In general, a breastfeeding mother doesn't need to change her diet or avoid specific foods while nursing. Most foods are safe to consume in moderation, even those that have traditionally been off-limits, such as alcoholic drinks. As long as the baby doesn't display any reaction to particular foods the mother eats, she can continue to enjoy a healthy varied diet while giving her baby the best food possible for his growth and development.
Foods to Limit
Some foods have components that need to be kept within reasonable limits but not necessarily avoided completely. Nursing mothers need not avoid alcohol, for example, but should limit intake to two or fewer drinks per week and no more than one in a single day. Mothers who do have a drink should wait about two hours after drinking before breastfeeding to allow the alcohol to clear out of the bloodstream. Foods and drinks with caffeine, such as coffee, tea, sodas and chocolate, are usually fine in moderation. Aim to keep total caffeine intake below about 300 mg per day, the equivalent of one or two cups of coffee.
While most breastfeeding moms don't need to worry about baby allergies during breastfeeding, babies with a family history of allergies may need special consideration. Dairy products, soy, wheat, eggs, nuts and corn may all cause allergies in susceptible babies who get these food proteins through their mothers' milk. Signs of an allergy include fussiness, congestion, eczema and constipation.
In some cases, a baby may develop a sensitivity to something in the mother's milk. The specific foods are different for different babies, and some infants never react to any foods. Some common culprits include citrus fruits, chocolate, strong spices, cruciferous vegetables, strawberries, pineapple, cherries and prunes. If you notice your baby become fussy at the breast or excessively gassy after you consume a particular food, try eliminating it for two to three weeks and see if symptoms subside. If symptoms do disappear within a week of stopping the suspect food, you might want to avoid consuming that particular food until your baby is weaned.
The food safety guidelines you followed during pregnancy need not be as strict during breastfeeding. While it is always a good idea to avoid undercooked or improperly handled food, things like soft-serve ice cream, sushi and deli meat are all acceptable while nursing. Nursing mothers should limit fish consumption to 12 oz, or less a week, because fish may be contaminated with mercury. Mothers should completely avoid fish high in mercury while breastfeeding. Fish to avoid include king mackerel, shark, tilefish and swordfish.