Most people know that during pregnancy there are some foods and beverages better avoided, but have you considered the importance of your diet while nursing your little one? Knowing what to eat during breastfeeding/chestfeeding is just as important because what you eat chest milk. Nursing your baby brings benefits for both of you, especially decreasing health risks you may face, mom, including diseases such as type 2 diabetes and breast or ovarian cancer, for example. For baby, it means reduced risks for ear infections and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). It’s extremely rare for babies to be allergic to breastmilk (fewer than 1% may have a reaction). But you may have concerns (just like in pregnancy) that something harmful could be passed to baby through your milk. Knowing how your diet affects your milk will help you make healthy decisions about what to eat and drink.

What should I eat?

As with pregnancy, it’s important to have a well-balanced diet. The good news is you can eat all the foods you had to avoid during pregnancy, such as soft cheeses, deli meats, and rare beef. Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet helps to provide your baby with all the essential fats and micronutrients (such as iron, potassium, magnesium, and zinc) they need. You can also continue taking a multivitamin. Nursing requires a lot of energy, which helps you shed the weight gained during pregnancy. If you are losing more weight than you’d like, or having difficulty with your milk supply, you may need to increase chestfeeding.

What should I drink?

It’s important to drink plenty of water while nursing. Caffeine is fi ne in moderation (up to 3-5 servings daily or 300-750mg daily). Infants younger than six months old may be more sensitive to caffeine, so watch your baby for irritability and difficulty staying asleep. Once your milk supply is abundant, you can reintroduce alcohol. Just plan to wait about 2 hours after each drink before nursing again, and you don’t have to pump and dump. One alcoholic drink is defined as 12 oz. of 5% beer; 8 oz. of 7% malt liquor; 5 oz. of 12% wine; or 1.5 oz. of 40% (80 proof) liquor.

Do I need to give up certain foods?

The old saying is that baby eats what you eat—but most babies tolerate the spicy or gas-producing foods that you enjoy! If you notice that your baby is gassy, fussy or having looser stools after you eat a certain food, try avoiding that it for 1-2 weeks to see if the symptoms go away.

However, check for other causes before blaming it on what you ate. Keep in mind that while baby might be sensitive to a food at a point in time, you may still re-introduce that food again later—baby’s little digestive system will mature gradually during the 1st year of life.

Can My Baby React to What I Eat?

It’s rare for your baby to react to the foods you eat. According to the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, this only happens in about 0.5-1% of exclusively breastfed babies. The most common cause is cow’s milk proteins (like cow’s milk, cheese, butter, or ice cream). Other causes could include eggs, corn, soy, nuts, or wheat products, but reactions are so rare that it’s seldom necessary to avoid these foods. If you notice that your baby may be reacting to something you are consuming (abdominal discomfort, skin rash such as hives or eczema, diarrhea, and sometimes with blood in stool), contact your baby’s healthcare provider so they can evaluate your baby and help you decide if you should try to eliminate some foods from your diet to see if this improves their symptoms.

Can I Prevent Allergies by Nursing?

There’s limited evidence that introducing or avoiding certain foods during lactation can prevent allergies in your baby. However, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, eczema can be reduced by breastfeeding for at least 3-4 months. Eczema is a risk factor for developing food allergies. If you or a family member has severe allergies, it’s good to speak to your healthcare provider about these allergies and the possible need to limit your intake of the most common allergens (milk or milk products, fish, eggs, and nuts).

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Rachel Napoli, DNP, PHN, CNS, RNC-OB, IBCLC, is an Assistant Professor of Nursing at Sonoma State University (SSU). She also serves as Assistant Director of the Pre-Licensure BSN Program. She is the lead course instructor for the Care of the Childbearing Family course. She has a passion for expanding baby friendly initiatives and breastfeeding.

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