Foods to avoid when breastfeeding

Lise Bosch
Lise Bosch
Lise is a South African-born and Aussie-raised creative working as Kiindred's in-house writer and editor. With a journalism degree and experience in the beauty industry, she has a passion for family and lifestyle content. On her days off, she’s finding the latest and greatest brunch spots and trying to work through the longest TBR list known to humankind. It’s a work in...
Updated on Mar 28, 2024 · 9 mins read

For many new mums, breastfeeding can be a challenging journey in and of itself. What you always believed would be this simple, beautiful bonding time with your little one can have a whole lot of hurdles, late night feeds, and “why are there claw marks on my chest?” moments (side note – trimming your baby’s fingernails is a game-changer).


So when you think back to all the (delicious) foods you had to dodge when you were pregnant, it can make you worry that there are also “don’t eat” rules for breastfeeding just to keep you on your toes. After all, surely some nasties can linger in breast milk and affect the baby?

Fortunately, according to research and government resources, there’s not enough evidence to suggest that there are foods you need to completely dodge in case they upset your baby or give them issues like diarrhoea or colic.

There are, however, certain foods and drinks to avoid or moderate. So this article will guide you through some good-to-knows for breastfeeding mothers, like if alcohol is still a no-go and how much caffeine can you have (if any at all?).

From foods to avoid when breastfeeding, to frequently asked questions and what a healthy diet to eat while breastfeeding looks like, we’re getting you in the know.

domperidone for breastfeeding

What foods can upset a breastfed baby?


There is little research to suggest that a particular food can cause gas or other issues in babies. Some breastfeeding foods that have been thrown around as potentially creating discomfort in babies include more gassy goods like cabbage, broccoli and beans. But don’t chuck these out of the cupboard quite yet, as most babies are fine with them in breast milk.

If your baby is responding oddly after a meal, it may indicate a food intolerance or a food allergy.

Newborn babies and infants are often temporarily allergic to cow’s milk, due to having an intolerance for the protein. Cow’s milk consumed by mum is broken down, absorbed in the gut and then used to make human milk protein. So if there’s enough of the building blocks of cow’s milk protein in your breast milk, it might cause a dairy allergy in your baby.

Other foods that are common sources of allergies in babies include wheat, corn, soy, oats, eggs, nuts, and fish.

Signs that your baby might be having a reaction include:

  • skin rashes like hives or eczema
  • vomiting
  • constipation
  • wheezing
  • excessive gas
  • congestion
  • abnormal fussiness
  • bloody stools
  • anaphylaxis – which requires urgent medical attention

These symptoms could be worth investigating with a GP or paediatrician to identify the problematic food.

Keeping track of when your child is experiencing these symptoms and after which meals will help you get to the root of it quicker.

Whilst it’s good to keep an eye on how your baby is responding to breastmilk and potential intolerances, don’t cut out food groups from your diet without consulting a doctor as this could cut out vital nutrients.


Foods to avoid when breastfeeding


1. Alcohol

We get it, it feels like forever ago that you could just have a cheeky drink with your mates. Whilst alcohol isn’t as dangerous in a breastfeeding diet as it was during pregnancy, not drinking is still seen as the safest option by experts.

If you do choose to drink alcohol, leave it until after the first month and limit it to the occasional 1-2 standard drinks. To limit how much alcohol transfers your baby, wait a few hours to breastfeed after drinking alcohol.

Alcohol slips into breast milk from your blood, which is why it’ll be in your breast milk for about 30 minutes to an hour (depending on the sex assigned at birth, hormones, body weight, and other typical factors) after you start drinking.

Excessive alcohol consumption could decrease your breast milk supply, making feeds tricky and far between, as well as impacting your baby’s sleep patterns and development.

2. Caffeine

Before you freak out, most breastfeeding mums are totally good to have a normal amount of caffeine.

What is normal, you ask?

About 2-3 cups of coffee and 3-4 cups of tea a day. Not that bad, right? But your caffeine intake is still something to stay mindful of, especially if you consume lots of coffee, chocolate, or energy drinks in one day (and in that case, it’s probably more about healthy eating habits and a balanced diet).

If too much caffeine gets into your breast milk, your baby may become unhappy, restless, colicky and struggle to sleep. Newborn babies are particularly susceptible to this, as it takes them much longer to process caffeine.

foods to avoid in breastfeeding
3. Fish high in mercury

A quick disclaimer before we get into this one: it’s important to remember that eating enough fish is really beneficial during breastfeeding due to being rich in omega-3 fatty acids (which are great for your baby). While all fish contain some level of mercury, some have higher levels which (once it gets into breast milk) can negatively impact your baby’s developing nervous system.

This could cause delays in their cognitive skills, fine motor skills, language development and visual-spatial awareness.

However, according to the NSW Food Authority, most fish in Australia are low in mercury. It would also take regular consumption of mercury-rich fish to impact your little one, and having less than 3 serves a week is usually safe. So, as with most dietary things, balance is key.


What is a healthy breastfeeding diet?


Now that we’ve gone into foods you should avoid, you might be wondering….so what are some healthy breastfeeding foods? If you’re looking for what you should eat while breastfeeding, stick to that age-old doctor’s instruction of a healthy and balanced diet. Breastfeeding takes up a lot of energy (as you’ll know) as well as nutrients, so you need to supply your body with the good stuff it needs.

After all, you can’t pour from an empty cup. According to the Australian Breastfeeding Association, “You don’t need a ‘perfect’ diet for breastfeeding. In general, your diet is important for your own health and energy levels, rather than affecting your breastmilk and your baby.”

So instead of only worrying about foods to avoid while breastfeeding, ensure you have a nutritious and rounded diet. That means opting for food that is rich in:

  • Protein – we’re talking leant meats, poultry, fish and seafood, and dairy products
  • Calcium – more dairy products, fish, seeds, beans and lentils
  • Iodine – the best sources of iodine is bread, salt, seafood and dairy products
  • Iron – meats, poultry, seafood, fried fruit, wholemeal pasta and bread, and tofu.
  • Vitamin D – you can find vitamin D in fatty fish like salmon, herring and sardines, canned tuna, egg yolks, and mushrooms.

And of course, don’t forget fluids. You should drink at least eight cups per day to help satisfy your thirst (which there’s probably plenty of right now). This fluid intake should primarily consist of water, so don’t just stock up on tea or sugary drinks.

Breastfeeding diet FAQS


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Should I avoid foods with strong flavours?

Whilst many of us have been told to avoid spicy foods or strongly flavoured foods, current research shows that though flavours like garlic can change the smell of breast milk, it usually doesn’t impact infants or make them fussier.

Infants rarely react to the foods their mother eats (phew!) so you don’t have to worry about skipping your favourite Indian takeout.

Can you have a vegetarian or vegan diet while breastfeeding?

For the most part, it’s safe to follow a vegetarian or vegan diet while breastfeeding. Studies are in favour of the statement that vegetarian and vegan mums are still able to produce nutritionally valuable milk for their baby, as long as you’re still nourishing and fuelling your body with the right foods. To make sure you still get a good dose of protein, consider soy products and meat alternatives as well as nuts, seeds and whole grains.

If you can’t consume dairy, other sources of calcium include dark green vegetables or calcium-fortified options like juices, cereals, soy milks and tofu.

In some cases, you may need to take certain nutrition supplements to ensure neither of you are dipping into deficiencies. Often, you’ll be recommended a daily vitamin B-12 supplement from your doctor as it’s an important nutrient that’s found almost exclusively in animal products. Which is why it’s always best to touch base with your health provider to find out what’s best for you and your baby.

Do I need extra calories while breastfeeding?

As much as you might want to get your pre-baby body back, it’s important you maintain a steady energy intake as breastfeeding burns a fair bit of kilojoules. It’s a lot of work for your body if you think about it. So it’s best to ditch the calorie counting and just focus on eating regular meals from diverse food groups.

Listen to your body and follow its cues. If you’re unsure, it’s always best to chat with your doctor or dietician if you’re uncertain about your breastfeeding diet.

Can I diet during breastfeeding?

If you want to diet during breastfeeding, make sure to take gradual steps and continue fuelling your body with nourishing and wholesome foods. Balance healthy eating with gentle exercise to have a rounded approach.

Whilst it’s safe for breastfeeding mums to lose up to half a kilo per week, you don’t want to use crash or fad diets that instigate rapid weight loss. These won’t get you or your baby the right nutrients.

Final thoughts


After pregnancy, you’re probably itching to eat other foods and enjoy a varied diet again (you can finally embrace soft cheese!). Whilst it’s in every parent’s nature to worry about doing the best for their baby, feel reassured that there aren’t foods you should totally avoid while breastfeeding.

It’s about moderation and creating a balanced diet that can fuel your body and your baby’s development. So enjoy cups of tea, eat up the spicy dish, and make sure to follow a healthy diet with key nutrients to sustain you and your little one.

Sources:

Better Health Channel, Breastfeeding and your diet, 2023

Australian Breastfeeding Association, Breastfeeding and your diet, 2022

The Royal Women’s Hospital, Good Nutrition for Breastfeeding, 2021

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