Contrary to common belief, breastfeeding moms do not need to follow a certain diet. There is no common list of foods to avoid while breastfeeding. Most probably, your baby is fine with your diet, and there is no reason to exclude a certain food unless you observe a negative reaction of the baby every time you eat it.
There are four main reasons why nursing moms think that they need to restrict consumption of certain foods. Moms are afraid their babies may be sensitive to certain foods and have the allergic reaction. They think that the food that usually increases intestinal gas among adults may lead to baby gas and colic. Or, they assume that foods with strong taste and flavor such as garlic may alter the taste of their breastmilk and the baby will refuse to nurse. Let’s discuss whether those assumptions are true, and there is a justified need to avoid certain foods while breastfeeding.
Food sensitivities in breastfed babies are not as common as many breastfeeding mothers would think, though a small percentage of babies may still be sensitive to certain foods. Cow milk and dairy products are the most common allergens, followed by fish, nuts, eggs, and grains.
If you suspect that something in your diet might be affecting your baby – he or she develops a rash, diarrhea, eczema, vomiting, or congestion immediately or within few hours after nursing – avoid the food for up to a week to see if your baby’s behavior or health condition changes. It takes about two-three weeks to remove cow milk proteins from your body and the body of your baby. If after removing a certain food your baby continues to be fussy, add it back to your diet. Consider other possible food and non-food allergens.
The belief that mother’s diet may cause baby gas is very persistent. Nevertheless, scientific research does not confirm this assumption. Cow milk products are the only food with proven links to baby gas. Baby gas is mainly caused by the immaturity of baby’s digestive system and is mostly gone by the third-fourth month. Of course, a small number of babies may suffer from increased gassiness from certain foods in their mothers’ diet. If your baby is gassy, consider excluding suspicious foods from your diet for few days. If it helps, think about other possible causes of excessive baby gas such as the poor latch or milk oversupply.
Refusal to nurse/nursing strike
While it is true that some strongly flavored foods may change the taste of your milk, the extent they may affect your baby’s nursing pattern is often exaggerated. Those flavors were already present in your amniotic fluid, and your baby became accustomed to their dominant flavors during pregnancy. Eating the certain type of strongly flavored food may be even beneficial for your baby. For example, in some cultures, garlic is considered a food that stimulates milk production (galactagogue).
Foods that may affect your milk supply
While certain foods such as fenugreek, oatmeal, blessed thistle, dark and leafy greens (kale, spinach, broccoli), or fennel have been traditionally used to increase milk supply, there are foods that are believed to have the adverse effect. Their small amounts might not be something to worry about, but if you are struggling with low milk supply, you may consider avoiding them in large quantities.
- A sprig of parsley in your salad or soup will not harm your milk supply. However, at the beginning of the postpartum period try avoiding dishes with large amounts of parsley such as tabbouleh.
- Peppermint, spearmint, thyme, menthol, and balm mint. As with parsley, an occasional cup of peppermint tea should not be a problem. However, mothers enjoying many Altoids and other peppermint candies have reported a drop in supply.
- Sage tea is a common remedy for over-supply and is prescribed by many lactation consultants to inhibit lactation after weaning.
- Cabbage leaves. Cabbage leaves are widely used to relieve breast engorgement. However, it is important to not to over-do it.
- Oregano, sorrel, yarrow, chickweed, black walnut are also in the list of foods/herbs with possible lactation suppression effect.
- Beer is traditionally believed to be a milk-supply booster. In reality, alcohol inhibits your milk ejection reflex, and it will be harder for your baby to get your milk.
What about alcoholic drinks and coffee?
Alcohol immediately passes into your breastmilk. There is no safe level of alcohol in breastmilk. Nevertheless, an occasional drink is fine, if you follow certain rules. Avoid breastfeeding during the next 2-3 hours after consuming 12 ounces (355 milliliters) of 5 percent beer or 5 ounces (148 milliliters) of 11 percent wine. There is no need to pump and dump. It will not speed up the elimination of alcohol from your blood and, therefore, from your breastmilk. In general, if you are sober enough to drive, you are sober enough to nurse.
Consuming caffeine in moderation is fine, too. Babies under 6 months old may be more sensitive to caffeine. Remember that caffeine can be found not only in coffee but in other beverages as well such as tea, hot chocolate, Coca-Cola or Pepsi Cola, etc. Avoid drinking more than 2 to 3 cups (16 to 24 ounces) of caffeinated drinks daily.
The sensitivity of babies and mothers to different foods is very individual. This is why there is no need to adopt a restrictive diet or have foods to avoid while breastfeeding. Your baby may be fine with the food that caused excessive gas in your friend’s baby. In general, healthy and balanced eating is all that you need.
Do you or did you follow a certain breastfeeding diet? Do you think your baby has or had a sensitivity to a certain type of food? How did you cope with it?