For nine months (or more!), you’ve carefully avoided deli meats, unpasteurized cheeses, alcohol and other foods that you just couldn’t stomach during pregnancy. Now that your beautiful baby is here, you may wonder if it’s okay to throw those back on your grocery list if you’re nursing. Could what you eat and drink harm the baby?
How much of what you eat and drink ends up in breastmilk?
Breastmilk is not made directly from the foods you consume. Instead, breastmilk is made in the breasts, directly from your blood. “When you eat, drink or take medications, those substances are broken down by your gastrointestinal tract during digestion,” said Melissa Epley, RN, a lactation consultant with Banner Health. “Then small molecule-sized components are absorbed in the blood and enter the breastmilk during a process called diffusion. Generally, it can take about 4 to 6 hours, on average, to enter the breastmilk.”
The good news here is that no foods or drinks are off-limits, but everything should be done in moderation. While the composition of your breastmilk is tightly regulated by your body, there are a few things to keep in mind.
5 Things for Breastfeeding Moms to Consider
1. Drink alcohol in moderation
While not drinking alcohol is the safest option for breastfeeding mothers, moderate drinking (that’s about 1 drink a day) is not known to be harmful to the baby. “Less than 2% of alcohol consumed by the mother reaches her milk,” Epley said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends mothers wait two hours per drink before breastfeeding.
You may have heard from other moms to “pump and dump” your milk after you’ve consumed alcohol, but this won’t eliminate the alcohol faster. “Alcohol doesn’t accumulate in the breastmilk,” Epley said. “It leaves the breastmilk as it does the blood.”
2. Avoid certain fish
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that everyone, especially pregnant and nursing mothers, avoid eating certain species of fish that typically contain high levels of mercury. These fish include shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish. Because albacore (solid white) tuna contains three times more mercury than light tuna, the FDA has different recommendations. “Breastfeeding mothers should limit their consumption of albacore tuna to about 6 ounces per week,” Epley said.
When it comes to raw fish and sushi, it is okay to eat as long as it’s from a reputable source and prepared safely. As with any raw food, be mindful that sushi can carry bacteria or parasites.
3. Limit caffeine
Being a mom is exhausting. Although you might not have been a coffee drinker before, you may find yourself reaching for some as a pick-me-up. Just be mindful of how much you’re consuming as too much could disrupt your baby’s naptime or bedtime.
“Caffeine intake should be limited to 1 to 2 servings a day,” Epley said. “Studies suggest peak levels of caffeine are found in breastmilk about an hour or two after ingestion.”
4. Keep a food diary
If you notice your baby is fussy or gassy after you consume certain foods, a food journal or diary may be helpful. You can track their reactions as you eliminate or add back in foods which can help to pinpoint the culprit in your diet and breast milk. The same goes for you if you notice symptoms of discomfort. If your baby has vomiting, diarrhea, bloody stools, skin rashes, and poor sleep patterns, let their doctor know.
5. Natural doesn’t always mean safe
Just because it says “natural” on the label, it doesn’t always mean it’s safe. Most herbs, vitamins and supplements haven’t been thoroughly researched in lactation and generally aren’t approved by the FDA.
“It’s best to speak with your doctor, a lactation consultant or a qualified herb specialist before beginning any herbal or homeopathic therapy,” Epley said. “It’s recommended that a breastfeeding mother continue to take a daily prenatal vitamin as long as she breastfeeds or provides breastmilk for her baby.”
Got Questions? We Can Help
Most things consumed while breastfeeding are safe in moderation. But when in doubt, it’s best to speak with your doctor or a board-certified lactation consultant for support. You can contact the Infant Risk Center at 800-352-2519 (M-F, 8AM to 5PM CST) for more information about specific medications and breastfeeding compatibility. To find a Banner Health specialist near you, visit bannerhealth.com.