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As a new parent, you want to know that what you’re doing is right. At times, that feeling can be hard to come by, especially if breastfeeding isn’t going exactly as you’d hoped.
A baby that refuses the breast or bottle, gets fussy while feeding, spits up a lot, or becomes extra gassy can make you question everything you thought you knew and leave you searching frantically for ways to get back on track.
Feeding is ever-changing, so what worked a month ago may not work now and can change again and again.
If you’ve been breastfeeding happily for months and your baby is suddenly fussy at the breast or having tummy troubles, it could be something in your diet.
There is no set list of foods to avoid while breastfeeding or foods to eat while breastfeeding, but there are some foods that can potentially cause problems. It’s not necessary to cut foods out when you start your breastfeeding journey, but over time, you may discover foods that cause your baby sensitivity issues.
Before you consider a thorough elimination diet, here are some well-known offenders that could be upsetting your baby’s tummy or system.
Foods to Avoid While Breastfeeding
- Spicy Foods
- Highly Processed Foods
- Peppermint and Sage
- Some Herbal Supplements
- Foods That Increase Gas
- Foods to Which Your Baby may be Allergic or Sensitive
- Foods to Avoid While Breastfeeding
- Foods That Increase Gas
- Foods to Which Your Baby May Be Allergic or Sensitive
- Some of the most common food allergies in breastfed babies include:
- Symptoms of food sensitivities or allergies in breastfed babies can include:
- Do you need to avoid certain foods while breastfeeding?
Foods to Avoid While Breastfeeding
Many babies tolerate the foods in their mother’s diet perfectly well. Moderation and general healthy choices are the basic breastfeeding diet principles, similar to when you were pregnant. If you want a cup of coffee, have a cup of coffee. A glass of wine in the evening? That’s okay, too, with a few precautions.
If you suspect something in your diet is making your baby unhappy, here are some foods that could be to blame.
Staying away from caffeine after you’ve brought your new baby home feels like a cruel joke. How else are you supposed to function on little to no sleep? Thankfully, moderate caffeine intake is ok while breastfeeding. The CDC says 300 mg of caffeine, or 2-3 cups of coffee, per day is ok to drink while breastfeeding, as only a small amount passes through the breastmilk to your baby.1
But, caffeine is a stimulant, so if you’ve been drinking coffee or other sources of caffeine like soda, tea, or energy drinks and noticing that your baby is unusually irritable, fussy, or having trouble staying asleep or staying awake, it could be time to reduce your intake.2
For decades, women have avoided chocolate while nursing, suspecting that the caffeine content could negatively impact the baby.
The caffeine content in chocolate is very low, and chocolate in your diet is normally well-tolerated by your baby. But, chocolate can potentially cause gas. If your baby seems extra gassy after you’ve enjoyed some chocolate, try switching to a different sweet treat for a week to determine whether chocolate is the cause.
Alcohol enters your milk as quickly and easily as it does your bloodstream– and leaves at the same rate, too. If you have alcohol in your breastmilk, it can be passed onto your baby and pose some potential risks such as sleep disturbances, increased crying, startling, arousal, and more serious effects like stunted growth, impaired immune function and cognitive development, and motor function delay. 3
Sticking to just one drink a day or less, waiting until your baby is older than 8 weeks, and nursing your baby just before enjoying a drink are good ways to avoid alcohol being passed from your milk to your baby. After 2-3 hours, the alcohol from a standard drink (one 12-ounce beer, 1.5 ounces of liquor, or a 5-ounce glass of wine) will no longer be in your breastmilk affecting your baby.4
Also, if you’re caring for your baby while drinking alcohol, make sure to use extreme caution and limit the amount you drink, says the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The theory is that eating spicy food will make your breastmilk spicy, upsetting your baby’s tummy, but no evidence supports this. While certain foods like garlic, onion, and pepper can change the flavor and odor of your breastmilk, you don’t need to worry that you’re feeding your baby hot sauce-infused breast milk if you ate something spicy.
In fact, by the time your baby nurses, they’re already used to the things you regularly eat, which changed the scent and taste of the amniotic fluid they were exposed to in-utero.
Highly Processed Foods
The nutritional quality of your breastmilk is affected by the quality of your own diet. Eating highly processed foods like soda, chips, fast food, and packaged sweets on a regular basis can impact your health and the nutritional value of your breast milk.
Indulging in these foods occasionally won’t make a difference for your baby. For the most part, try to eat foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein while enjoying highly processed foods only on occasion.
Just like when you were pregnant, it’s important to avoid certain “top-feeder” fish high in mercury like King Mackerel, swordfish, orange roughy, shark, and big eye tuna.5 Mercury is a known neurotoxin that could interfere with your baby’s brain development.
All fish have some level of mercury, but only certain ones have enough of the toxin to pose a threat to your baby’s development. If you want to eat fish, you’re in luck! Including low-mercury fish in your diet while your nurse is an excellent way to increase protein and your omega-3 fatty acids.5
Peppermint and Sage
Certain herbs, like peppermint and sage, could potentially decrease your milk supply. These are called anti-galactagogues. However, you’d have to eat a lot of anti-galactagogue foods and herbs to significantly reduce your milk supply.
If you’re really craving that cup of peppermint tea or perhaps a peppermint mocha, you can enjoy it without having to worry about a dip in your milk production. If, however, supply does become an issue, it’s best to avoid peppermint and sage until your supply returns.
Some Herbal Supplements
Not all herbs are safe for breastfeeding, so before using any herbal remedy, supplement, or tea, make sure to check with your doctor to make sure it’s safe.
Even if an herb is considered safe for breastfeeding, be cautious when choosing a supplement. Supplements are not regulated by the FDA in the same way that medications are. Choose a supplement from a reputable brand that uses third-party testing to verify ingredients and amounts to avoid exposing you and your baby to heavy metals, unsafe amounts of herbs, or the wrong ingredients.
Foods That Increase Gas
All babies get gas, but if your baby is experiencing excessive amounts of seemingly painful gas, or an unusual increase in gassiness, it could be caused by a particular food in your diet.
While many babies tolerate these foods just fine, here are some common culprits for gas production in babies:
- Brussels sprouts
- Chili pepper
More commonly, gas is caused by an underdeveloped digestive symptom than the food you’re eating. Prior to birth, your baby was on an amniotic fluid diet. Digesting macronutrients through your breast milk is new and takes some time to get used to.
Foods to Which Your Baby May Be Allergic or Sensitive
Most of the time, gas and other tummy troubles are not related to a food allergy or food sensitivities. However, there are cases of food sensitivities and allergies with babies, and you know your baby best. If you think your baby is suffering from a food allergy, it’s important to talk to your doctor.
Most food allergies in breastfed babies are caused by a reaction to specific proteins found in the offending foods.
Some of the most common food allergies in breastfed babies include:
- Dairy. It seems ironic that a baby would be allergic to milk, but some babies have trouble digesting cow’s milk protein, so any dairy product in your diet can be passed through your breastmilk causing a reaction in a baby with a dairy allergy.
- Eggs. Again, the culprit is a particular protein in the egg that causes an allergic reaction. In a baby who has an egg allergy, the body sees the egg protein as harmful and begins to fight it with histamines, causing an allergic reaction.6
- Wheat. Wheat gluten protein can also cause allergic reactions in some babies. This does not mean that your baby has Celiac Disease, which is gluten intolerance, it can simply mean their body produces an allergic response to gluten.
- Soy. Soy protein is another known food allergy, but it’s not always easy to identify. Soy is a sneaky ingredient added to many foods; if your baby has a soy allergy, you’ll have to practice extra diligence to keep soy out of your diet.
- Nuts. Tree nut allergies are more common in toddlers and older children, but a baby can have a nut allergy as well. Babies with a documented egg allergy and/or eczema are at higher risk for a nut allergy.7
If you think your baby is experiencing a reaction due to something in your breastmilk, you can look for these tell-tale signs.
Symptoms of food sensitivities or allergies in breastfed babies can include:
- Dry skin
- Red, itchy eyes
- Spit up
- Constipation and/or diarrhea.
If you’ve introduced a new food into your own diet that you haven’t previously had while nursing, that food could be the culprit. If you feel your diet has been fairly consistent, your baby may have developed an allergy to something in your food.
The first step in addressing your baby’s food allergy or sensitivity is to see your baby’s primary care provider– they can help you determine if your baby’s symptoms are food-related or if something else is causing your baby’s distress. They can also help determine if an elimination diet is needed and the best way for you to proceed with one.
It’s incredibly important to seek medical attention immediately if your baby has any breathing difficulties or severe reactions after contact with or ingesting a particular food. This could be a sign of something more serious or an allergy that could be life-threatening.
Do you need to avoid certain foods while breastfeeding?
If you’re reading this while nursing because your baby just isn’t as happy and settled on your breast as they once were, or they’re consistently fussy from gas and spit-up, we feel you.
Maybe it was a late night bite of chocolate before your baby’s dream feed, or maybe it was the coffee you had to make it through the day on four hours of sleep. More likely, however, it’s just your baby’s underdeveloped digestive system learning to break down food.
You know your baby best. If something has changed about their feeding routine, speak to their primary care provider about how to best address the situation before limiting your diet.