s a quick breakdown of what you might be sipping:6

Brewed coffee             8 oz.    96 mg caffeine

Espresso                     1 oz.    64 mg caffeine

Brewed black tea        8 oz.    47 mg caffeine

Brewed green tea       8 oz.    47 mg caffeine

Energy drink                8 oz.    29 mg caffeine

Cola                            8 oz.    22 mg caffeine

  1. Alcohol: The safest option for a breastfeeding woman is no alcohol. However, if you decide to consume alcohol, follow these safety tips:2,5,7
  • Drink no more than one drink (i.e.,12 oz. beer, 6 oz. wine, 1.5 oz. liquor) per day.
  • Time your drink carefully by waiting at least two to three hours after your drink before you breastfeed or pump, which allows time for the alcohol to break down in your body so less ends up in your breast milk. Or consider bottle-feeding your baby previously expressed breast milk after you’ve had an alcoholic drink.
  1. Highly processed foods. When you’re trying to make every bite count as a nursing mom, you want to eat nutrient-dense, healthy foods, like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. That means limiting or avoiding foods that might deliver big taste with little to no nutrients—especially those with high amounts of unhealthy fats, sodium, and sugar. Try to cut back on soda, chips, candy, cookies, cake, ice cream, and other highly processed foods.

What Foods Make Breastfed Babies Gassy?

All babies occasionally get gas, and it causes fussy, irritable behavior and discomfort in little ones. Besides the fact that babies have immature gastrointestinal systems, a variety of reasons might cause babies to get gas, such as eating too fast, swallowing too much air, or digesting certain foods.8 Knowing that a mother's diet can affect the baby, you might be worried that your milk is causing your baby’s tummy problems. Are there any gassy foods nursing moms should avoid? Some breastfeeding mothers have reported that these foods caused infant gas: 8 

Spicy food  
Milk and other foods containing cow’s milk protein
Leafy greens such as kale and spinach
Beans
Onions
Garlic

However, many babies tolerate these exact same foods just fine. In fact, “there is limited scientific research proving that certain foods in a breastfeeding mother’s diet cause intestinal issues in their babies.” 8 So, you won’t find a universal list of foods you can't eat while breastfeeding because what causes gassiness in one baby might not cause it in another.

It’s really a matter of paying attention to what specific food sensitivity affects your baby. The key? Look for eating-behavior patterns. Pay attention to any problems, such as experiencing gas or colic, after you’ve eaten a specific food. If so, try an “elimination diet” where you

stop eating that food temporarily, then reintroduce it later to see if your baby reacts the same way again.9 If so, avoid that particular food. If not, baby’s gassiness was probably caused by something else.

Bottom Line

As a nursing mom, you want to nourish both you and your growing baby by eating healthy, nutrient-dense foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and low-fat dairy. You also want to limit (or avoid) certain foods such as seafood with high levels of mercury, alcohol, caffeine, and highly processed foods to protect your breastfeeding baby. As always, it’s best to talk with your doctor about your nutrition needs—including taking a postnatal vitamin—while you continue breastfeeding your baby.

 

Continue to check back on the Nature Made blog for the latest science-backed articles to help you take ownership of your health.

This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to serve as medical advice or a recommendation for any specific product. Consult your health care provider for more information. 

 

References

1 Mayo Clinic. “Breast-feeding nutrition: Tips for moms.” April 23, 2020. Accessed on: September 27, 2021. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/infant-and-toddler-health/in-depth/breastfeeding-nutrition/art-20046912

2 Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “Diet for Breastfeeding Mothers.” 2021. Accessed on: September 26, 2021. https://www.chop.edu/pages/diet-breastfeeding-mothers

3 Food and Drug Administration. “Advice About Eating Fish.” July 2019. Accessed on: September 27, 2021. https://www.fda.gov/media/102331/download

4 Centers for Disease Control and Preventions. “Maternal Diet.” September 22, 2021. Accessed on: September 27, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/breastfeeding-special-circumstances/diet-and-micronutrients/maternal-diet.html#avoid  

5 Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Nursing Your Baby? What You Eat and Drink Matters.” August 5, 2020. Accessed on: September 28, 2021. https://www.eatright.org/health/pregnancy/breast-feeding/nursing-your-baby-what-you-eat-and-drink-matters

6 Mayo Clinic. “Caffeine content for coffee, tea, soda and more.” February 29, 2020. Accessed on: September 28, 2021. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/caffeine/art-20049372

7 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Eat Healthy While Breastfeeding: Quick Tips.” October 15, 2020. Accessed on: September 27, 2021.  https://health.gov/myhealthfinder/topics/pregnancy/nutrition-and-physical-activity/eat-healthy-while-breastfeeding-quick-tips

8 Texas Children’s Hospital. “What's causing gas in my breastfed baby?” 2021. Accessed on: September 28, 2021. https://women.texaschildrens.org/blog/whats-causing-gas-my-breastfed-baby

9 La Leche. “Foods for Nursing Parents.” November 2020. Accessed on: September 27, 2021. https://www.llli.org/breastfeeding-info/foods/

 

Authors

Lisa Beach

NatureMade Contributor

Lisa Beach is a seasoned journalist whose work has been published in The New York Times, Good Housekeeping, Eating Well, Parents, AARP’s Disrupt Aging, Optimum Wellness, and dozens more. She also writes for a variety of health/wellness-focused brands. Check out her writer’s website at www.LisaBeachWrites.com.

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Lynn M. Laboranti, RD

Science and Health Educator

Lynn is a Registered Dietitian (R.D.) and is a member of the Medical and Scientific Communications team at Pharmavite. She has over 20 years of experience in integrative and functional nutrition and has given lectures to health professionals and consumers on nutrition, dietary supplements and related health issues. Lynn frequently conducts employee trainings on various nutrition topics in addition to educating retail partners on vitamins, minerals and supplements. Lynn has previous clinical dietitian expertise in both acute and long-term care, as well as nutrition counseling for weight management, diabetes, and sports nutrition. Lynn earned a bachelor’s of science in Nutrition with a minor in Kinesiology/Exercise Science from The Pennsylvania State University. She earned a M.S. degree in Human Nutrition from Marywood University in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Lynn is an active member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Sports Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutritionists, Dietitians in Functional Medicine, and holds a certification in Integrative and Functional Nutrition through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

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