For months, you’ve been eating for two. That means you’ve probably put special care into your diet to make sure you were nourishing both yourself and your baby. But now that your little one is here, you may be ready to cut loose and start enjoying all your favorites again.
Not so fast.
While many new moms can resume their normal diets after delivery, there are some things to keep in mind. For starters, if you’re breastfeeding, your body is still your baby’s source of sustenance in the form of breastmilk.
The good news is that most breastfeeding moms don’t have to avoid too many foods. You can enjoy almost anything in moderation. But there may be certain types of food, drink and/or medication that can conflict with your feeding sessions (or make them harder than they have to be).
Whether you’re exclusively breastfeeding or taking a hybrid approach with a bottle, here’s a roundup of what to avoid when you’re breastfeeding.
Disclaimer: the following is for information only and shouldn’t be used as medical advice, or to diagnose or treat any condition. Talk to your doctor if you have concerns about breastfeeding (or anything else).
Food and Drinks
For moms who spent nine months abstaining from alcohol and sushi, the breastfeeding phase probably feels like a breath of fresh air. And at this point, you can enjoy most of your favorites — at least every now and then. But there are a few things to keep in mind.
Babies are up half the night as it is. Feeding them a stimulant could make the problem even worse.
Breastfeeding experts usually suggest keeping your caffeine intake under 300 milligrams per day. That’s equal to two or three cups of coffee or about four cups of tea. Don’t forget to factor in other sources of caffeine, too, such as sodas, chocolate and energy drinks.
Breastfed babies whose mothers consume large amounts of caffeine may become irritable. They may also cry easily or have trouble settling into a good sleep pattern.
Some breastfeeding pros will tell you to avoid alcohol altogether. And while that might be the simplest and most straightforward approach, it may not be the right choice for you.
If you want to have an occasional drink, plan ahead. For each serving of alcohol, you’ll need to wait at least two hours before breastfeeding again. Have your drink right after a nursing session, or keep a bottle of pumped milk waiting in the fridge for the next feeding.
If your breasts become uncomfortably full before it’s safe to nurse again, express the milk and dump it down the drain.
Passing alcohol to the baby through your milk isn’t the only reason to be cautious with how much you drink. Alcohol can also reduce your milk supply for a while.
Onions and Garlic
Onions, garlic and other foods with strong flavors can change the taste of your milk. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though. Just as you like variety, your baby might, too! Who knows? You may even end up with a more adventurous eater as a result.
Of course, not every baby likes every taste. If you notice your little one consistently refusing to nurse after you’ve eaten a certain food, consider cutting it from your diet, at least long enough to see if it makes a difference in the feeding.
Some moms also claim that onions, garlic, broccoli or other veggies give their babies gas troubles. Studies haven’t backed up that claim, but you know your baby best.
Talk to your doctor (and your pediatrician) to work out an appropriate elimination diet if you suspect certain foods are upsetting your baby’s tummy during feedings.
Salmon and other oily fish are good for you and your baby. That’s because they provide omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D.
That said, you should be mindful of how much you consume. These fish can harbor pollutants that may transfer to your baby.
To balance the benefits and risks, limit yourself to two portions per week. Examples of fish that you can eat twice weekly include salmon, sardines, trout and mackerel.
Also, you probably avoided shark, marlin and swordfish during your pregnancy because of their mercury content. While you may be able to indulge safely now, you shouldn’t eat more than one serving per week of these types of fish.
Cooking with herbs isn’t usually a problem since a small sprinkle won’t be enough to affect your milk.
In large quantities, though, some herbs can reduce your supply. Sage is a prime example. Moms who drink several cups of sage tea a day may notice that their babies seem less satisfied after a meal.
Other herbs that may reduce supply in large quantities include peppermint, spearmint, parsley and oregano.
When talking to other mothers about breastfeeding, you may get the advice to cut dairy out of your diet. Experienced moms might even suggest that dairy is making your baby irritable or uncomfortable.
As a general rule, though, you probably don’t need to heed this advice. Most babies can handle dairy just fine.
On the other hand, blood, mucus or dark green bowel movements in your baby’s diapers could be signs of an allergy or intolerance. Continual crying throughout the day may be another symptom.
If you’re truly concerned that your baby may not be tolerating dairy well, then try eliminating it from your diet for at least two weeks — with your pediatrician’s go-ahead, of course.
Be sure to check ingredient lists carefully, too. Casein, the offending protein, is present in many products other than just milk.
While most foods are generally acceptable for nursing mothers, the same doesn’t hold true for medications. Some may affect your milk production, and others can be unsafe for your baby.
Hormonal birth control
Medical experts recommend being careful with oral contraceptives that contain estrogen. This hormone can be detrimental to your milk supply.
Stay away from estrogen-containing pills for at least the first three weeks. But even after your milk supply is established, it’s usually better to choose an alternative method so that you won’t put your feeding routine at risk.
Progestin-only pills, condoms and IUDs without hormones are a few options you can try.
Medicines with pseudoephedrine
Caring for a baby while your nose is stuffy and your head is pounding can be a real challenge. But even if you’re desperate for relief, you may need to avoid cold and allergy meds that contain pseudoephedrine.
While safe for babies, this ingredient can affect your milk production. You should at least hold off on using it for the first few weeks of your breastfeeding journey.
Also, pseudoephedrine can make nursing babies of any age a bit cranky.
Over-the-counter pain relievers
Yes, you can use pain relievers when you’re breastfeeding. But you should be careful which ones you choose. Most experts suggest using ibuprofen or acetaminophen, while reviews on naproxen for breastfeeding mothers are more mixed.
In general, avoid aspirin. While low levels in breastmilk may be fine, aspirin use in children is linked to a medical issue called Reye’s syndrome. And keep in mind that aspirin may be hiding in some upset stomach medications and other products as well.
When to See a Doctor
Your physician and your baby’s pediatrician can provide guidance about what to consume and what to avoid when you’re breastfeeding.
Turning to a medical professional is especially important if you suspect that your baby may have a food intolerance or allergy.
For example, if you see blood in your baby’s diaper, reach out for help. The doctor can rule out other potential causes and guide you through an elimination diet. You should also ask for advice if food allergies run in your family.
A doctor is also the best person to consult about which medications to take while nursing. If you need to make changes to prescriptions or over-the-counter meds, the doctor can help you wean off your current routine. And always touch base with your provider before stopping a medication (or starting a new diet).