What Not to Eat When Breastfeeding

The Foods to Limit or Avoid and What to Choose Instead

Cheeseburger with French Fries and Glass of Beer, Close Up
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As a breastfeeding mom, you can pretty much eat anything you want. If you have an overall healthy, well-balanced diet, then you don't have to stop eating any of the foods you enjoy just because you're breastfeeding. Of course, it's only natural to worry about your diet now that you're making breast milk for your child. The good news is that there are just a few things that you have to be mindful of while you're breastfeeding.

What Not to Eat (or Drink) When You're Breastfeeding and What to Have Instead

Even though you can enjoy almost anything while you're breastfeeding, there are some things you should limit. Here are the foods you should cut back on or avoid altogether until after you wean your child from the breast along with some better options to choose instead. 

Alcohol 

When you're breastfeeding, it is not recommended to drink alcohol on a regular basis. Having a glass of wine with dinner now and then, or a drink or two with friends once in a while is generally OK. However, if you're having more than just an occasional drink it can: 

Alcohol can also impair your ability to care for your child. Plus, repeated exposure to alcohol through breast milk can be dangerous to your child's health and development.

What to Choose Instead: Thankfully, there are a variety of delicious beverages you can enjoy in place of alcohol. You can have:

You certainly do not have to miss out on enjoyable drinks just because you're breastfeeding and avoiding alcohol. 

Seafood High in Mercury

Mercury is a heavy metal and a naturally occurring element found on earth. A form of mercury called methylmercury is found in fish, and some fish contain more mercury than others. Fish high in mercury include: 

  • shark
  • swordfish
  • tilefish
  • king mackerel

Too much mercury can be dangerous for you and your breastfed child. Continuous, long-term exposure is toxic and poisonous to humans. It affects many parts of the body including the brain, nervous system, and kidneys. Mercury poisoning can even be deadly.

Mercury can have an even greater effect on babies who are exposed to excessive levels in the womb and through breast milk. Too much mercury can cause problems with the development of the brain and nervous system leading to issues with speech, coordination, attention, memory, and learning. 

What to Choose Instead: Just because some fish have more mercury than others doesn't mean you should completely avoid eating fish while you're breastfeeding. Fish and other types of seafood are an important source of protein, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and Omega-3 fatty acids. So, stay away from the ones that have high concentrations of mercury but continue to enjoy safer seafood options such as:

  • salmon
  • pollock
  • tilapia
  • flounder
  • catfish
  • shrimp
  • scallops
  • crab

You can enjoy these seafood choices that are lower in mercury about two or three times a week.

Tuna: There are different types of tuna with different levels of mercury.

  • Ahi, bigeye, and bluefin tuna contain higher amounts of mercury. You can limit the amount of these types of tuna.
  • Yellowfin and albacore (white) tuna have less mercury and are safe at approximately one serving a week.
  • Light canned tuna is the lowest in mercury. You can safely have two to three servings a week.

Foods and Drinks With Caffeine

It's OK to have one or two cups of coffee each day, but you don't want to take in too much more than that. Excessive caffeine intake can cause problems for both you and child. It's not just coffee, either. Caffeine can be found in:

  • tea 
  • soda
  • chocolate
  • energy drinks
  • headache medicine

So, if you have a few cups of coffee, a soda, and some chocolate, the caffeine can add up quickly without even realizing it. Too much caffeine can cause a drop in your supply of breast milk. Plus, since caffeine is another substance that goes into your breast milk, excessive caffeine could cause issues for your baby including:

What to Choose Instead: You may be tempted to reach for an extra cup of coffee or a soda in the afternoon, but think about trying:

It may be just the thing you need to get through that afternoon lull.

Fatty Meats and Fried Foods

Fried foods and fatty meats are high in saturated fats and salt. They do not give you the nutrients you need while you're breastfeeding. So, you should limit your intake of foods such as: 

  • bacon
  • sausage
  • hot dogs
  • deep fried foods
  • cold cuts

Foods high in saturated fat and salt can cause weight gain and lead to health problems including diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, and depression. Saturated fat can raise the level of bad cholesterol in your blood and put you at a higher risk for heart disease. Too much salt can cause your body to retain water. Extra water makes your kidneys work harder, and over time it can lead to swelling and high blood pressure. It's certainly OK to have a little bit, but you don't want to overdo the fried or fatty foods.  

What to Choose Instead: You can certainly still have meat. It's an excellent source of healthy nutrients that you do need such as protein and iron. You just want to make better choices by picking:

  • leaner cuts of red meat 
  • chicken
  • turkey
  • fish

And, when deciding on a cooking method, roasting or grilling is healthier than frying. 

Junk Food

Candy, sweets, and desserts taste great, but they are just empty calories. They're not the kind of healthy calories that you need while you're breastfeeding. You can enjoy chips, cookies, and ice cream every so often, but moderation is the key. Too much junk food and sugar can affect your overall health and lead to:

  • weight gain
  • diabetes 
  • fatigue

The foods you eat also add flavor to your breast milk. Studies show that when babies are exposed to foods through breast milk, they are more likely to have a preference for those flavors and foods later on. By eating healthy foods while your breastfeeding, you could be helping your child develop better eating habits in the future. 

What to Choose Instead: Great treats to satisfy your crunchy, sweet, or salty cravings include:

  • cut up veggies 
  • fresh fruit 
  • nuts and seeds 
  • yogurt 
  • peanut butter 
  • dried fruits
  • whole grain cereals 

You are more likely to choose healthy alternatives to junk food if they are available and ready to grab when you need a quick snack. So, plan ahead and stock your cabinets and fridge with better options.

Certain Herbs and Spices

Some herbs and spices are believed to decrease the supply of breast milk and even help dry up the breast milk of women who aren't breastfeeding or those who are weaning. Using a little bit of the following herbs and spices to flavor your food will not cause any issues. But, if you consume too much of some herbs, you may see a dip in your milk supply. These herbs include: 

  • sage
  • rosemary
  • thyme
  • spearmint
  • peppermint 
  • parsley

What to Choose Instead: You don't have to avoid or decrease your use of all herbs. In place of the ones listed above, try herbs such as:

These herbs can not only add flavor to your food, but many breastfeeding moms use them to help increase their milk supply. 

A Word from Verywell

Women all over the world make quality breast milk for their children on all kinds of diets. You don't have to eat perfectly to make a healthy breast milk supply. So, while you want to try to eat a balanced diet, don't beat yourself up if you aren't the best eater. Do what you can to get the calories you need every day, and try to limit or avoid the above foods as much as possible. It's tough to make big changes all at once, so it may be easier to work on changing to the healthier alternatives a little at a time. You can also continue to take your prenatal vitamin to help get those extra vitamins and nutrients you need. And, of course, if you're concerned about your diet or you have any questions, be sure to talk to your doctor. 

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