Feed Your Body Right: What to eat while breastfeeding

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If you’ve ever wondered if your baby’s fussiness could be related to something you’re eating, you’re not alone. Or perhaps a well-meaning relative has told you that cutting down on caffeine could help your baby sleep longer. Maybe someone has told you that if you don’t eat the perfect diet, your baby could be missing key nutrients. While it’s easy to get guilt-tripped into thinking that something you are eating might be harmful to your baby, let me reassure you that it is unlikely. If you follow these tips on what to eat while breastfeeding, you’ll be on the right path to keeping you and your baby healthy.

Eating right makes you more energetic

A well-balanced diet is important for women, but not because it’s good for the baby. Your body’s ability to glean what it needs for nutrient-rich milk is amazing. Women from around the world eat a variety of diets, and unless you are literally starving, your milk will be absolutely fine for your baby. However, your vitamin and mineral levels, as well as your energy level, could suffer if you eat foods that are not balanced and nutrient dense. Making sure that you drink to thirst and eat to hunger are key for your own energy level, and eating less processed foods is sound nutrition advice for anyone. Other than that, there is nothing special to avoid or make sure to eat, with a few caveats.

What you eat probably won’t help you make more milk

Some women wonder if eating certain foods can increase their milk production. While steel cut oats, barley and fennel are healthy foods that won’t harm you (unless you are allergic), there is no research that supports their use as a galactagogue (substance that increases milk production).

Off-limit foods from pregnancy can make a comeback

During pregnancy, there are many recommendations to avoid certain foods (which vary depending who you ask). There is no risk of food borne illness passing through your milk, so sushi is back on the table! However, limiting fish to 12oz per week and choosing low mercury fish continues to be a good idea, since mercury can pass through breastmilk.

Most foods you eat won’t trigger an allergy in your baby

While it might be a good idea to avoid a particular food if you notice a pattern of irritability in your baby whenever you eat a certain food, there are no blanket recommendations for avoiding foods while nursing. Occasionally, symptoms of an allergy could occur, such as blood in the stool, hives, or reflux but it’s best to check with your baby’s pediatrician if you suspect an allergy. Of all the potential allergies, the most common is a milk protein allergy. If your baby is diagnosed with a milk protein allergy, reach out to your pediatrician or lactation consultant to find out how to avoid milk in foods.

Go ahead – drink that morning coffee

Regardless of what your baby eats, they will not be sleeping through the night for some time, and neither will you. Caffeine is what gets most new parents through these early months, and there really isn’t any good research to support avoiding it. In fact, this study from 2012 shows that caffeine made no difference on sleep patterns. Like any other food, if you notice a pattern of fussiness with caffeine, you can experiment with avoiding it. As babies get older, they are able to metabolize caffeine better, so you while you might notice your baby’s fussiness associated with caffeine, this can change over time.

Alcohol in moderation is fine

Can a mom drink and breastfeed? This is a very common question. While it’s generally advised to avoid alcohol during pregnancy, alcohol during lactation is not the same as during breastfeeding. It takes most women about 2 hours to metabolize one drink (one 5oz glass of wine or one 12oz beer) with peak blood levels occurring around 1 hour after drinking. What this means is that it’s best to avoid breastfeeding for 2 hours after enjoying a drink. If you can wait until after you see a pattern of eating develop over the first week or so, you can predict when that 2 hour window might be. Many moms find that if their baby cluster feeds in the evening, they get a long stretch of sleep (long meaning about 4 hours) so this is generally a safe time to enjoy a beverage. There really is no need to pump and dump, unless you will be separated from your baby for many hours and drinking much, much more than one drink. If it puts your mind at ease to use alcohol-testing strips, then do so, but if you feel sober enough to care for your infant, then you can be reassured that you are sober enough to breastfeed.

Talk to a professional

If you have more questions about what you should or should not eat while breastfeeding, you can talk to an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) to get answers to your specific situation. IBCLCs have years of experience with breastfeeding moms, and can help you figure out a diet that works for you and your baby.


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