Breastfeeding – the Best Diet for you and Your New Baby (part 4) - Foods to avoid when you’re breastfeeding

- Give Up Coffee For Beautiful Breasts
- Welcome to your First Trimester
- Welcome to your Second Trimester
- Welcome to your Third Trimester

There aren’t any foods you need to avoid completely when breastfeeding, but the following should be consumed in limited amounts:

  • Don’t have more than two portions (140 g each) of oily fish each week. This is because oily fish, such as salmon and sardines, contains traces of pollutants, which can pass into your breast milk .
  • Avoid having more than one portion of shark, swordfish or marlin a week.
  • Try not to have too much caffeine. You may feel in need of a strong cup of coffee, especially if you haven’t slept well, but bear in mind that caffeine passes into breast milk, so it won’t just be you who enjoys the stimulant effect. Also, babies can’t metabolise caffeine as easily as adults can, and so caffeine can build up in your baby’s system. There is no specific caffeine limit for breastfeeding, but following the guidelines set for pregnancy would be sensible. Caffeine also makes you dehydrated, so it is important to have plenty of drinks without caffeine as well in order to keep your fluid levels up.
  • Alcohol should be drunk only occasionally as, like caffeine, it passes into breast milk. It is recommended that you don’t have more than 1 to 2 units once or twice a week. You may have heard that alcohol, particularly beer, is good for breastfeeding, but I’m afraid that this has been tested and shown to be a myth .

    Research has shown that drinking even small amounts of alcohol reduces the amount of milk women produce and affects breastfeeding. An experiment found that when women consumed orange juice containing 1 to 2 units of alcohol, they produced significantly less milk than when they had plain orange juice. Studies into the amount of milk babies consume after their mother has had a drink have also produced significant results. One study looked at the number of sucks the baby made in the first minute of breastfeeding. It was found that the suck rate was 15% greater when mothers had consumed 1 to 2 units of alcohol; however, the babies were found to consume 30% less milk. It seems that the babies had to work much harder to get milk when their mother had been drinking. It could be that alcohol affects the mother’s milk letdown (release of milk to the nipple area). Curiously, babies don’t seem to be put off by the smell or flavour of alcohol in the milk, which seems to be strongest 30 minutes to an hour after drinking. Babies given expressed milk from a bottle consume just as much when it contains alcohol as when it doesn’t.

    In the long term, having the odd drink is not likely to affect the amount of milk your baby takes. Although babies consume less in the 4 hours after alcohol is drunk, they appear to compensate to some extent 8–16 hours later by consuming more milk. However, drinking alcohol while breastfeeding can have other effects. Alcohol may make mothers feel sleepy, but it actually makes babies more restless and they spend less time in ‘active sleep’. Also, in the long term, it can affect a baby’s well-being. Regular drinking (one drink or more per day) has been found to affect a baby’s motor development adversely.

  • Some herbs are traditionally thought to dry up a woman’s milk supply. These haven’t been tested scientifically, but it might be sensible to avoid taking large doses of sage, mint or parsley while breastfeeding. Use in normal cooking is fine.

In the past, women with a family history of allergies were advised to avoid eating peanuts during pregnancy, but this is no longer considered necessary. It was thought that small amounts of peanut could pass into the breast milk and increase a baby’s risk of developing allergies. However, recent studies have shown this not to be the case and there is some evidence that early exposure to peanuts may even be beneficial.

Planning a night out

If you are going out and will be having a drink, it is best to plan your feeding beforehand. Alcohol clears from your breast milk at about the same rate as from your blood (just over 2 hours per unit). However, it varies slightly according to your weight. For example, if a 9-stone woman drank 6 units of alcohol, it would take about 14 hours to clear from her milk, whereas an 11-stone woman would clear the same amount in about 13 hours.

The level of alcohol in your milk isn’t affected by feeding, so ‘pumping and dumping’ is unnecessary. It is best to express enough milk before you start drinking to last your baby until the alcohol has completely left your system.

Women are sometimes advised to avoid orange juice, garlic, spicy meals or other foods while breastfeeding. Although it may be sensible to skip a very hot curry when you’ve just had a baby, generally there is no need to limit your diet ‘just in case’. You can eat as normal and just look out for any adverse effects. Possible reactions to food include general upset or restlessness, a rash, runny nose, wind, diarrhoea and explosive nappies.

If your baby has green bits in the nappy, it is probably not because he or she has consumed something they shouldn’t have. More likely, your baby has not been getting enough of the nutrient-rich hind milk that comes later during a feed after the watery fore milk. This sometimes happens because the baby is switched from one breast to the other before he or she has a chance to get the good stuff. If you are worried about the appearance of your baby’s stools, talk to your midwife or health visitor.

Sometimes your baby may be upset by something you have eaten, but it is hard to identify the food responsible or determine whether it was something completely unrelated. The section below on colic lists some of the foods most commonly thought to upset babies. Sometimes babies are allergic to specific proteins in the food you are eating. This is not common but is worth considering. An allergy to dairy foods is the most commonly talked about problem, and women may be advised by alternative and complementary therapists to cut out milk and dairy foods from their diet – sometimes without good reason. Only 0.5% of exclusively breastfed infants have allergies to cows’ milk protein, and there are many other reasons why babies suffer from problems such as eczema, diarrhoea and discomfort.

If you have eaten something that you suspect doesn’t agree with your baby, then you could try avoiding the food for a week, before trying it again. If the same thing happens, you might be better steering clear of it for a while. However, it is important that you don’t cut out whole food groups, such as dairy foods or foods containing wheat, without talking to your midwife, health visitor or doctor. If you do, both you and your baby could be missing out on essential nutrients.

 
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