Women's Health

3 foods to limit (or avoid) while breastfeeding

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You've just given birth and now it's time to get your head around breastfeeding.

There are a lot of things to remember when it comes to breastfeeding and one of these is related to the foods you eat.

While you might be able to consume sashimi and deli meats once again post-pregnancy, it's still good to be mindful that the food you consume when breastfeeding can still impact your baby.

It's great to have a varied and balanced diet while breastfeeding to ensure that both you and your baby are consuming the right vitamins and minerals while also knowing which foods to avoid when breastfeeding.

Breast milk is an important source of nutrition and energy for your infants, so let's find out which foods are breastfeeding friendly and the certain foods to avoid or restrict.

What foods should you limit or avoid when breastfeeding?

Limiting the amount or avoiding consuming the following foods and drinks completely while breastfeeding can be helpful:

  • Caffeine: Popular drinks like coffee, tea, energy drinks and soft drinks are often high in caffeine, which can end up in your breast milk and be consumed by your baby. Babies tend to metabolise caffeine quite slowly, which can lead to sleep issues and irritability. Try to keep your caffeine consumption low or avoid it where possible.
  • Certain types of fish: There are a number of fish that are high in mercury including tuna, mackerel, swordfish and marlin. It's best to limit the consumption of this seafood while breastfeeding as high levels of mercury can be damaging to a baby's development. Instead, opt for low-mercury fish like salmon, sardines, haddock and whiting.
  • Alcohol: Choosing to drink alcohol while breastfeeding is a personal choice but keep in mind that the level of alcohol within your system at any one time is directly transferred through your breast milk. If you do consume alcohol while breastfeeding, be sure to wait the recommended amount of time before feeding your bub.

Although, studies have shown that many mothers restrict eating things for indistinct reasons so as long as you consult with your doctor and take caution as your begin breastfeeding, your baby will be happy and reach his developmental goals with a varied and healthy diet.

Should you avoid foods with strong flavours like garlic?

It's long been recommended to avoid strong flavours like garlic and spices while breastfeeding as it can cause babies to become unsettled or upset, develop colic, or experience wind or gas.

But, research has found that while garlic can change the smell and flavour of breast milk, small amounts of the vegetable shouldn't cause fussiness in babies.

In fact, studies have shown that the infants of mothers who eat garlic and breastfeed "tend to feed for a longer time and seem to prefer a variety of flavours in breast milk, which might facilitate weaning to solid foods".

"Infants rarely react to a food that mothers eat, and the few foods that have been observed to cause reactions differed among infants, so it is not reasonable to recommend that all breastfeeding mothers avoid certain foods," the research concluded.

Be sure to speak with your doctor to determine what foods you should avoid while breastfeeding if your baby is experiencing issues with gas or irritability.

It can be helpful to limit or avoid certain foods and drinks when breastfeeding.

Can you have salami while breastfeeding?

While it's important to avoid eating deli meats like salami or soft cheeses while pregnant due to the risk of listeria, this cannot pass from mother to baby through breast milk.

This means that breastfeeding mothers can eat salami and enjoy it after months of avoiding cured meats.

Keep in mind that salami is quite high in fat, though, so it's good to eat in moderation and try to eat lean meat where you can.

Is it safe to eat fish and seafood while breastfeeding?

Fish and seafood are great sources of important omega-3 fatty acids such as DHA or EPA and these help with your infant's brain development.

However, it is important to avoid high mercury fish such as swordfish, bigeye tuna or king mackerel as this metal can be toxic to breastfed infants.

Mercury poisoning can affect your baby's development causing permanent issues with:

  • Fine motor skills
  • Awareness and understanding
  • Speech and language

Instead, focus on consuming low-mercury fish and seafood like salmon or anchovies.

What about a vegetarian diet and breastfeeding?

Following a vegan or vegetarian diet while breastfeeding is completely safe and hasn't been found to affect a baby's development.

In fact, a systematic review from 2021 found that "all non-vegetarian, vegetarian and vegan mothers produce breast milk of comparable nutritional value".

"On the basis of the current evidence, vegetarian and vegan mothers are capable of producing nutritionally valuable milk for their infants, as far as the appropriate supplementation compensating for breastfeeding mother's nutritional requirements is provided."

In some cases, supplementation may be required but overall, a vegetarian or vegan diet will not impact your breast milk or the health of your baby.

Can parsley, peppermint and sage affect your milk supply?

Many women are focused on maintaining their breast milk production and even increasing their milk supply but there are some herbs that can impact this and even decrease your milk production.

Evidence is mainly anecdotal but parsley, peppermint and sage have been said to can reduce the amount of breast milk you produce but only if excessively consumed.

Keep this in mind when using these herbs but if you consume these in moderation, you shouldn't experience any issues with your milk supply.

Do you need extra calories when breastfeeding?

As creating breast milk uses energy, it is important that you consume extra calories from highly nutritious food.

Breastfeeding mothers need to consume additional calories each day — roughly 330 to 400 extra — in order to keep the milk supply healthy and to give you the energy to supply said breast milk.

Remember that you need to nourish your own body just as much as your baby needs nourishing during this time.

Do you need more water when breastfeeding?

Drinking water is necessary for your body — especially when you're breastfeeding. Given you are losing fluid through breastfeeding, you need to replace it regularly.

Keep your body hydrated to maintain your breast milk supply as well as your own health. Aim for two or three cups of water after each time your baby breastfeeds.

Can your baby be allergic to foods you eat while breastfeeding?

Infants can develop allergies to the food you consume while breastfeeding.

The flavours, food protein and food chemicals can be delivered to your bub through breast milk and cause an allergic reaction.

If you suspect this is happening, consult with your doctor and note down any changes in your baby such as:

  • Coughing
  • Skin rash
  • Constipation
  • Wheezing
  • Runny nose
  • Vomiting or diarrhoea
  • Gas

This may require a little trial and error to discover what exactly is triggering the allergy, so it's best to work with your doctor to diagnose this.

Do you need to avoid caffeine?

Caffeine affects the central nervous system and can be transferred to your baby through breast milk.

Many mothers reduce their caffeine intake or avoid it completely while breastfeeding. As we mentioned above, it takes a long time for caffeine to be broken down by your baby's system and can lead to disturbances in their sleep and mood.

Choosing to avoid caffeine completely is a personal choice and one only you can make with your doctor based on your personal circumstances.

Is it necessary to limit chocolate during breastfeeding?

Chocolate, like coffee, contains caffeine, which is why some people choose to limit it during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Keep in mind that a low intake of chocolate will not affect the baby greatly but consuming larger amounts of chocolate can cause irritability and jitteriness as it contains theobromine.

Alcohol and breastfeeding

Alcohol can be consumed by your baby from your breast milk, especially within an hour of you drinking it.

In fact, according to the Australian Breastfeeding Association, "the concentration of alcohol in your blood is the concentration of alcohol in your milk".

Alcohol is present in your breast milk 30 to 60 minutes after you start drinking and it can take roughly two hours for an average woman to get rid of the alcohol from one standard drink.

If you do choose to drink while breastfeeding, it's best to wait the recommended amount of time for the alcohol to dissipate before feeding your baby.

Drinking alcohol in large amounts has been proven to affect your milk production and excessive drinking can affect sleep patterns and your baby's development, so it's best to tread lightly when consuming alcohol while breastfeeding.

Can you diet while breastfeeding?

After giving birth, it's understandable if some of your focus shifts towards dieting efforts. It's best to allow your body to do its thing during this time and try to avoid crash or fad diets while breastfeeding.

Restricting calories and following fad diets means you probably aren't receiving a steady balance of nutrients that are important to both you and your baby at this time.

Instead, incorporate gentle exercise into your day and follow a balanced diet to support your weight loss.

Will your baby be less fussy if you eat adventurously?

Some research has shown that what you feed your baby will impact their eating habits later in life.

Although there is no conclusive evidence to confirm whether a varied diet will impact your child's eating habits later in their life, introducing your baby to vegetables and some fruits early on might help prevent picky eating.

What are the best foods to eat while breastfeeding?

A mother's breast milk is a key source of nutrition for a developing baby and it's important to be mindful of what you consume.

Do your best to include healthy foods with a high nutritional value such as:

  • Red meat and white meat
  • Legumes
  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Nuts and fruit
  • Whole grains

Fill your plate with lean meats, low-mercury seafood, whole grains, healthy fats and a variety of fruits and vegetables to ensure that you're getting all of the nutrients you need to maintain a healthy supply of breast milk and feel good while you're doing it.

Breastfeeding is one of nature's gifts and it's a special moment to share with your baby.

It can present a few hurdles along the way especially when it comes to watching what you consume, sore nipples to those unplanned leaks which is why our Breastfeeding Essentials kit is designed to look after you and your baby, wherever you are.

References

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