After taking great care with your dietary choices during pregnancy, it can be a hard pill to swallow when you realize that, if you’re breastfeeding, your body is still not entirely your own yet. However, rest assured that there should be many more options available to you as a breastfeeding or chest feeding person than there were when you were pregnant. Still, it’s normal to worry a bit, particularly if you’re a first time parent. Is there a set list of foods to avoid while breastfeeding? Or can you go ahead and indulge in all of your favorite food and drink once again, even if you’re breastfeeding?
For the most part, you don’t need to avoid any one food or drink, assures Melissa Cole, a lactation consultant and founder of Luna Lactation. “Only if we see a baby coping with digestive issues would we explore the parent’s diet,” Cole explains. However, it may be helpful to know a little bit about how to enjoy all of your favorite foods in appropriate, totally safe amounts while breastfeeding.
Are there any foods to avoid while breastfeeding?
Generally speaking, most breastfeeding people can eat just about anything they’d like. While both experts we spoke to emphasized the importance of checking in with a pediatrician or working with a lactation consultant if you have any specific concerns, “there are very few major contraindications to breastfeeding,” says Morgan Dixon, a certified lactation specialist and postpartum doula. Rather, Dixon says that “we want moms to feel they have freedom to enjoy their lives and eat what they want.”
After a night spent up and down with a newborn, goodness knows a cup of coffee in the morning sounds like the most heavenly thing imaginable. Thankfully, there’s no harm in it at all — though many nursing parents wonder if coffee is OK to have while breastfeeding. “Caffeine in moderation is fine,” says Cole. There’s no need to order decaf, or pump-and-dump, just because you had a cold brew this morning.
Many breastfeeding people worry about whether or not it’s OK to drink while breastfeeding. “Alcohol in moderation — with guidance of IBCLC if parent has questions on guidelines — is fine,” says Cole. In other words, if an occasional beer or wine is something you enjoyed in your pre-pregnancy life, it’s totally OK to enjoy one while you’re breastfeeding.
“A glass of wine is generally thought to be OK, especially if it’s timed well,” agrees Dixon. “Alcohol leaves your breast milk at the same rate it leaves your blood, there is no need to pump and dump!”
You may have avoided raw fish during pregnancy, says Cole, because of the risk of food-borne pathogens. However, for the most part, it’s fine to enjoy fish in all forms again, with one small caveat. “It’s best to stay away from high-mercury foods, like swordfish,” explains Dixon. Even with higher-mercury fish — like tuna and swordfish — both Cole and Dixon say that small quantities aren’t of much concern. Fish is also a great source of healthy fats and protein, so if you enjoy it, low-mercury fish (like salmon and tilapia) is actually an excellent thing to eat while breastfeeding.
Some breastfeeding people end up choosing to avoid dairy for fear that it’s causing their baby to experience gastrointestinal upset. But is that really necessary? “Dairy proteins can pass into breastmilk and some babies can react to them,” Cole explains. “The top 8 allergens (dairy, soy, nuts, gluten, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, etc) are the most common culprits if a baby is reacting to a food in the parent’s diet. If a parent suspects their baby has digestive issues or discomfort, if the baby is exhibiting issues with bowel movements, fussiness, or skin issues like eczema then working with an IBCLC or clinician well-versed in such issues can help.”
You may have heard some nursing parents say that cruciferous vegetables and legumes seem to cause their babies to be gassy, however “the actual data on this isn’t entirely clear,” Dixon explains. “My general rule of thumb is listen to your body. You always know best.” If you are eating a lot of any one thing — legumes, a particular type of vegetable, or what have you — and you notice your baby seems particularly uncomfortable after, Dixon suggests that you could maybe try cutting it out and see if that makes a difference.
For the most part, no foods are off-limits for most breastfeeding people. Enjoy your favorite foods — and indulging in the ones you missed during pregnancy — and if you’re worried at all about how your diet may impact your baby, it’s never a bad idea to seek guidance from a lactation consultant or your health care provider.
Melissa Cole, MS, IBCLC, founder of Luna Lactation & Wellness and a board-certified lactation consultant
Morgan Dixon, a Certified Lactation Specialist, Integrative Health Coach, and Postpartum Doula