As a new mama to your little peanut, you want to give the very best to their growing body. But it’s not that simple when your baby is gassy and fussy and you feel like you’ve tried everything to make them happier. Your pediatrician or even well-meaning friends may ask you if you’ve tried cutting out every food under the sun to see if that helps. Not sure which foods might be having some adverse effects on your little one? Luckily, most foods are still on the table while you’re breastfeeding. But there are some that should be avoided, because your diet should be about keeping your baby safe while still giving them all of the nutrients they need. But maybe your little one is doing just fine, and you’re not so concerned about which foods to steer away from. Instead, you may be wondering, “What foods are good to eat while breastfeeding?” Whether you want to increase your milk supply or just ensure you’re being as healthy as possible, we talked to experts to get the deets on those foods too. We asked a lactation counselor and two registered dietitians about the foods to avoid while breastfeeding—and the ones to pack into your diet.
Which Foods to Avoid While Breastfeeding
Determining which foods to avoid can be tricky, especially since searching the topic online can produce a variety of conflicting results. “Make sure your information is coming from a valid source. Look at the credentials and licensure of anything you read or hear,” says certified lactation counselor Katie Halloran of Grand Rapids, Michigan. If you can’t find a clear answer online, Halloran recommends talking with your healthcare provider or a lactation consultant.
Avoid: High-Mercury Seafood
“It’s important to avoid all high-mercury fish, such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish, because mercury can be harmful to a developing baby,” explains Amy Gorin, registered dietitian nutritionist and owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in the New York City area. She says that “You can safely eat up to 12 ounces a week of lower-mercury fish, such as salmon, sardines, and anchovies, or 6 ounces of moderate-mercury fish, such as halibut and albacore tuna.”
Avoid: Certain Herbs and Herbal Supplements
Just because something is “all-natural” doesn’t mean it’s good for you and your precious little human. [pullquote align=”center”]“Before you take any herbs, even if you hear it increases milk supply, talk first with your physician and your baby’s pediatrician.” —Katie Halloran, APR, CLC [/pullquote] “Herbs can have pharmacological side effects. So before you take any herbs, even if you hear it increases milk supply, talk first with your physician and your baby’s pediatrician. You want to ensure it doesn’t counteract with your medications or your health or your baby’s,” Halloran says.
Avoid: Too Much Caffeine
As a general rule, you shouldn’t give your baby what you shouldn’t be giving yourself anyway, like too much caffeine, says Halloran. But she does say that “If you drink some caffeine, that shouldn’t deter you from breastfeeding.” The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health states that “Drinking a moderate amount (one or two cups a day) of coffee or other caffeinated beverages does not cause a problem for most breastfeeding babies. Too much caffeine can cause the baby to be fussy or not sleep well.” So, no need to fret: Your morning latte can still be your energy lifesaver! Just think twice about having a cup every hour.
Avoid: Too Much Alcohol
Can’t breastfeeding mamas treat themselves to a glass of wine? The answer is yes. (And thank goodness for that!) An Australian study showed that “low level drinking during breastfeeding is not linked with shorter breastfeeding duration or adverse outcomes in infants up to 12 months of age.” “If you decide to drink, wait to breastfeed until the alcohol has cleared from your breast milk,” Gorin says. “This usually takes two to three hours for one alcoholic beverage (one 5-ounce glass of wine, one 12-ounce beer, or 1.5 ounces of liquor).” Halloran agrees, saying that alcohol isn’t trapped in the breast milk, so pumping and dumping won’t remove the alcohol: “It simply takes time to get out of your system, just like it does your blood alcohol levels.”
Sushi and Breastfeeding: Is It Safe?
Time to celebrate another “yes”! “Breastfeeding moms can eat any type of sushi, except poisonous blowfish, which probably no one should be eating,” says Kathy Kimbrough, registered dietitian at iLiveWell Nutrition in Austin, Texas. Kimbrough says the challenge is that we never know when we will get food poisoning or what may cause it. “The best way is to be mindful of safe food-handling practices including hand-washing and ensuring proper temperatures for food storage. Eating fully cooked meats is one way to minimize risk. That said, I myself enjoy eating sushi and raw oysters occasionally, and I’m breastfeeding,” she explains.
Foods to Avoid While Breastfeeding to Prevent Colic
Why some babies are colicky sadly remains a mystery to doctors (and parents)—and it appears that the best cure is time. “Colic will likely improve or disappear by 3 or 4 months from birth,” says the Office on Women’s Health. While changing your diet can sometimes help your colicky baby, holding or soothing your baby might also be the answer. “Eating regularly is the best ammunition for dealing with colic. Burp them consistently. Educate yourself on tummy massages and bicycling the legs to help their little belly pass gas,” encourages Kimbrough.
Common Causes of Fussy, Gassy Babies
As a dietitian and breastfeeding mom, Kimbrough finds that many women cut out certain foods, like spicy foods or dairy, if their baby is fussy or gassy. “In reality, there are very few things that actually cross over to the breast milk from the mother’s diet that makes them gassy,” she says. But a protein or dairy allergy is different. “An allergy can manifest in many ways, and usually it’s pretty extreme. The stool will be green or contain mucus or blood, so it’s obvious something is wrong.” [pullquote align=”center”]“Remember to take care of yourself by eating well and eating regularly so you can take care of your baby.” —Kathy Kimbrough, RD[/pullquote] Most babies, though, (unfortunately) will be gassy from time to time. This is normal: They have brand new bodies and digestive systems. And it’s natural for moms to want to fix our baby’s irritability, but changing and limiting your diet can just be more challenging and stressful for everyone. An elimination diet is not often the answer. “Remember to take care of yourself by eating well and eating regularly so you can take care of your baby,” says Kimbrough.
What to Eat While Breastfeeding
Thank goodness the menu is large when you’re breastfeeding! Here are the key points to know.
Focus on a well-rounded diet.
“In order to nourish your baby, you have to nourish yourself. Aim for eating every 2 to 3 hours (just like baby!),” says Kimbrough. “Try to include carbohydrates, protein, and fat with a vegetable or a piece of fruit at each meal. And pair carbohydrates with protein for snacks. This balance will help your blood sugar remain within healthy fluctuations and keep your energy levels up.” But Kimbrough reminds new moms to give themselves grace. “There were many times I wanted to stop breastfeeding because I was so tired. It can be really isolating when all you feel like you’re doing is pumping and breastfeeding.” So go easy on yourself. Make simple meals, and don’t beat yourself up if you buy pre-chopped vegetables or packets of oatmeal instead of making it yourself on the stovetop.
Include fatty fish (in moderation).
Give your baby all of the powerful nutrients you can! “Fatty fish such as salmon provides beneficial omega-3s to your baby,” says Gorin. So get cooking some tasty salmon recipes (or better yet, have your partner help).
Drink plenty of water.
“Hydration is very important for breastfeeding moms. You need extra water because your body uses water to produce breast milk,” shares Gorin. “It’s a good idea to drink a glass of water each time you nurse.” In addition to having your water bottle nearly joined to your hip, hydrate your body more by eating water-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, and soup, says Gorin.
Galactagogues: Foods That Increase Milk Supply
While many clinicians recommend continued use of prenatal vitamins during breastfeeding, there’s less consensus on the foods and herbs that increase milk supply. “There are some foods that [are often said to increase] your milk supply, like milk thistle, oatmeal, fenugreek, and brewer’s yeast,” says Kimbrough. These supplements and herbs are commonly called galactagogues. “Research indicates there are no long-term effects of increased milk supply for galactagogues,” explains Halloran. Unfortunately, there’s not much evidence of any food or herb being a magic bullet for increasing milk supply. The best ways to maintain your milk supply are eating enough calories and drinking enough water, says Kimbrough. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists states that your body needs about 450 to 500 extra calories per day to make breast milk, meaning you really need to get those nutrients in to keep your supply up. But even if you’re eating well and drinking enough water, you can still struggle with having enough breast milk or getting your baby to breastfeed often enough. And that’s where additional resources come in. If you’re having trouble breastfeeding or feel your supply isn’t where it needs to be, seek assistance sooner rather than later, says Halloran. Many hospitals employ lactation consultants who can offer you techniques and personalized guidance. And many communities host breastfeeding support groups. “A breastfeeding group allows you to talk about successes and challenges with other breastfeeding moms and get that extra support,” shares Kimbrough. Don’t live close enough to a support group or a lactation consultant? Call The Office on Women’s Health Helpline from anywhere in the U.S., Monday through Friday, 9 a.m–6 p.m. ET at 800-994-9662.