There are so many dietary myths, it’s hard for breastfeeding moms to know which foods to eat and which foods (if any) to avoid. The truth is, you can eat all the foods you ate before you were pregnant and you rarely need to avoid specific foods unless you feel they make your baby fussy (more on that later).
Milk production requires about 500–1,000 calories a day. Half of the calories come from body fat stored during pregnancy, the other half comes from foods you eat each day. As long as you eat a variety of healthy foods and drink enough liquid to satisfy your thirst, both you and your baby should be fine.
Choose foods from each of the food groups—fruits, vegetables, grains, protein (meat/poultry/seafood, nuts/seeds, beans/peas, and eggs), dairy products, and, yes, fats! Fatty acids (omega-3s and -6s) are widely recognized for their role in infants' brain development. Moms produce some of the fatty acids found in human milk, while others are derived from foods. To ensure that your milk contains adequate amounts of omega-3s and -6s, include fatty acid-rich foods in your diet such as:
- wild rice
- omega-3 enriched eggs
- green soybeans
- canola oil
- green vegetables such as kale and spinach
Also, don’t shy away from fish. Low-mercury varieties (canned light tuna, trout, and catfish) along with more fatty fish (wild salmon, sardines, mackerel, and herring) should be eaten 2–3 times a week.
Limit the amount of “bad” fat in your diet by limiting your intake of high calorie foods with little or no nutritional value such as cakes, cookies, and salad dressings, and condiments. You can also reduce the amount of saturated fat in your diet by keeping protein servings small (2–4 ounces) and using monounsaturated or polyunsaturated cooking oil when you prepare your foods.
Mothers with a family history of food allergy were previously told to avoid certain foods during pregnancy or while breastfeeding in an effort to reduce their child’s risk of food allergy. But there is no evidence to show that food avoidance makes a difference. In fact, more recent research suggests that food restrictions may actually do more harm than good. Today, pregnant and breastfeeding women, even those with a family history of allergic disease, are urged to follow a normal diet.
Most food allergies don’t appear until a baby begins to eat the allergy-causing food on her own (around 6 months of age or later, depending on the type of food). If your baby has a confirmed food allergy, particularly if her symptoms are severe, her health care provider may suggest that you eliminate certain foods from your diet while breastfeeding. For more on food allergy, read here.
Mothers frequently report that certain foods make their babies fussy. While there is no scientific evidence to support these claims, common sense suggests that if you have a fussy baby and you feel a particular food may be the culprit, consider eliminating that food from your diet for several days to see if it makes a difference. When you eliminate certain foods from your diet, you may also limit your baby’s access to important nutrients, so be sure to talk with your health care provider or your child’s health care provider before you eliminate foods for an extended period of time.
Caffeine is one of the most common drugs used by breastfeeding mothers. This isn’t surprising. In fact, if anyone needs a pick-me-up, it’s a new mom! But is caffeine safe? When you consider the amount of breast milk consumed and adjust for body weight, studies estimate that an infant receives 10 percent or less of the mother’s caffeine dose. A study conducted in Brazil and published in Pediatrics in 2012, tracked maternal caffeine intake during pregnancy and while breastfeeding in 885 mothers. The researchers found no significant differences in the sleep patterns of the babies based on their mothers’ caffeine intake. This was even true of mothers who consumed more than 300 mg per day (the equivalent of 2 cups of coffee). Check out our caffeine chart here. Unfortunately, babies don’t read studies. So if you are convinced that your baby’s behavior improves when you avoid certain foods, go for it!
Find a suggested breastfeeding diet and a list of nutrient-rich foods in Breastfeeding, A Parents Guide.