Q: Are there any foods I should avoid while breastfeeding? I am getting a lot of advice on this and it is very confusing! Help!
A: Excellent question—and one that generates a lot of conflicting advice! The good news is that there are few, if any, foods that are off limits for breastfeeding mothers—you can eat just about anything you would normally eat. Of course, it is to your benefit to eat as healthily as you can, but even malnourished mothers make good milk for their babies.
With that said, however, it is important to point out that SOME babies will react to SOME foods eaten by SOME mothers. This is the source of all the “Don’t eat these foods while you are breastfeeding” lists. The bottom line for any food is that if it seems to bother your baby, don’t eat it, or don’t eat as much of it. Sometimes that means playing detective to figure out exactly what the problem is.
Some foods eaten by a breastfeeding mother will cause allergic reactions in her baby. The biggest culprits include dairy products, corn, wheat, peanuts, eggs, and citrus fruits. If anyone in your family, including the baby’s father, has a problem with any of these foods, then you may wish to limit how much you eat of them. You may be able to eat small quantities of a trigger food without causing a problem, or perhaps skipping a day or so between times you eat it. A severely allergic baby may react to ANY amount you eat.
Your baby’s tolerance to these foods may improve as he grows older and his system matures. If you notice a problem, try eating these foods in smaller quantities six to 12 months later and see what happens.
One other caution—the baby who reacts to foods his mother eats is more likely to react to these foods when he is old enough for solid food, so it is best to delay introducing these problem foods as long as possible for these children.
Remember, every mother and baby are different, so hard and fast rules about what is and is not OK to eat are meaningless. Try to eat a variety of foods, and in moderation. If a food seems to cause a problem, eliminate it from your diet and see what happens. Some foods will take a week or two to completely leave your system, though, so it is important to wait at least that long before reintroducing it.
It’s also a good idea to limit the amount of caffeine you eat or drink. Caffeine can build up in an infant’s system since his ability to process and get rid of it isn’t fully developed.
Food selection for the breastfeeding mother doesn’t have to be complicated. The more variety you have in your diet, the more variety your child will be exposed to, as what you eat will flavor your milk. This is nature’s way of preparing your baby to eat the kinds of foods he’ll eat later on.
By Melissa Clark Vickers
International Board Certified Lactation Consultant