Foods to Avoid While Breastfeeding
Nursing moms need to eat! A well-balanced diet filled with foods you like is best, but certain foods—no matter how much you love 'em—may not agree with Baby. If Baby's fussy, spits up a lot, or has colic, rash, or congestion, check these common culprits.
When you drink coffee (or soda or tea), some of the caffeine ends up in your breast milk. Because babies aren’t able to excrete caffeine as quickly or efficiently as adults, too much in their systems may lead to irritation, crankiness, and sleeplessness. The solution? Cut back on coffee. As tired as you are, a fussy baby who won’t sleep just makes matters worse. At minimum, try putting off your cup of coffee until just after a nursing session.
Proceed with caution if chocolate is your sweet indulgence of choice. Just like coffee and soda, chocolate contains caffeine. (Though not as much—a 1-ounce serving of dark chocolate contains between 5 and 35 mg of caffeine; a cup of coffee generally contains up to 135 mg of caffeine). If you suspect chocolate is the culprit behind your baby’s fussiness, eliminate it from your diet for a few days. If you see a change in your baby’s behavior—for the better—continue to abstain or cut back.
Certain compounds found in citrus fruits and juices may irritate a still-immature GI tract, leading to fussiness, spitting up, and even diaper rash in some babies. If cutting down on citrus seems like a good idea for Baby’s sake, compensate by adding other vitamin C-rich foods to the menu, including papaya and mango.
Lactation consultants may tell you that it’s just an old wives’ tale that eating broccoli, cauliflower, and other “gassy vegetables” leads to irritable, gassy babies. But ask any nursing mom about broccoli’s ability to create misery in breastfed infants and you will probably hear a very different tale. Is your broccoli-loaded lunchtime salad the culprit behind your baby’s nighttime fussiness and colic? Take a break from broccoli for a few days to see if that puts the fix on your baby’s flatulence. Instead of banning broccoli completely, add it back slowly in small amounts to see how your baby reacts. Lightly steaming broccoli, instead of eating the vegetable raw, may also reduce gassiness.
It’s not the occasional glass of wine with dinner that you need to worry about. One drink or less per day likely poses little risk for babies, experts agree. But if your drinking habits fall into the moderate or heavy category, you are treading into murky waters. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, possible side effects of breastfeeding and habitual consumption of large amounts of alcohol include: drowsiness, deep sleep, weakness, and abnormal weight gain in the infant, and the possibility of decreased milk-ejection reflex in the mother. Do you drink to relax? Try winding down with such new mom stress-reducers as a relaxing bath, soothing cup of chamomile tea, or a massage.
Some nursing moms can add extra jalapenos to everything and still have completely content babies. But you might find that just a dash of pepper is enough to make your baby irritated and fussy for hours. How to spice it up food without causing Baby discomfort? Look for flavors that add zest without the heat. Add a splash of lime juice on your chicken, rather than hot sauce. If you need to skip the hot peppers in your stir fry, toss in some extra ginger for heat—ginger is one spice that may actually soothe your little one’s tummy.
That wonderfully warm slice of garlic bread you just inhaled might not taste so wonderful to your baby. Eating garlicky foods often leads to breast milk taking on the slight flavor of garlic (garlic odor can enter milk up to two hours after a meal). Some babies may grimace or fuss at the breast if they detect garlic’s telltale aroma.
In Italy, where garlic consumption is common, mothers are actually recommended to skip the vegetable for the first few months of breastfeeding. But in India, nursing moms are encouraged to eat all the garlic they want, based on the belief that this practice helps babies grow accustomed to the flavor of “grown-up” foods. Ultimately, your baby’s taste buds will decide which approach to garlic works best.
Do you, or other members of your family, have food allergies? Proceed with caution before including peanut products in your diet. According to La Leche League International (LLLI), if you have a family medical history of allergy, it is worth being careful about your diet and avoiding known allergens, like peanuts and other tress nuts, during breastfeeding.
If you do eat peanuts and it turns your baby has a sensitivity or allergy, you may notice symptoms such as a rash, hives, eczema, or wheezing. Some babies with peanut allergies do not display symptoms.
If eating a sandwich or plate of pasta before a nursing session results in your baby developing such symptoms as inconsolable crying, obvious pain, or bloody stools, it could point to a wheat allergy. To check for an allergy or sensitivity, eliminate wheat-containing foods from your diet for two to three weeks. If your baby’s symptoms improve, or completely disappear, you have probably found your culprit—and will need to continue avoiding wheat. Baby still experiencing discomfort? Try this “elimination diet” approach with other suspect foods—one by to one—to get to the bottom of your baby’s symptoms.
Ditch the dairy? It’s common knowledge that many babies are intolerant to cow’s milk-based formula. But when you drink milk or eat other dairy products (yogurt, ice cream, and cheese), these same allergens enter your breast milk. According to LLLI, symptoms of an allergy or sensitivity to dairy include colic and vomiting, sleeplessness, and eczema—dry, rough, red skin patches which can progress to open, weeping sores.
To check for a dairy intolerance, follow the elimination diet for a minimum of two to three dairy-free weeks to see if symptoms improve. Some dairy-allergic infants will also react to goat’s milk or sheep’s milk. A few babies may also react to beef in a mother’s diet.
Allergies to corn are common among young children, but how can you be certain your baby’s discomfort and rashiness are really due to those tasty tacos you had for dinner? If you are not quite sure if corn is the food you need to eliminate, start keeping a detailed food diary. Be specific about what you ate (write “corn chips” instead of the generic “chips”) and note any allergy symptoms experienced by your baby that day. If you notice a pattern of baby’s colic or periods of crying increasing after you’ve eaten corn-based foods, it is probably a good idea to start a corn elimination diet.
Experts have found that the stronger the family history is for a particular food allergy, the greater the risk and the earlier the infant is likely to show symptoms. In other words, if your child’s father has a shellfish allergy, but you have no problem with shrimp and lobster, you still might want to give shellfish a pass while breastfeeding.
Egg allergies (usually in the form of a sensitivity to egg whites) are common in young children. But because eggs lurk in all sorts of foods, from bread and snack foods to ice cream, it may be a difficult allergy to pinpoint. Another tactic for breastfeeding moms who suspect their child has a food allergy is to eliminate all of the most allergenic foods at once (dairy, soy, egg whites, wheat, peanuts and tree nuts, and shellfish). After two weeks, each allergenic food is added back one by one, allowing up to four days in between to evaluate the child for rashes and other symptoms.
Many children who have dairy intolerances also show signs of a soy allergy, bad news if you thought you could swap out that morning glass of moo juice for a cup of soy milk. If you suspect soy in your diet is causing problems for your baby, look at the kind of soy you are eating. Packing down power bars? Soy protein isolate, the processed form of soy found in power bars and protein shakes, may be more likely to trigger sensitivities. On the other hand, including foods made with fermented soy in your diet, such as miso, may be accepted by your baby with fewer problems.
It might not cause fussiness or even gas, but because mercury found in fish can find its way into breast milk, the same rules for fish consumption during pregnancy still apply when you are breastfeeding. According to the FDA, nursing women should eat up to 12 ounces (two average meals) a week of a variety of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury. Five of the most commonly eaten fish that are low in mercury are shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish. Fish to avoid while you are breastfeeding include shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish.
Love the soothing power of peppermint tea? Unfortunately, certain compounds in the minty herb may reduce your milk supply, especially if you guzzle several cups a day, according to herbalists (peppermint tea is often used as a holistic remedy to help halt milk production once weaning is complete).
What to drink instead? Try a cup of chamomile tea. Compounds in chamomile that end up in your breast milk may have a calming effect on your baby—and you! Peppermint candies and menthol cough drops should also be used in moderation—both contain concentrated peppermint oils.
Related to the mint family, parsley is another herb that may reduce your milk supply if ingested in large quantities. If you are a fan of herbal remedies, double check to make sure any supplements you take don’t contain significant amounts of parsley. However, dressing up your dinners with a garnish of parsley, or eating the occasional bowl of tabouleh, probably won’t affect your breast milk supply.
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