Hi breastfeeding moms! I’m Kristin Gourley, IBCLC. I’m a mom to 5 and lactation consultant with Lactation Link. I’m here today to debunk some myths about what not to eat when breastfeeding and if you need a breastfeeding diet. Thanks for stopping by!
Picture this (depending on your own personal experience you may be able to “remember this”!): You just had your baby and are dying for a really great meal. You love Mexican food and want a spicy burrito from your favorite restaurant. Your partner is more than willing to go get it for you, but then your mother comes to visit and is shocked! She scolds you, with your baby at your breast, saying that you can’t possibly eat spicy food while breastfeeding! Let alone all the beans that are in that burrito! Suddenly you feel really anxious– you didn’t know that you had to change your diet while breastfeeding. What can you eat now?! Is there a special balanced diet for breastfeeding women??
Breastfeeding diet myths debunked
Well, I have some good news! Today I’m going to debunk that all-too-common myth that all breastfeeding mothers need to reduce or eliminate their intake of spicy food, gassy food, strong flavors, caffeinated drinks, or anything else you can imagine!
Mothers from cultures all over the world have been breastfeeding for, well, forever. Many cultures have unique foods that would be considered anything but bland. These babies thrive even when their moms eat these flavorful foods, so we know it’s not something that needs to be universally avoided.
Does baby taste what I taste?
Your breastmilk does change in flavor.
Does that mean that your milk tastes the same no matter what you eat? No! One of the benefits of breastfeeding is that your baby is very gently introduced to your family’s tastes even before that first messy experience with solid foods. That can help baby be more accepting of new foods when she is ready (1).
In fact, there was a study where mothers were given garlic pills and an hour later their babies nursed for longer periods than they had before! The milk also smelled like garlic, so we can assume that the babies liked the subtle flavor change of the milk when mom consumed lots of garlic (2).
You don’t need to take garlic pills or supplements to encourage your baby to breastfeed, but you can rest assured that you can generally eat what you like while breastfeeding your baby, and baby might learn to like the same foods!
What about gassy foods when breastfeeding?
But what about what your mom said about the beans?
Do beans, broccoli, onions, cabbage, or other traditionally gassy foods cause gas in your baby? The research says no! Gas in mom is caused by the breakdown of food in your intestines, but your milk doesn’t come from the contents of your intestines (or stomach). Your milk is made from your blood, and gas doesn’t transfer from your intestines into your blood.
Gas in babies is usually caused by swallowing air, immature gut, or not understanding how to pass gas that occurs. Some doctors believe that gas as a reason for baby’s upset is assumed too often by parents (3). That said, if your baby seems uncomfortable or unwell, you are the expert! Don’t hesitate to contact your pediatrician.
Caffeine and alcohol when breastfeeding
Caffeine and alcohol are two substances moms are often instructed to eliminate while they’re breastfeeding.
While they both pass into breastmilk (since they pass into your blood– this is why they affect your behavior), the amount that makes it into your milk compared to the amount you drink is low. Learn more about how caffeine intake affects breastfeeding at Can I breastfeed and drink caffeine?. We all know giving up those first cups of coffee in the morning can be difficult!
The American Academy of Pediatrics Section on breastfeeding recommends that mothers limit their alcohol intake while breastfeeding, and ingest no more than 2 oz. liquor, 8 oz. glass of wine, or 2 beers, as well as abstain from breastfeeding for about 2 hours after drinking to further minimize any alcohol in breastmilk (4). Similarly, the AAP Committee on Drugs recommends no more than 2-3 cups of caffeine per day, as there should be little to no effect on the baby at that level (5). So, you may want to cut back or eliminate the energy drinks.
What about eating fish while breastfeeding?
Some fish are worse than others.
Per the FDA, fish is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, but a few species of fish are to be avoided in order to prevent mercury accumulation in baby. These fish include king mackerel, marlin, orange roughy, shark, swordfish, bigeye tuna and tilefish(from the Gulf of Mexico). However, other fish such as salmon, cod, herring and more are safe for up to 3 servings a week. See the full list at the Food and Drug Administration.
What about food allergies and breastfeeding?
There is a correlation, but it’s not as common.
We’ve gone over a lot of reasons why you shouldn’t worry too much about what you eat while breastfeeding, but we all know that foo allergies are a real possibility. They are, however, much less common than some of the things you read on the internet can lead you to believe! A family history of allergies makes them a bigger possibility, but signs of a food allergy (a common one is lactose-intolerance, an allergy to cow’s milk or other dairy products can include: rashes, eczema, breathing issues, continual intestinal upset, and traditional allergy symptoms like red, itchy eyes. If these occur, then an elimination diet for mom may be indicated, but it should be done under the care of a doctor and an IBCLC! (6)
What about milk supply?
Your diet probably wont affect your milk supply.
Despite what you might have heard, following a specific breastfeeding diet to increase (or decrease) your milk supply is not evidence-based (ie. peppermint does not decrease your milk production). Mothers experiencing a wide variety of food plenty and food scarcity all over the world (and throughout time) are (and were) able to fully breastfeed. Breastmilk is made from the body’s energy stores and the mother’s diet (7). So, mothers may find themselves needing to increase their caloric intake while breastfeeding and adding 300-500 extra calories is the recommendation. This can be added through a larger portion of your meals or simply through a peanut butter sandwich. If you are concerned about milk supply, a breastfeeding diet will probably not make a difference. While some moms have found that eating a breakfast of oatmeal or cereal increases their supply, the best way to increase supply is to increase breast stimulation. The best tips for increasing supply are found in our breastfeeding video classes. Past blog posts, How to Increase Supply and 5 Ways to Keep Your Supply are helpful as well. And as always, consult your healthcare provider if you are concerned that you have a low milk supply.
I hope this post has given your confidence and helped debunk the myth that mothers need to follow a breastfeeding diet. Have you noticed your baby likes or doesn’t like certain foods you eat? Or has certain reactions when you eat certain foods? We’d love to hear about it in the comments! If you think your baby is having problems with what you’re eating, you may benefit from a one-on-one consult with one of our knowledgeable IBCLCs. And check out our video classes for more awesome breastfeeding facts!
Thanks for stopping by,
Kristin Gourley, BS, IBCLC
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- Riordan, J. & Wambach, K. (2010). Anatomy and physiology of lactation. In Breastfeeding and human lactation (4th ed., p. 92). Boston, MA: Jones and Bartlett Publishers.
- Mennella, JA & Beauchamp, GK. (1991). Maternal diet alters the sensory qualities of human milk and the nursling’s behavior. Pediatrics 88(4): 737-44.
- Sferra TJ, Heitlinger LA. (1996). Gastrointestinal gas formation and infantile colic. Pediatric Clinics of North America, 43(2):489-510.
- AAP Section on Breastfeeding. (2012). Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk.Pediatrics, 129(3) e827-e841; DOI: 10.1542/peds.2011-3552
- AAP Committee on Drugs. (2001). The transfer of drugs and other chemicals into human milk. Pediatrics, 108(3): 776-1029; DOI: 10.1542/peds.108.3.776.
- Allergic Proctocolitis in the Exclusively Breastfed Infant. (2011). Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine Protocol #24, from Breastfeeding Medicine 6(6): 435-440.
- Lauwers, J. & Swisher, A. (2016). Nutrition during lactation. In Counseling the Nursing Mother (6th ed., p. 166). Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.