Breastfeeding and your diet
Like most breastfeeding mums, you probably worry that something you eat or drink will pass into your breastmilk and harm your baby. While it's true that what goes into your body usually does make its way into your milk supply, the amount is generally a tiny fraction of what you ingest. See how various substances can affect your breastmilk and what precautions you should take in our charts below.
•Alcohol, Caffeine, Nicotine
You have eaten what the doctor ordered for nine months, and now you're dying for a big bowl of curry with all the trimmings. While there's no reason not to indulge the occasional craving, you might want to put off eating the spicy food (and onions and cheese) until you're sure your baby isn't sensitive to what you're eating. Wind and restlessness in your baby are the most common signs that something you ate made its way into your breastmilk; diarrhoea and a rash could indicate an allergy. Talk to your doctor before making any alterations to your diet - good nutrition is essential for breastfeeding mothers.
|Cabbage, onion, garlic, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and turnips can cause wind and restlessness, which usually lasts about 24 hours and then disappears.||Cut out the offending foods in your diet (at least for the first few months of breastfeeding) until your baby's gastrointestinal tract is more developed.|
|Cow's milk products (such as milk, cheese, yogurt and even butter) in your diet may cause an allergic reaction in your baby. Symptoms can appear anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours after breastfeeding and may include diarrhoea, rash, restlessness, and wind or runny nose, cough, or congestion.||Cut out all dairy products from your diet for two weeks. Then, one by one, return each dairy product to your diet to see whether your baby has a reaction after breastfeeding.|
|Eggs, citrus foods, wheat, corn, fish, peanuts, nuts, soy, and chocolate are common allergens or irritants. Symptoms may include restlessness, vomiting, diarrhoea, rashes, hives, or sniffles. "Stray" proteins from some of these foods may be absorbed into your bloodstream and pass into your milk.||Keep a chart of what you've been eating, and when. Cut out the suspect foods for about a week (long enough to get them completely out of your system), then reintroduce one food at a time to find the culprit. But don't drastically alter your diet without talking to your doctor first.|
Although herbs are considered natural alternatives to certain drugs, they can be just as powerful - and just as toxic. Like drugs, chemical ingredients from herbs do get into breast milk. While herbs such as fenugreek and fennel have been used for centuries to increase a breastfeeding mother's milk supply, little is known about how herbs affect a breastfeeding baby. You should check with your doctor before taking any herbal remedy.
|Herbs||What you should know|
|Chamomile, ginger, St. John's wort, echinacea||Taken in teas, these herbs probably pose no danger to your baby. However, drink any herbal tea with caution, especially when you don't know all the ingredients (stay away from goldenseal, which often comes with echinacea). Most teas are benign, but some have been known to cause liver toxicity.|
|Ground fenugreek, anise, borage, raspberry leaves, dill, agnus castus, garlic, nettles, fennel seeds, vervain, cinnamon||These herbs are often used as milk boosters and are generally safe for your baby. Taking any of these herbs in high dosages may cause your perspiration to smell like maple syrup.|
|Mint, sage, parsley||These herbs, most often eaten in food, may dry up your milk supply. Avoid them if you are trying to breastfeed, but you could use them when you start to wean - they won't hurt your baby.|
|Feverfew||This herb is used to treat migraines. Don't take it while breastfeeding, as it may increase your baby's heart rate.|
Alcohol, Caffeine, and Nicotine
It's just as important to safeguard your baby from the ill effects of alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine while breastfeeding as it was when you were pregnant.
|Substance||What it does||What you can do|
|Alcohol||Although alcohol passes through your milk, the amount your baby gets is much less than the amount you drink. Studies have shown that alcohol levels in breast milk peak about 30 to 90 minutes after one drink.||You may want to avoid all alcohol if you can, but it's probably fine to have one or two glasses of beer or wine a week. If you want to indulge, wait until the last feed of the day - just after you feed rather than just before - to allow a couple of hours per drink for the alcohol to metabolise.|
|Caffeine||Your baby may be more irritable and feed more frequently if you ingest a lot of caffeine. Babies can't get rid of caffeine efficiently, so it can build up in their systems. Remember, caffeine can be found in chocolate, soft drinks, and someherbal teas and medications, in addition to coffee and tea. Too much caffeine can also cause sleep problems and nervousness.||One or two cups of coffee a day won't harm your baby, but try to avoid caffeine or at least reduce your intake while you're breastfeeding. Try drinking decaffeinated coffee and tea and avoid colas and other carbonated drinks that have added caffeine.|
|Nicotine||Nicotine ingested by smoking tobacco can get into breast milk. Heavy smoking (more than 20 a day) has been known to decrease milk production and to cause vomiting, diarrhoea, rapid heart rate, and restlessness in babies. In general, though, nicotine is not easily absorbed into a baby's intestinal tract and is quickly metabolised. Babies of smokers are prone to colic and respiratory infections and smoking can increase the risk of SIDS in newborns.||Stop smoking, for you and your baby's sake. But if you just can't give up while you're breastfeeding, try cutting down on the number of cigarettes you smoke each day, and don't smoke just before breastfeeding or around your baby, especially indoors.|