When you’re expecting, it’s fairly clear what you can and cannot eat or drink, but when it comes to breastfeeding, many moms have their fair share of questions. Should I avoid the same foods I did while pregnant? Can I have an occasional drink? Should I eat more than normal?
Whether you’re a new mom or a seasoned parenting pro, breastfeeding nutrition can be confusing. Here are answers to some common questions moms may have about how their diet might affect their breast milk and baby.
Do I have to continue a healthy diet and take prenatal vitamins?
Just as when you were pregnant, it’s important to eat well while you’re breastfeeding, with plenty of wholesome fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein and calcium-rich foods to give your baby a nutritious diet.
You need an estimated 300 to 500 extra calories per day as a breastfeeding mother. Breastfeeding might make you thirsty, so consider keeping a water bottle nearby so it’s there when you need it.
Also, many doctors recommend women continue taking prenatal vitamins while breastfeeding.
“Simply eating a well-balanced diet may not be enough to ensure breastfeeding mothers get enough of the nutrients needed to maintain optimal health,” said Denise Stoneman, a pediatric nurse practitioner at Akron Children’s Hospital Pediatrics in Boardman. “It’s recommended that breastfeeding women take a prenatal or multivitamin with iron to supplement their diets.”
To prevent problems associated with iodine deficiency, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all lactating women take a supplement that contains 150 micrograms of iodine per day, use iodized salt in their cooking, and eat foods high in iodine, such as seafood and dairy products. If you’re vegan or don’t eat dairy or fish, talk to your doctor about getting checked for iodine deficiency.
Should I avoid certain foods?
Just like during pregnancy, nursing moms should avoid or limit their intake of fish high in mercury, since high mercury levels can damage the developing nervous system.
“The breastfeeding diet is in many ways similar to the pregnancy diet, with much more relaxed rules,” said Denise.
In addition, some moms may find that if they eat beans, cauliflower or broccoli, their little ones get gassy or fussy while other babies can tolerate these foods just fine. And some moms find their babies don’t seem to like the taste of their breast milk after they eat spicy foods, while other babies may not mind if mom just enjoyed a bunch of hot chili peppers.
If you notice a pattern (of fussiness, gassiness, colicky behavior, etc.), try to keep track of exactly what you eat and how your baby reacts to it each time, then talk to your doctor. He may suggest not eating the food (such as dairy products, a common allergen) for a few days to see if there’s any change.
How do I know if my baby has an allergy to something in my diet?
A breastfed baby may have an allergy or sensitivity reaction after the mom consumes certain foods or drinks (such as common food allergens like cow’s milk, soy foods, wheat, corn, oats, eggs, nuts and peanuts, and fish or shellfish).
Signs of a baby having such a reaction to food can include:
- Frequent spitting up or vomiting
- Apparent belly pain (lots of gas and/or pulling up the knees in pain)
- Bloody, mucousy stools
- Hard stools
- Rash and swelling
If you think your baby has had a reaction to food, call your doctor and avoid eating or drinking anything your little one can’t seem to tolerate. If your baby has difficulty with feeding, try to keep a journal of exactly what you eat and drink, along with any reactions your baby had, which could help both you and your doctor pinpoint what the problem food, or foods, might be.
Although such a reaction is extremely rare, if your child has trouble breathing or has swelling of the face, call 9-1-1.
Can I have a drink occasionally?
Drinking in moderation – 1 or 2 drinks within a 24-hour period – is fine, as long as you wait before feeding your baby.
When you drink alcohol, a small amount of it gets into your breast milk. The amount of alcohol in breast milk depends on the amount of alcohol in the blood. It takes about 2 hours after having 1 drink for the alcohol to be metabolized and no longer be a concern for nursing.
So don’t give your baby fresh breast milk, from your breast or pumped for a bottle, for at least 2 hours if you’ve had 1 drink, 4 hours if you’ve had 2 drinks, and so on.
If you plan to drink more than a few (preferably after breastfeeding’s been established for about a month), you can “pump and dump” – pump your milk and then throw it away.
“Pumping and dumping breast milk doesn’t speed the elimination of alcohol from your body,” Denise said. “However, if you’ll be missing a breastfeeding session, pumping and dumping will help you maintain your supply and avoid engorgement.”
But drinking to excess when you’re nursing is not recommended. Even if you pump and dump, there are other risks to your baby. Drinking too much affects how you care for your baby and may prevent you from responding to your baby’s needs appropriately, since it alters your ability to be alert and think clearly. It’s also a risk factor for SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).
Can I have caffeine?
As with alcohol, it’s best to limit the amount of caffeine you consume while breastfeeding. Moms should limit caffeine to 3 cups, or 300 milligrams of caffeine, daily. More than 1 or 2 servings of caffeine per day may affect your baby’s mood and/or sleep.
“Most breastfeeding mothers can drink caffeine in moderation,” Denise said. “If you do have more than a cup of coffee a day, minimize the amount in your breast milk at any one time by spreading the intake over the course of the day.”