Breast milk can be an optimal source of nutrition for infants, provided that new mothers make healthful food and beverage choices. Dietary preferences can affect breast milk in a number of ways: Certain foods may flavor breast milk, make infants fussy or negatively impact their development. All babies are different; a food may affect one baby but not another. As a general rule of thumb, you'll find that most of the foods you need to avoid are the same ones you had to steer clear of while you were pregnant.
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Fish is an excellent source of protein and essential fatty acids. While you are breast-feeding however, you should avoid or limit your intake of fish from unknown sources and fish that is high in mercury. High levels of mercury can damage your baby’s developing nervous system. Foods high in mercury include shark, swordfish, tilefish and king mackerel. You should also avoid fresh-water fish that may come from contaminated waters and limit your tuna intake to no more than one tuna steak or two cans per week.
As with pregnancy, it is best to limit your caffeine intake while breast-feeding. One to two cups of coffee, tea or soda per day is usually tolerated, but each baby responds differently. The more caffeine you consume, the more it may affect you and your baby. When you consume caffeine, it enters your bloodstream, with a small amount ending up in your breast milk. Your baby’s body cannot break down and excrete caffeine, so, over time, it may accumulate and cause irritability and sleep disturbances.
A breast-fed baby may have an allergic reaction or sensitivity to a food or drink you consume. The most common food allergens are cow’s milk, eggs, nuts and peanuts. Signs to watch for include vomiting; consistent spitting up; belly pain, demonstrated by excessive gas or pulling up of the knees; bloody, loose and frequent stools; swelling or rash; wheezing or difficulty breathing; runny nose or cough; and fussiness. To pinpoint a problem food, you may want to keep a journal of what you eat and drink and the subsequent reaction. It is important to work with your doctor and avoid any foods that seem to cause an allergic reaction.
Some babies do not like the taste of their mother’s breast milk after they have eaten spicy foods. Spicy foods may be harsh on your baby’s digestive system, causing diarrhea, upset stomach, abdominal pain and even vomiting. Spicy foods that may be a problem include pepper, chili, curry, onions, garlic and cinnamon.
You do not have to completely avoid alcohol, but you should drink in moderation and avoid breast-feeding while the alcohol is still in your system. It takes about two hours for alcohol to be digested and metabolized. This means that you should not breast-feed during this time. You may want to pump your milk and dump it, then nurse your baby. This ensures there is no remaining alcohol in your breast milk. Younger babies will have a harder time processing alcohol than older babies because their livers are still immature. In addition to drinking in moderation, it is also a good idea to drink water and consume food with alcohol, as this will help it metabolize more quickly.
Gas-Producing Fruits and Vegetables
Certain babies may be more sensitive to some foods. You may discover that your infant gets gassy or fussy after you eat gas-forming fruits and vegetables. Problem vegetables might include beans, corn, broccoli, cucumbers, Brussels sprouts, cabbage or tomatoes. Citrus fruits and juices, strawberries and cherries are examples of fruit that might be a problem.