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Breastfeeding Tips: What Foods to Limit

A mother feeding her baby milk in a bottle

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You’ve been limiting or avoiding certain foods for nine months to make sure your baby stays happy and healthy in the womb, but now that your baby is in your arms, you’re wondering if you still need to watch what you eat. Although your body regulates the composition of your breast milk, what you eat can impact it.

Maria Villa, MD, AdventHealth OB/GYN, explains more about foods you should limit while breastfeeding and how to know if what you’re eating is affecting your baby.

Foods to Limit While Breastfeeding

Research shows that myths about a mother’s diet while breastfeeding can have a negative impact, creating more barriers to breastfeeding and causing unnecessary concerns.

“There are no foods that a mother has to completely avoid during breastfeeding unless their baby reacts negatively to the food,” says Dr. Villa. If your little one is having digestive issues, your doctor might recommend eliminating certain foods while nursing.

In general, it’s recommended to eat a well-balanced diet and limit a few things that could potentially affect the quality of your breast milk.

Fish High in Mercury

The USDA and FDA recommend that pregnant and breastfeeding moms stay away from shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish due to higher mercury levels. “Mercury is a common water pollutant that can be toxic, especially for infants and children,” explains Dr. Villa.

High exposures to mercury can affect your baby’s central nervous system and cause delays or impairments in:

  • Cognition
  • Fine motor skills
  • Speech and language development
  • Visual-spatial awareness

So, while fish is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids that aid in brain development for infants, it’s best to choose low-mercury fish, such as salmon, pollock, catfish, shrimp and canned light tuna.

Alcohol

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say that abstaining from alcohol is the safest option while breastfeeding. But they also state that one drink per day is not known to be harmful to a nursing baby, especially if you wait at least two hours after a single drink before nursing.

“It’s important to note that exposure to alcohol above moderate levels through breast milk could be damaging to an infant’s development, growth and sleep,” cautions Dr. Villa, “too much alcohol can also dangerously affect your ability to care for your child safely.”

Herbs: Peppermint, Sage and Parsley

Maybe you love the taste of parsley and sage in your meals, but did you know that these herbs are also antigalactagogues? This means that they’ve been known to decrease breast milk production in high doses.

“Adding a sprinkle of parsley to your salad or enjoying a cup of peppermint tea shouldn’t reduce your milk too much, but if you notice your production dropping off after consuming these herbs, it’s best to avoid them,” explains Dr. Villa.

Remember: a good rule of thumb during pregnancy and breastfeeding is to always run any new supplements, teas or other dietary changes past your doctor first.

How To Tell if What You’re Eating Is Affecting Your Baby

What you eat affects the flavor of your breast milk, so if you enjoy an extra garlicky or spicy meal, you may notice that your baby reacts a bit to the new taste. You may also see your baby is fussier or gassier after a meal.

Dr. Villa suggests that mothers keep a food journal to track these reactions and limit or avoid certain foods until they can pinpoint what affects their milk and their baby.

If you eat or drink something your baby is allergic to, you may notice more severe reactions or symptoms. Keep an eye out for these signs of a severe allergic reaction:

  • Blood or mucus in stool
  • Diarrhea
  • Indications of abdominal pain like a tight, swollen belly
  • Severe fussiness
  • Skin rash, eczema or hives
  • Vomiting
  • Wheezing or difficulty breathing

If you’re concerned that your baby has an allergic reaction, call your pediatrician immediately or take them to the ER, Dr. Villa advises.

Caring for You and Your Little One

Whether you’re a first-time mom or just had your third, the experienced team at AdventHealth Zephryhills is here to help keep you strong, confident and informed. If you’re worried about your milk production or are struggling to breastfeed your little one, we’re here to support you with whole-person care. Click here to learn more and schedule an appointment.

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