Many new mothers wonder if they should be on a special diet while breastfeeding, but the answer is no. You can take in the same number of calories that you did before becoming pregnant, which helps with weight loss after birth. There are no foods you have to avoid. In fact, you can continue to enjoy the foods that are important to your family and those special meals you know and love.
As for how your diet affects your baby, there are no special foods that will help you make more milk. You may find that some foods cause stomach upset in your baby. You can try avoiding those foods to see if your baby feels better and ask your baby’s doctor for help.
Keep These Important Nutrition Tips in Mind
- Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated (but fluid intake does not affect the amount of breast milk you make). Drink when you are thirsty, and drink more fluids if your urine is dark yellow. A common suggestion is to drink a glass of water or other beverage every time you breastfeed. Limit beverages that contain added sugars, such as soft drinks and fruit drinks.
- Drinking a moderate amount (up to two to three cups/a day) of coffee or other caffeinated beverages does not cause a problem for most breastfeeding babies. Too much caffeine can cause the baby to be fussy or not sleep well.
- Vitamin and mineral supplements cannot replace a healthy diet. In addition to healthy food choices, some breastfeeding women may need a multivitamin and mineral supplement. Talk with your doctor to find out if you need a supplement.
If you follow a vegan diet or one that does not include any form of animal protein, you or your baby might not get enough vitamin B12 in your bodies. This can also happen if you eat meat, but not enough. In a baby, this can cause symptoms such as loss of appetite, slow motor development, being very tired, weak muscles, vomiting, and blood problems. You can protect your baby’s health and yours by taking vitamin B12 supplements while breastfeeding. Talk to your doctor about your vitamin B12 needs.
Can a Baby be Allergic to Breast Milk?
Research shows that a mother’s milk is affected only slightly by the foods she eats. Breastfeeding mothers can eat whatever they have eaten during their lifetimes and do not need to avoid certain foods. Babies love the flavors of foods that come through in your milk. Sometimes a baby may be sensitive to something you eat, such as dairy products like milk and cheese. Symptoms in your baby of an allergy or sensitivity to something you eat include some or all of these:
- Green stools with mucus and/or blood, diarrhea, vomiting
- Rash, eczema (EG-zuh-muh), dermatitis, hives, dry skin
- Fussiness during and/or after feedings
- Crying for long periods without being able to feel consoled
- Sudden waking with discomfort
- Wheezing or coughing
Babies who are highly sensitive usually react to the food the mother eats within minutes or within four to 24 hours afterward. These signs do not mean the baby is allergic to your milk itself, only to something you are eating. If you stop eating whatever is bothering your baby or eat less of it, the problem usually goes away on its own. You also can talk with your baby’s doctor about any symptoms. If your baby ever has problems breathing, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.
What About Drugs and Alcohol?
Is it safe to smoke, drink, or use drugs? If you smoke, it is best for you and your baby to quit as soon as possible. If you can’t quit, it is still better to breastfeed because it can help protect your baby from respiratory problems and sudden infant death syndrome. Be sure to smoke away from your baby and change your clothes to keep your baby away from the chemicals smoking leaves behind. Ask a health care provider for help quitting smoking!
You should avoid alcohol, especially in large amounts. An occasional drink is okay, but avoid breastfeeding for two hours after the drink. It is not safe for you to use or be dependent on an illicit drug. Drugs such as cocaine, marijuana, heroine, and PCP harm your baby. Some reported side effects in babies include seizures, vomiting, poor feeding and tremors.
Health and Nutrition for New Moms
The USDA’s online, interactive tool can help you choose foods based on your baby’s nursing habits and your
energy needs. Visit ChooseMyPlate.gov.
- Figure out how much you need to eat
- Choose healthy foods
- Get the vitamins and minerals you need
Carol "C.K." Kristich, R.N., worked in the Mother and Baby Unit. She retired from Chesapeake Regional in 2019 after more than 40 years of dedicated service.