Diet and breastfeeding
Many mothers worry about how their diet will affect their baby whilst breastfeeding. There are memes and articles all over the place with great long lists of ‘foods to avoid whilst breastfeeding’! The truth is, as long as your baby does not have any allergies, you can eat whatever you like (with a couple limitations). Whilst it’s always best to eat a good diet to maintain your own health, what you eat does not have a huge effect on the quality of your milk or your supply.
Moderate alcohol consumption whilst breastfeeding is considered safe. Alcohol passes freely in and out of breastmilk and rises and falls at about the same rate as your blood alcohol level, so there is no need to ‘pump and dump’. Some mothers find that their babies are fussier and sleep less if they have consumed alcohol, so follow your baby’s lead. Although only very small amounts of alcohol enter your breastmilk, this has not been extensively studied and so it is sensible to assume that regularly consuming large amounts of alcohol whilst breastfeeding may be harmful to your baby, so don’t over-do it, and never bedshare after drinking. More info on this can be found here.
The NHS recommend that you limit caffeine intake to about 200mg/day. Caffeine does pass into breastmilk, some babies are quite sensitive to it and others aren’t. It tends to have a greater effect on younger babies. Some women find they can drink coffee all day with no effect on their baby, others find that just one cup of tea has their baby over-stimulated. Follow your baby’s lead.
Oily fish is a fantastic source of Omega 3 and vitamin D, but it also contains low levels of pollutants so should be limited to two portions a week.
There is no reason to avoid acidic food such as citrus fruits, tomatoes, vinegar etc. Eating a large amount of acidic food does not change the pH of your blood plasma. Your breastmilk is made from your blood—not the contents of your stomach.
IBCLC on maternal diet
Spicy and gassy food
There is no reason to avoid spicy foods whilst breastfeeding. Women from some cultures eat lots and lots of spicy foods, and their babies suffer no more digestive issues than babies who’s mother’s eat no spicy foods.
Some vegetables, such as cabbage, beans and Sprouts, might make you feel gassy and bloated. This gassiness and bloating is caused by your body breaking down the carbohydrates in those foods. Those carbohydrates do not enter your milk undigested, so this will not effect your milk. As above, your milk is made from your blood, not the contents of your stomach.
It is possible for your baby to have an intollerence to the proteins in your diet, but this is very rare. If you think your baby has an intollerence to a food in your diet causing fussiness or digestive problems, try cutting it out for a couple weeks, then reintroducing it to see if symptoms return.
Unless your baby has an allergy or intolerance to cows milk (or you’re vegan!) then there is no need to avoid dairy. CMPA is rare in breastfed babies, affecting around 0.5%. Symptoms generally include:
• Projectile vomiting
• Stools which are loose, frothy, mucousy and/or bloody stools
• Failure to thrive/weight loss/ slow weight gain
• Hives or other skin rashes
• Wheezing or breathing difficulties
CMPA is massively over diagnosed. A diagnosis of CMPA more often than not leads to women moving their baby on to a hydrolysed formula. In the past decade, despite there being no evidence that cases of CMPA have actually increased, the number of diagnoses have. Prescriptions for hydrolysed formulas have increased by 500%, and the amount of money which formula companies have made from sales of prescription formulas has increased by 700% (the cost of which falls to the NHS to cover). Formula companies funded the writing of guidelines for diagnosing CMPA. They are a main sponsor of the charity Allergy UK who run a helpline for parents, and they also run allergy training days for Dr’s, health visitors, and other healthcare professionals. Formula companies profit directly when babies are diagnosed with CMPA and given prescription formula, and it is believed that their influence is the driving force behind the huge increase in babies diagnosed with CMPA. A report on this was published in the British Medical Journal here.
Humans don’t really need cows milk in their diets, so if you want to cut out dairy that’s absolutely fine! Anecdotally, some women think that it helps for issues such as reflux and colic, though there isn’t any evidence to support this in the absence of an alergy. However, it is hidden in A LOT of unexpected places and takes up a bigger percentage of most people’s diets than you would expect! So if you do decide to cut it out, make sure that you’re finding other sources of calories and calcium to make up for it so that you do not lose too much weight or become deficient.
Lactose intolerance is extremely rare in breastfed babies. Lactose is the main sugar in your milk, whether you consume dairy or not.
Breastfeeding Network factsheet on CMPA