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A Blog from Your Kaiser Permanente Pediatricians in Northern California

mother breastfeeding baby

What’s Okay to Eat While Breastfeeding

My first baby cried day and night. No matter what I did – walk, sing, carry, soothe – he cried. And cried loudly! He seemed miserable, and I know I was.

We found relief when a lactation nurse wondered if the milk in my diet was affecting him. I saw our pediatrician and learned that a dairy-free diet for me was worth a try, and safe for us both.

Many new mothers worry that what they eat may affect their baby. In most cases, the answer is, perhaps surprisingly, no! The most common offender is cow’s milk proteins, and this rarely causes a sensitivity or allergy in solely breastfed babies. Babies who are sensitive or allergic cry at all times of the day for several hours after breastfeeding. They may also have a rash, diarrhea, or blood in their stools. Luckily, babies usually outgrow this reaction to milk.

Other than this, there are no foods that are absolutely off the table when you’re breastfeeding. That won’t stop people from telling you to skip spicy foods or broccoli! The La Leche League website has a great description of this:

“Every culture has lists of foods that are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ for breastfeeding mothers. It happens very often that foods believed to be good in one culture are considered bad in others! In Italy, mothers are often told not to eat garlic, cauliflower, lentils and red peppers. In India most mothers eat all these things and breastfeed very happily. Actually, in parts of India they believe that garlic helps a mother to breastfeed successfully!”

Mothers may notice that after eating certain foods their baby cries or fusses more than usual. In this case, it’s fine to avoid these foods. However, trying to eliminate too many foods, or entire food groups, can lead to nutritional risk for the mom!

Here are some common concerns.

Alcohol

  • Can decrease your milk supply.
  • May change the taste of your milk.
  • Is best avoided or taken occasionally.
  • If you’re going to have a drink, do so right after feeding and then wait at least two hours per drink before you feed again.
  • And – myth busted – beer does not increase your milk supply!

Caffeine

  • Moderate use is okay! This was a great relief for me to learn. There’s nothing like a cup of coffee to take the edge off the exhaustion that comes with new parenthood!
  • Your breastmilk will only contain about 1 percent of the caffeine you drink.

Fish

  • Avoid fish known to have high levels of mercury including albacore (“white” tuna), swordfish, mackerel, tilefish and shark. If you’re a tuna lover, choose canned, “light” tuna.
  • Research mercury levels in local waters before eating fish caught locally or by friends.

Medications

  • Many are fine to use, but definitely talk with your doctor before using any over-the-counter, prescription, or herbal medicines, to be sure they’re safe for baby.
  • Skip all recreational drugs.

All of this helped me breastfeed. I had a cup of coffee each morning, an occasional glass of wine, and skipped the fish caught by my brother-in-law. And my son stopped his crying once I stopped eating dairy!

Find more resources for parents

My Doctor Online:
Breastfeeding

La Leche League. This organization’s mission is to help mothers worldwide to breastfeed through mother-to-mother support, encouragement, information, and education, and to promote a better understanding of breastfeeding as an important element in the healthy development of the baby and mother.

This article was originally published on August 24, 2017

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