PAMF Health Blog

Be Well, Be Well Informed

Breastfeeding and Diet

Posted on Sep 9, 2014

Mom holding baby

You’ve been careful about what you eat and drink during your pregnancy to do what’s best for your baby. Now that you’re breastfeeding your precious little one, can you resume enjoying a glass of wine or your favorite soft cheese or sushi?

“Yes,” says Joanna Koch, a lactation consultant at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation. “It’s time to return to and enjoy your normal diet.” Here are her answers to new moms’ common questions about what you can and can’t eat during breastfeeding. 

What diet is best during breastfeeding?

Independent of your diet, your breast milk is perfect for your baby. However, you’ll have more energy, be healthier and feel better if you eat the right foods. Check out the United States Department of Agriculture’s ChooseMyPlate website for healthy eating tips.

Although you may choose to continue taking a prenatal vitamin, a well-balanced diet gives you all you need. Check with your doctor if your diet is giving you adequate calcium and whether you may need a vitamin D supplement.

“We’ve been supporting our babies with breast milk for hundreds of thousands of years without special diets and supplements,” says Koch. “And around the world today women are making plenty of nutritious milk on extremely varied diets.”

Does breastfeeding require more calories?

While it’s true that making 24 to 30 ounces of milk a day uses approximately 500 calories, this doesn’t mean you have to make a special effort to eat more. Just follow your appetite and have plenty of nutritious snacks.

Are there foods that will make my baby fussy?

Follow your babies’ cues to learn if some foods are making his or her tummy uncomfortable. Most babies tolerate mom’s diet well but some will let you know there’s a problem. What you eat for lunch is in your milk in an hour or so. Your baby may switch from delightful to grumpy if that broccoli or spicy Thai food dish doesn’t sit well with him or her.

How about coffee and alcohol?

It’s fine to start your day with a cup or two of coffee or tea. Only a minimal amount of caffeine reaches your baby and this is not enough to cause concern.

If you want to enjoy a serving of wine (one serving is about five ounces) with dinner you can do so. The alcohol level in your milk is always exactly the same as in your bloodstream – it is not stored or concentrated in your milk. If you drink a glass of wine quickly it can cause a brief spike of alcohol in your blood. In that case, delay breastfeeding for two hours, which is the time it takes for one glass of wine to be metabolized. If you prefer, you can breastfeed right before enjoying your wine.

What about medications?

Always tell your doctor and your pediatrician what medications you are taking. They will be able to advise you on whether it’s safe to continue certain medications while breastfeeding. You can also check the National Institutes of Health LactMed database for information on drugs and their effect on breastfeeding.

Is there anything I can eat or drink to increase my milk supply?

Not really. Dehydration can certainly lower your supply of milk. But drinking too much water can also lower your milk supply, according to La Leche League International and other reputable sources.

“Generally, the quantity of milk you make depends on what your baby (or your pump) tells your breasts to do,” explains Koch. “Empty breasts get a strong signal to make milk faster. Milk left in the breasts tells them to slow down.”

If you want to learn more about how your body makes milk, check this overview on the Low Milk Supply Information and Support website.

“Every culture has its traditions about which foods will help a mother make more milk,” says Koch. “None of these ideas are harmful and perhaps some are helpful, but there’s no research to confirm that herbs, teas and foods make a useful difference.”

There’s so much conflicting information – where can I get the best advice?

“Joining a breastfeeding support group can be really helpful, as can contacting a lactation consultant to chat about your concerns,” says Koch.

Joanna KochJoanna Koch is a registered lactation consultant at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation.


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