Study: ‘Secondhand Sugars’ Can Pass Through Breast Milk, Affect Infant’s Health

Researchers find that fructose gets into breast milk through mom’s diet and can lead to increased body weight.

Image via Unsplash

Researchers say that sugar can be passed “secondhand” from mother to their infant by breast milk — and even the tiniest amount of fructose could affect the baby.

The new study by the University of Southern California found that a 1-month-old consuming the amount of fructose equivalent to the weight of a grain of rice (10 milligrams) in a full day’s serving of breast milk can be linked to increased body weight as well as muscle and bone mineral content.

Fructose is not naturally found in breast milk and what researchers call the “secondhand sugar” gets to the breast milk through the mother’s diet. Fructose makes its way into our diets by fruit, processed foods and beverages like Frappuccinos or energy drinks, even cranberry juice cocktails, according to a release on the university’s website. It’s not clear if the mothers consumed fructose-rich foods and drinks, as the study did not analyze their dietary data.

The “healthy” kind of sugars that are natural in breast milk are lactose, and researchers say that helps infants grow and develop, as opposed to fructose, which if exposed to children in high amounts during growth can lead to problems with development. High amounts of fructose in infants can also increase the risk for obesity, diabetes, fatty liver disease and heart disease throughout life, according to the release.

“Lactose is the main source of carbohydrate energy and breast milk is very beneficial, but it’s possible that you can lose some of that beneficial effect depending on maternal diet and how that may affect the composition of breast milk,” said Michael Goran, lead author of the study, in the release. “Other studies have shown that fructose and artificial sweeteners are particularly damaging during critical periods of growth and development in children. We are beginning to see that any amount of fructose in breast milk is risky.”

What the Study Found

Researchers studied 25 mothers who fed their infants breast milk, had less than 8 ounces of formula a week and no solid foods. Samples of the breast milk were taken when the babies were 1 month and 6 months old. The babies had their fat mass, muscle mass and bone mass tested.

“A single microgram of fructose per milliliter of breast milk — that’s 1,000 times lower than the amount of lactose found in breast milk — is associated with a 5 to 10 percent increase in body weight and body fat for infants at six months of age,” according to the release.

The study also showed the importance of the infant’s diet for the body’s metabolic system.

Researchers said fructose could, “coach pre-fat storage cells to become fat cells, raising the baby’s risk of one day becoming overweight or obese.”

What’s the Healthiest Option for Baby?

Even with the chance of “secondhand sugar,” researchers said breast milk is still considered “the gold standard diet for babies,” and that mothers should continue to breast feed for as long as possible or up to one year.

So what should you do to make sure your baby isn’t consuming too much “second hand sugar?”

“New moms can prevent passing secondhand sugars to their children by eating and drinking less sugars while pregnant or breastfeeding,” Goran said. “Caregivers can shield babies and children from harmful effects of sugars by carefully choosing infant formula, baby foods and snacks without added sugars or sweeteners.”

The study brings to light how fructose can affect infant metabolism, giving another factor for mothers to consider when choosing formula or breastfeeding for their infants.

“Early life is a period of rapid development and early nutrition is strongly linked to long-term health outcomes,” co-author of the study Tanya Aldere said in the release. “We know that the decision to breastfeed or bottle feed may have impacts on later health. Results from this work suggest that the composition of breast milk may be another important factor to consider in regard to infant health.”

The Effects of Sugar on Breastfed Babies

Feeding your baby nothing but breast milk for the first six months can ensure that he receives beneficial nutrients to help protect him from digestive and respiratory illnesses, including colic, heart problems, kidney and ear infections, as well as tooth decay. Breastfed babies also develop fewer food allergies than their formula-fed counterparts, according to Since your body is manufacturing your baby’s food during the breastfeeding months, it is important that you maintain a well-balanced, healthy diet.

Lactose in Breast Milk

You may find that you crave high-calorie or fatty foods during your breastfeeding months, but unless you are binging on sugary snacks, chances are the levels of lactose (milk sugar) in your breast milk remain constant. Each 100 milliliters of mature breast milk (produced after the first three weeks of lactation) supplies your baby with approximately 70 calories, made up of carbohydrates, proteins and fats, regardless of your diet, according to a report by Britain’s Department of Health and Social Security, quoted in

Sugary Diet

Eating too many high-sugar, fatty or salty foods during pregnancy or while breastfeeding could make your baby prone to obesity later in life. A 2007 Royal Veterinary College of London study published on suggests that eating empty calories while breastfeeding can impair a baby’s ability to control her appetite and promote junk-food cravings as she matures. Though the breast milk of a mother who consumes a high-sugar diet may contain the same level of lactose as a mother whose diet is healthy, it may also contain subtle chemistry that overstimulates reward centers in the baby’s brain and alters the hormonal signals that tell the baby when to stop eating.

Tooth Decay

Babies who are breastfed are less likely to get tooth decay than formula-fed babies, according to the Australian Breastfeeding Association. Naturally occurring antibodies in your breast milk help to inhibit the growth of bacteria in your baby’s mouth. And while these bacteria thrive on sucrose, the form of sugar found in infant formula, they are less likely to make use of the lactose found in breast milk. Instead, lactoferrin proteins in breast milk protect your child’s new teeth by helping to kill bacteria that causes decay. In addition, sugars that might pool in your baby’s mouth when sucking freely on a bottle are reflexively swallowed when your baby’s mouth releases your breast nipple during feedings.

Breastfeeding and Thrush

Thrush is a contagious yeast infection that could affect you or your baby during breastfeeding, when the combination of warmth, moisture and sugars can contribute to fungi on your nipples and in your baby’s mouth. Breastfeeding babies are more prone to thrush than bottle-fed babies because the sugars in breast milk feed the yeast, which can grow in small cracks in and around a mother’s nipples over time. The yeast is then transferred to the baby’s mouth during feedings. Taking antibiotics can increase the likelihood of developing thrush, as can oral contraceptives or steroid medications. Thrush can be treated by oral or topical medications and vigilant hygiene, and it may possibly be improved by lowering the yeast and sugar content in the mother’s diet, according to La Leche League International.

Craving sugar while breastfeeding is a very common complaint among nursing mamas.

Surprisingly, there is actually a valid reason why you may be having massive sugar cravings while breastfeeding, which we discuss below.

And if you’re interested in curbing those sugar cravings so you can lose some baby weight, fear not. I was able to lose 25 pounds of baby weight while breastfeeding long-term with a few simple habits, as described below.

So, it is possible to tame the cravings for sugar and breastfeeding can actually help with postpartum weight loss.

Quick Guide

The Number One Reason You’re Craving Sugar While Breastfeeding

Many women think that there is a biological reason for their sugar craving while breastfeeding.

While each health issue you encounter should be discussed with your baby’s pediatrician and your OB, research has shown that there is usually one science-backed reason for your sugar cravings:

Lack of sleep could be a major contributer to your sugar cravings.

Sleep? What’s that? You’re a mom to a nursing baby, so you’re probably not getting much sleep!

Studies have shown that lack of sleep will increase your cravings for sweets and junk food and will inhibit your decision-making skills.

This is usually why you want to reach for those gummy bears over that salad.

I know first hand that when I have a bad night of sleep, I have so much more trouble sticking to a healthy diet. It’s like I have zero self-control when I’m tired!

Science has proven it time and time again. The hormone Ghrelin controls our cravings for sweets and carbs (according to this article from MindBodyGreen). When your body is low on sleep, the levels of Ghrelin in your body increase, which increases your sugar cravings.

How To Limit Sugar Cravings When You’re Tired

So, you’re thinking, “yes, I’m sleep-deprived and sleep deprivation causes sugar cravings, so what do I do about it?”

We have some tips below to combat your sleep-deprived sugar cravings, but, knowledge is power. And, now that you know that lack of sleep helps cause you to crave sugar while breastfeeding, that is half the battle.

Getting your newborn to sleep… well, hopefully that will improve over a few month’s time.

Sugar and Breastfeeding: Additional Reasons for your Cravings

Lack of sleep may not be the only cause for your sweet tooth. If it’s really bothering you, you might want to check with your health care provider. However, there are some other reasons below that may be cause for your sugar cravings while breastfeeding.

Not Eating Enough Fat or Protein

Fat and protein are satiating foods — meaning they keep you fuller, longer.

It’s easy to reach for packaged or processed foods when we have zero free time and a crying baby in our arms.

Try eating a few handfuls of nuts or adding a protein shake to your daily diet and this may curb some of your sweet cravings.

While we’re on the top, you might be interested in the best protein for women — we selected 10 great options!

Not Enough Volume Foods

On the same topic as fat and protein are high-volume, nutrient-dense foods.

These would be anything that is found unpackaged or miniamally processed.

As mentioned, nuts and protein will keep you very full and satiated. In addition, fruits and vegetables are very filling and nutrient-dense. They also contain a large amount of water, which brings us to our next point…

(See how these all tie together? Healthy eating basics are so important!)

Not Enough Water

Breastfeeding thirst? It’s unreal.

Although the research is surprisingly mixed on whether nursing moms really need extra water, most breastfeeding mamas will tell you that they are constantly thirsty.

Thirst is often confused for hunger for anyone (not just breastfeeding moms), so be sure to chug some H20 before reaching for that candy bar.

For a few days, try increasing your water intake in combination with high-fat/high-protein and nutrient-dense foods and see if this helps your sugar cravings. It may just be a simple diet and mindset shift that will help.

Finally, if you’re having trouble staying hydrated, this Breastfeeding Water Bottle Tracker may help!

How the Stress of Mommyhood Can Impact your Sugar Cravings

Stress raises the levels of cortisol in your body, which can increase your sugar cravings (source).

What’s more stressful than becoming a new mom or adding another baby to the family?

I’ve done it twice and, while it’s the most amazing experience, it’s also one of life’s biggest stressors.

Don’t beat yourself up too bad during this difficult time. Have a donut and move on. Just remember to get back on track at your next meal. What you do most of the time matters much more than what you do some of the time.

Be sure to talk with your doctor if you feel extremely overwhelmed by motherhood or the stress of parenting.

Be sure to talk with your doctor if you feel extremely overwhelmed by motherhood or the stress of parenting.

Is sugar bad for your breastfeeding baby?

According to KellyMom, your diet does not necessarily make your milk and worse or better for your baby. She states:

…”you do not need to maintain a perfect diet in order to provide quality milk for your baby.”

She goes on to say that a bad diet is worse for you than your baby, which is important to note! It’s important to take care of you so you can take care of baby.

A healthy diet is important, but so are treats and little luxuries like sugar — especially for new moms. Make sure you’re balancing the good with the bad, even if you’re craving sugar while breastfeeding.

That said, each baby is different and some babies may be more sensitive to large amounts of sugar. Again, it’s a balancing act.

Can I eat ice cream while breastfeeding?

Unless your doctor advises you to avoid dairy due a possible dairy intolerance in your baby or you are allergic to dairy, then eating ice cream is fine while breastfeeding.

Generally, the only time you would avoid ice cream is due to a dairy allergy or intolerance in you or baby.

Some moms have even claimed that certain flavors and brands of ice cream have increased their milk supply, though this is more likely due to the high calorie and fat content of ice cream more than anything.

Will eating too much sugar while breastfeeding cause me to gain weight?

It’s not necessarily sugar that will make you gain weight, it’s if you eat more calories than your body is expending in energy. That old adage of calories in, calories out is true!

Luckily, when you’re exclusively breastfeeding a newborn, your body burns, on average, 400-700 calories per day.

That number will decrease as you drop feedings as your baby grows older.

Studies have shown that eating lots of sugar makes you crave more sugar, so you may be prone to overeating if you consume lots of sugar.

When it comes to weight gain, it boils down to calories. Luckily, nursing provides a nice calorie-burn cushion for new moms.

If you’re interested in dropping some extra baby weight, read my 50 tips from my 30-pound postpartum weight loss journey.

What foods should you fill up on before sugar?

When you’re craving sugar while breastfeeding, you may tend to reach for cookie and sweet snacks before a filling snack — especially when a baby is on your hip and a toddler is pulling on your shirt! It’s tough!

However, try to make it a habit to fill up on whole, nutrient-dense, high-quality foods before sugar. Reach for one of these healthy foods first, and then reach for your sweet snack. It’s all about balance.

These healthy, nutrient-dense foods would include:

  • vegetables
  • lean meats / grass fed meats
  • dairy
  • beans and legumes
  • fruits
  • nuts and nut butters
  • healthy fats like avocado and olive oil
  • unrefined grains and rice

How to lose the baby weight when you are craving sugar and breastfeeding?

Breastfeeding is actually a time when your body creates a calorie deficit without you even have to do anything. Automatic calorie burn is vital for weight loss, so this is actually an ideal time to lose body fat — especially if you have a large amount to lose!

Track your calorie intake for a few weeks. You’ll want to track your protein and fat intake, as well, to ensure you’re getting enough of these vital macronutrients.

Once you have a baseline for how many calories you’re eating, try shaving a few hundred calories off of that number each week.

Note: If you notice a drop in milk supply, raise your calories up as soon as possible.

However, if you notice a gradual drop in weight, you’ve reached the ideal calorie deficit! Just keep hitting these numbers and you should start to lose fat.

The great thing about breastfeeding is that you’re already burning 400-700 calories per day automatically, so you may not need to drop your calories too low to create a calorie deficit and lose weight!

Final Thoughts on Craving Sugar While Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding is one of the most rewarding but difficult journeys you’ll experience as a mom.

Don’t beat yourself up too bad about excess sugar intake — especially in those early sleep-deprived months! Now you know that your lack of sleep could be one of the biggest causes of sugar cravings!

Just try to fill up on quality food before you reach for the treats. You’ll feel better overall and a few treats here and there will be much more enjoyable.

Happy nursing, mama.

By Kelly Bonyata, IBCLC

  • Is there a list of foods that I should avoid while breastfeeding?
  • Can nursing mothers eat strong-flavored or spicy foods?
  • How will eating “gassy foods” affect baby?
  • Can acidic foods that mom eats be “too acid” for baby?
  • Will too many sweets or increasing/decreasing fat in my diet affect breastmilk?
  • Can I drink soda (diet or regular)?
  • Can I drink coffee or soda that contains caffeine?
  • Can I eat/drink foods containing artificial sweeteners?
  • Can a nursing mother eat honey?
  • Can I eat foods containing MSG (monosodium glutamate)?
  • Should I be avoiding certain kinds of fish?
  • Can I eat sushi?
  • Can a nursing mother eat unpasteurized soft cheeses?
  • Is it safe to eat peanuts and peanut butter while nursing?
  • What about alcoholic beverages?

Is there a list of foods that I should avoid while breastfeeding?

There are NO foods that a mother should avoid simply because she is breastfeeding. It is generally recommended that you eat whatever you like, whenever you like, in the amounts that you like and continue to do this unless you notice an obvious reaction in your baby to a particular food. There is no such thing as a “LIST OF FOODS THAT BREASTFEEDING MOTHERS SHOULD NOT EAT” because most nursing moms can eat anything they want, and because the babies who are sensitive to certain foods are each unique – what bothers one may not bother another. If you have a family history of allergies and think your baby might be allergic, you might want to avoid certain foods, but again, this would be different for every child.

More information:

How does mom’s diet affect her milk?

My baby is gassy. Is this caused by something in my diet?

Can nursing mothers eat strong-flavored or spicy foods?

Yes, in general. There are many cultures who regularly eat spicy foods and strong-flavored foods, and there is no evidence that a greater percentage of these babies are fussy, gassy, or have other problems with the foods their moms eat. We do know that some strong flavors, like garlic, can pass into the milk but it does not seem to cause problems. In fact, one study showed that babies nursed better after mom ate garlic.

How will eating “gassy foods” affect baby?

It is common for nursing moms to be warned away from eating the so-called “gassy foods” such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, beans, etc. However, gassy foods have no more potential to affect your baby than other foods.

Eating certain foods may cause gas in mom due to the normal breakdown of some of the undigested carbohydrates (sugar, starches, soluble fiber) by bacteria in the large intestine (see Gas in the digestive tract).

However, breastmilk is made from what passes into mom’s blood, not what is in her stomach or digestive track. Neither the gas nor the undigested carbohydrates (whose breakdown can cause gas in mom) pass into mom’s blood, so it is impossible for these things to pass into your milk to make your baby gassy.

This is not saying that your baby will not have a sensitivity to a certain food, but a food’s potential to affect baby really has nothing to do with whether it makes mom gassy.

See also My baby is gassy. Is this caused by something in my diet? @

Can acidic foods that mom eats be “too acid” for baby?

No. Acidic foods like citrus, tomatoes, etc. can not change the acidity of breastmilk. Like any other food, however, some babies will be sensitive to the proteins that pass into mom’s milk.

Will too many sweets or increasing/decreasing fat in my diet affect breastmilk?

No. Breastmilk is not affected by the amount of sugar that mom eats.

In addition, the fat and calorie content of mom’s milk is not affected by her diet. However, the kinds of fats in the milk can be changed (to a certain extent) via diet.

See also:

What affects the amount of fat or calories in mom’s milk? @

Is my exclusively breastfed baby gaining too much weight? @

How might I increase baby’s weight gain? @

Can I drink soda (diet or regular)?

Soda generally contains carbonation (the part that makes it fizzy), caffeine and/or artificial sweeteners. See below for more information.

Can I drink coffee or soda that contains caffeine?

See Breastfeeding and Caffeine.

Can I eat/drink foods containing artificial sweeteners?

Nutrasweet (aspartame)

According to Hale (Medications and Mothers’ Milk, 2012), Nutrasweet (aspartame) levels in mother’s milk are too low to produce significant side effects in infants who do not have PKU (phenylketonuria). It IS contraindicated in babies with proven PKU. Hale lists aspartame in Lactation Risk Category L1 (safest), but L5 (contraindicated) if baby has PKU.

Splenda (sucralose)

According to Hale (Medications and Mothers’ Milk, 2012), there has been little research on sucralose in breastfeeding women. Per Hale, it is poorly absorbed from the GI tract and is excreted unchanged in the urine. The United States FDA considers sucralose to be safe for use in breastfeeding women. Hale listed sucralose in Lactation Risk Category L2 (safer).

A 2015 study (Non-nutritive sweeteners in breast milk: Perspective on potential implications of recent findings) indicates that non-nutritive sweeteners (NNS) are passed through to breastmilk, and concludes that “because the effects of prolonged infant exposure to sucralose, ace-K, and saccharin on their current and future health are not well understood, we encourage caution in concluding that NNS are appropriate for consumption by lactating mothers.”


Sorbitol is a sugar alcohol found naturally in some fruits and vegetables and is used as a sweetener in foods and medications. It’s not listed in Hale, but is unlikely to be a problem breastfeeding-wise. It’s commonly used in toothpaste, sugar-free chewing gum, etc.


Per Hale (Medications and Mothers’ Milk, 2012), milk levels of saccharin tend to accumulate over time, but still are considered minimal. Moderate intake should not be a problem for nursing mothers. Hale classified it in Lactation Risk Category L3 (probably safe).

A 2015 study (Non-nutritive sweeteners in breast milk: Perspective on potential implications of recent findings) indicates that non-nutritive sweeteners (NNS) are passed through to breastmilk, and concludes that “because the effects of prolonged infant exposure to sucralose, ace-K, and saccharin on their current and future health are not well understood, we encourage caution in concluding that NNS are appropriate for consumption by lactating mothers.”

Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana)

Stevia is a very sweet herb that is used by many as a zero-calorie sugar substitute. Rebaudioside A (purified from Stevia rebaudiana) is “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) as a sweetening agent for foods by the US Food and Drug Administration, but no studies have been done on pregnant or breastfeeding women. Hale (Medications and Mothers’ Milk, 2012) recommends caution when it comes to using stevia while breastfeeding because many different herbs in the same genus are being used as natural sweeteners, and because there are no studies on the use of stevia in breastfeeding women. He classifies stevia in Lactation Risk Category L3 (probably safe).

Safety of sucralose from the Splenda website

Artificial sweeteners by William Sears, MD (general info, not breastfeeding related)

Artificial sweetener info from Dr. Jay Gordon (general info, not breastfeeding related)

Butchko HH, et al. Aspartame: review of safety. Regul Toxicol Pharmacol. 2002 Apr;35(2 Pt 2):S1-93.

Spiers PA, et al. Aspartame: neuropsychologic and neurophysiologic evaluation of acute and chronic effects. Am J Clin Nutr. 1998 Sep;68(3):531-7.

Can a nursing mother eat honey?

Honey is not a problem for mom to eat. The gut flora of adults and children over a year old are able to fend off the botulism spores that may be present in honey, and render them harmless. Since the spores would be killed in your gastrointestinal tract, they would not make it into your bloodstream and therefore cannot be present in your milk.

A baby’s gut can’t defend itself against the botulism spores, and so they can colonize the intestinal tract, germinate and release botulinum neurotoxin. As a result, honey is not recommended for babies under a year old. It’s recommended that you avoid giving baby anything that contains honey, or make sure that the cooking process kills any botulism spores that might be present. Botulism spores are very heat resistant – the toxin is less resistant.

Tanzi MG, Gabay MP. Association between honey consumption and infant botulism. Pharmacotherapy 2002 Nov;22(11):1479-83.

Infant botulism from

Botulism from the US Centers for Disease Control

Can I eat foods containing MSG (monosodium glutamate)?

Human milk normally contains free glutamates (avg. of 22 mg/100g milk). Breastmilk levels are only modestly affected by moms ingestion of MSG.

The American Academy of Pediatrics considers MSG to be compatible with breastfeeding .

References and additional information:

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ). Monosodium Glutamate: A Safety Assessment. Technical Report Series No. 20. Canberra, Australia: Food Standards Australia New Zealand; 2003 June.

International Food Information Council Foundation (IFICF). Glutamate and Monosodium Glutamate: Examining the Myths . Washington, DC: International Food Information Council Foundation; 2001 Nov. 12 pp.

Stegink LD, Filer LJ Jr, Baker GL. Monosodium glutamate: effect of plasma and breast milk amino acid levels in lactating women. Proc Soc Exp Biol Med. 1972 Jul;140(3):836-41.

Committee on Drugs, American Academy of Pediatrics. The Transfer of Drugs and Other Chemicals Into Human Milk. Policy Statement. Pediatrics. 2001 Sept;108(3):776-789.

General information:

MSG: A Common Flavor Enhancer by Michelle Meadows, from FDA Consumer magazine, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, January-February 2003

Everything You Need To Know About Glutamate And Monosodium Glutamate from the International Food Information Council Foundation, July 2015

Should I be avoiding certain kinds of fish?

Due to the risk of too-high levels of methylmercury affecting an unborn child, the US Food & Drug Administration advises pregnant women to avoid eating several types of fish: shark, swordfish, king mackeral and tilefish (these are longer-lived, larger fish that feed on other fish and are thus more likely to accumulate higher levels of mercury). Per the FDA, “While it is true that the primary danger from methylmercury in fish is to the developing nervous system of the unborn child, it is prudent for nursing mothers and young children not to eat these fish as well.” They recommend that your consumption of other kinds of fish (shellfish, canned fish, smaller ocean fish or farm-raised fish) average no more than 12 ounces per week.

Others recommend that the FDA list of unsafe fish be expanded. See Mercury In Your Fish by Ken Cook, President of the Environmental Working Group, for additional information and suggested lists of safe and unsafe fish during pregnancy.

What about tuna? Per the FDA, you can safely include tuna as part of your weekly fish consumption. The varieties of fish that the FDA does suggest we avoid contain methylmercury in amounts ranging from 0.96-1.45 PPM (parts per million). Fresh tuna averages 0.32 PPM and canned tuna averages 0.17 PPM. Tuna steaks and canned albacore tuna generally contain higher levels of mercury than canned light tuna. On the other hand, the Environmental Working Group suggests that pregnant mothers avoid eating tuna steak altogether, and eat canned tuna no more often than once a month.

References and additional information:

Breastfeeding and Mercury Exposure @

Fish: What Pregnant Women and Parents Should Know US Food & Drug Administration.

What You Need to Know About Mercury in Fish and Shellfish: Advice For Women Who Might Become Pregnant, Women Who Are Pregnant, Nursing Mothers, Young Children . (March 2004). US Food & Drug Administration.

Mercury Levels in Fish from the Maine Environmental Health Unit

Mercury In Your Fish by Ken Cook, President of the Environmental Working Group

State Advisories on Methylmercury in Fish

Mercury Levels in Commercial Fish and Shellfish from the US FDA. Lists various varieties of fish and seafood along with methylmercury levels in each.

Environmental contaminants and breastfeeding @

Can I eat sushi?

Yes; just make certain that you are comfortable with the source and care of the raw fish (reputable sushi bars are very careful about this). Like any raw food, sushi can carry carry parasites or a bacteria called listeria monocytogenes (see below for more on listeriosis), and some species of fish should be avoided due to mercury levels. The consensus among breastfeeding experts seems to be that eating raw-fish-sushi doesn’t pose a problem for a breastfeeding baby (though it has the potential to make mom sick).

Can a nursing mother eat unpasteurized soft cheeses?

Yes, nursing mothers can eat soft cheeses. Unpasteurized soft cheeses (and other unpasteurized dairy products) can carry a bacteria called listeria monocytogenes. Cheese made in the United States must be made from pasteurized milk (pasteurization kills the listeria organism), but imported cheeses may be a problem. Listeriosis is usually a minor flu-like illness in healthy adults, but can cause serious problems for pregnant women and may be linked to stillbirth and miscarriage (as it can be passed to baby via the placenta). Although eating unpasteurized dairy products is not recommended during pregnancy, it is not considered a problem for nursing moms.

Per Lawrence (Breastfeeding: A guide for the medical profession 1999, p 569), “No evidence in the literature suggests transmission of Listeria through breastmilk.” This reference indicates that the only thing that might interfere with breastfeeding is a mother’s inability to nurse due to severe illness.

Other foods that can carry listeria that are considered safe for nursing moms (but not during pregnancy):

  • hot dogs, luncheon meats, bologna, or other deli meats unless they are reheated until steaming hot
  • soft cheese such as Feta, queso blanco, queso fresco, Brie, Camembert cheeses, blue-veined cheeses, and Panela unless it is labeled as made with pasteurized milk. Make sure the label says, “MADE WITH PASTEURIZED MILK.”
  • refrigerated pâté, meat spreads from a meat counter, or smoked seafood found in the refrigerated section of the store. Foods that don’t need refrigeration, like canned tuna and canned salmon, are okay to eat. Refrigerate after opening.
  • salads made in the store such as ham salad, chicken salad, egg salad, tuna salad, or seafood salad
  • raw (unpasteurized) milk or foods that have unpasteurized milk in them
    Source: Protect Your Baby and Yourself From Listeriosis

Listeriosis information from the US Centers for Disease Control

Is it safe to eat peanuts and peanut butter while nursing?

Current research indicates that avoiding peanuts during pregnancy or breastfeeding does not help to prevent peanut allergies in your child.

Until recently, allergists recommended that children not get peanuts or peanut products until at least 36 months old, but recent studies tell us that this delay does not help to prevent peanut allergies..

Peanut allergies, children and pregnancy from the March of Dimes

Greer FR, Sicherer SH, Burks AW; American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition; American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Allergy and Immunology. Effects of Early Nutritional Interventions on the Development of Atopic Disease in Infants and Children: The Role of Maternal Dietary Restriction, Breastfeeding, Timing of Introduction of Complementary Foods, and Hydrolyzed Formulas. Pediatrics. 2008 Jan;121(1):183-91.

Are there any foods to avoid while breastfeeding?

Foods to avoid or limit while breastfeeding

Foods with special safety concerns include:

  • Fish: Avoid high-mercury fish.
  • Alcohol: It’s safest to abstain. Be sure to time any occasional drink.
  • Herbs: Check with your doctor.

These foods can bother some babies:

  • Caffeine: Too much could overstimulate your baby.
  • Chocolate: Too much could overstimulate your baby.
  • Cow’s milk: Your baby could have a food intolerance to a protein in cow’s milk.
  • Soy: Your baby could have a food intolerance to a protein in soy.

Most breastfeeding moms can eat whatever they like without it affecting their babies. Foods that make you gassy won’t make your baby gassier than usual. (Babies are gassy to start with!)

But every baby is different. If you notice that your baby seems to be fussy, gassy, or sleepless after you eat a particular food, talk to your baby’s doctor about whether the cause could be your diet or something else.

Is it safe to drink coffee while breastfeeding?

It’s fine to have two or three cups of coffee (300 milligrams of caffeine) spread throughout the day, but more than that could disrupt your baby’s sleep or make him fussy. Keep in mind that caffeine is also found in some sodas, teas, and over-the-counter medicines.

Is it safe to drink alcohol while breastfeeding?

It’s safest not to drink any alcohol while breastfeeding, but it’s okay to have an occasional drink if you:

  • Time it carefully. It’s safest to wait two hours per drink before resuming nursing (or nurse, then have your glass of wine). If your breasts are full before that waiting period ends, you can pump and dump to avoid exposing your nursing baby to alcohol.
  • Allow for individual factors that affect blood alcohol level. These include whether you’ve had any food and how much you weigh.
  • Drink in moderation. The same amount of alcohol that makes it into your bloodstream makes it into your breast milk. The more you drink, the more important the waiting period becomes.

Also, an old wives’ tale suggests that dark beer increases milk supply, but studies suggest that alcohol, in fact, reduces milk production.

Do I need to limit chocolate while breastfeeding?

Maybe. Don’t worry – we’re talking large amounts. It’s okay to have a piece of chocolate candy or slice of chocolate dessert. But if you eat large amounts of chocolate, the theobromine (a stimulant) in the chocolate can affect your baby in much the same way as caffeine.

Dark chocolate has more theobromine than milk chocolate, and white chocolate has no theobromine (the ingredient is in the cocoa solids). Chocolate also contains caffeine (see above), another reason not to overdo.

Is it safe to eat fish and seafood while breastfeeding?

Yes, as long as you limit the amount you eat and choose low-mercury fish and seafood options when breastfeeding. In fact, it’s recommended that breastfeeding moms eat 8 to 12 ounces of low-mercury fish each week, which is a great source of DHA and EPA, two omega-3 fatty acids that are difficult to find in other foods.

Avoid eating the following high-mercury fish species:

  • Swordfish
  • Shark
  • King mackerel
  • Marlin
  • Orange roughy
  • Bigeye tuna
  • Tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico

Is it safe to take herbs while breastfeeding?

Certain herbs, including some herbal teas, aren’t considered safe for breastfeeding moms. Since herbs can be very potent, check with your healthcare provider before taking any.

Is it true that parsley, peppermint, and sage can affect my milk supply?

No. It’s an old wives’ tale that these herbs can decrease your milk supply. There’s no published evidence to support this. However, large amounts of sage can be toxic, so eat it in moderation.

Can my baby have a food intolerance to something I eat?

If your baby seems to be reacting to a food in your diet, talk to her doctor. She could have a food intolerance, or it could be something else.

An intolerance is a digestive condition – unlike an allergy, which is an immune response. Symptoms of a food intolerance include:

  • Fussiness
  • Congestion
  • Rash
  • Vomiting
  • Bloody diarrhea

The two most common causes of food intolerances in infancy are:

  • Cow’s milk protein intolerance: If your baby is afflicted, avoid any food that has milk, milk products, casein, whey, or sodium caseinate in it.
  • Soy protein intolerance: If your baby is afflicted, avoid all soy products, such as tofu, tempeh, tamari, soy sauce, soy milk, miso, and edamame.

Could my baby be allergic to foods I eat while breastfeeding?

Your breast milk is very unlikely to trigger an allergic reaction in your baby, even if you eat allergenic foods such as peanuts, fish, shellfish, and eggs.

If your baby has allergy symptoms (such as eczema or a rash, runny nose, sneezing, coughing, red and watery eyes, vomiting, or diarrhea), they may be caused by something he’s in regular contact with, such as soap, pet dander, dust, pollen, or foods he’s eating himself once he starts solids. (Learn how to tell if your baby has a cold or allergies.)

In rare cases, a baby may be allergic to food allergens such as cow’s milk protein in the mother’s diet. If you’re worried about a reaction to allergenic foods you eat, have your baby evaluated by his healthcare provider. The only treatment for a breastfed baby with a food allergy is strict avoidance in your diet.

Will foods I eat while breastfeeding cause my baby to have gas?

No. Your baby will not be gassier if you eat certain foods. Gas is a local reaction in your GI tract, so foods that make you gassy won’t affect your baby’s digestion.

You may have heard that it helps to avoid certain foods while breastfeeding – such as citrus fruits, spices (cinnamon, curry, chili pepper), and “gassy” veggies (cabbage, onion, broccoli, cauliflower) – but there’s no convincing scientific evidence to support that advice.

Should I avoid foods with strong flavors like garlic?

No. While some strongly flavored foods may change the taste of your milk, most babies seem to enjoy a variety of breast milk flavors.

Generally, the dominant flavors of your diet – whether garlic or chili peppers – were in your amniotic fluid during pregnancy. Fetuses swallow a fair amount of amniotic fluid before birth, so when they taste those flavors again in their mother’s breast milk, they’re already accustomed to them.

What should I do if I think a food I eat is bothering my baby?

If you notice that your nursing baby seems fussy, gassy, or sleepless after you eat a particular food, talk to your baby’s doctor to make sure it’s not something else. The doctor may recommend eliminating the food from your diet for a week or so and then reintroducing it to see if there’s a consistent effect.

My baby’s doctor wants me to eliminate a food because it bothers my baby. Will this affect my nutrition?

If avoiding a food could cause a nutritional imbalance (for example, if you eliminate all dairy products because your baby has a cow’s milk intolerance), talk to your doctor about seeing a nutritionist for advice on substituting other foods or taking nutritional supplements.

Continue taking your prenatal vitamin, especially while breastfeeding your baby, to help pass along important nutrients as well as cover any gaps in your own diet.

Learn more

How alcohol, caffeine, marijuana, and nicotine affect breast milk

Is it safe for a breastfeeding mom to use marijuana?

Diet for a healthy breastfeeding mom

Does breastfeeding protect my baby from developing allergies?

USC researcher receives $6 million for sugar-related obesity studies

Add breast milk to the list of foods and beverages that contain fructose, a sweetener linked to health issues ranging from obesity to diabetes.

A new study by researchers at the Keck School of Medicine of USC indicates that a sugar called fructose is passed from mother to infant through breast milk. The proof-of-concept study involving 25 mothers and infants provides preliminary evidence that even fructose equivalent to the weight of a grain of rice in a full day’s serving of breast milk is associated with increased body weight, muscle and bone mineral content.

Found in fruit, processed food and soda, fructose is not a natural component of breast milk, which is still considered the gold standard diet for babies. The “secondhand sugar” is derived from a mom’s diet, said Michael Goran, lead author of the new study published in February in the journal Nutrients.

Exposing infants and children to higher amounts of sugar during growth and development can produce problems with cognitive development and learning as well as create lifelong risk for obesity, diabetes, fatty liver disease and heart disease, said Goran, founding director of the Childhood Obesity Research Center at the Keck School of Medicine.

Frappuccinos, energy drinks, cranberry juice cocktails and fructose are examples of sources of secondhand sugars. Healthy, naturally occurring sugars in breast milk include lactose, which is beneficial to infant growth and development.

“Lactose is the main source of carbohydrate energy and breast milk is very beneficial, but it’s possible that you can lose some of that beneficial effect depending on maternal diet and how that may affect the composition of breast milk,” Goran said. “Other studies have shown that fructose and artificial sweeteners are particularly damaging during critical periods of growth and development in children. We are beginning to see that any amount of fructose in breast milk is risky.”

Goran and his colleagues did not collect mothers’ dietary data for this study, so they were unable to determine if the trace amounts of fructose found in breast milk is positively associated with habitual consumption of fructose-rich foods and drinks.

“We know very little about why some children eventually become overweight or obese,” Goran said. “It’s important that we study what may be taking place in the earliest times of their development to determine whether anything could be done just after birth to lower their risks.”

How much is too much?

The first year of life is a critical period for building brain networks and for cementing the foundation for the metabolic system. Minute amounts of fructose may have detrimental effects on infant metabolism, said Tanya Alderete, co-author of the study and a postdoctoral research scholar at the Keck School of Medicine. Ingestion of fructose could coach pre-fat storage cells to become fat cells, raising the baby’s risk of one day becoming overweight or obese.

Early life is a period of rapid development and early nutrition is strongly linked to long-term health outcomes.

Tanya Alderete

“Early life is a period of rapid development and early nutrition is strongly linked to long-term health outcomes,” Alderete said. “We know that the decision to breastfeed or bottle feed may have impacts on later health. Results from this work suggest that the composition of breast milk may be another important factor to consider in regard to infant health.”

Looking at the study data, Alderete said the average breastfeeding 1-month-old baby could consume just 10 milligrams (about a grain of rice) of fructose from breast milk a day, yet he would see adverse changes in body composition during growth.

A single microgram of fructose per milliliter of breast milk — that’s 1,000 times lower than the amount of lactose found in breast milk — is associated with a 5 to 10 percent increase in body weight and body fat for infants at six months of age, Goran said.

Still, Alderete emphasized that breastfeeding is the ideal form of infant nutrition and mothers should continue to breastfeed for as long as possible or up to one year.

Baby fat

Twenty-five mothers brought their infants to the Oklahoma Health Sciences Center when the babies were 1 month old and again when they were 6 months old. The mothers fasted for at least three hours prior to the visit.

The infants were fed breast milk, consumed less than 8 ounces of formula a week and had no solid foods, according to their mothers.

Researchers took a breast milk sample from each mom and scanned it for sugars such as lactose, glucose and fructose. They measured each baby’s fat mass, muscle mass and bone mass.

Infant growth was not related to mothers’ pre-pregnancy body mass index, a measure of body fat, or to any of the other breast milk components, scientists found. The researchers adjusted their results for the sex of the infant and the baby’s weight at 1 month.

Researchers at the Childhood Obesity Research Center at USC are looking at how maternal food intake affects fructose levels in breast milk as well as how specific elements in breast milk can alter a baby’s developing gut bacteria, which neutralizes toxic byproducts of digestion. This “gut microbiome” impacts infant growth and metabolism. Based on early study results, Goran offers some advice to pregnant women and new mothers.

“New moms can prevent passing secondhand sugars to their children by eating and drinking less sugars while pregnant or breastfeeding,” Goran said. “Caregivers can shield babies and children from harmful effects of sugars by carefully choosing infant formula, baby foods and snacks without added sugars or sweeteners.”

The study was supported by Mead Johnson Nutrition, the Harold Hamm Diabetes Center at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center and National Institutes of Health grants awarded to the Washington University Diabetic Cardiovascular Disease Center.

More stories about: Diabetes, Obesity

How Sugary Foods Affect the Breast Milk of New Moms

Lots of women up the healthy-eating ante during pregnancy, once their bodies become responsible for nourishing a growing baby. Same goes for breastfeeding moms; diet is known to impact breast milk, and experts are still revealing exactly how.

Researchers just confirmed that fructose-a sugar found in fruit, processed food, and soda, and not a natural component of breast milk-can be passed from mother to child during breastfeeding, according to a new study of 25 mothers and infants published in the journal Nutrients.

Why that matters: Exposing infants and kids to high amounts of sugar during development can increase lifelong risk for obesity, diabetes, fatty liver disease, and heart disease, as well as create problems with cognitive development and learning, as lead author Michael Goran, Ph.D., founding director of the Childhood Obesity Research Center at the Keck School of Medicine said in a release. The researchers found that even a tiny amount of fuctose-the weight of a grain of rice in a full day’s serving of breast milk-is associated with increased body weight, muscle, and bone mineral content in babies.

Because the first year of life is a critical development period for the metabolic system (among everything else), researchers believe even tiny amounts of fructose may have negative effects on infant metabolism; fructose could lead pre-fat storage cells to become fat cells, which increases the likelihood that your baby could one day become overweight or obese.

ICYMI, fructose isn’t great for adults either; it’s been linked to weight gain and can mess with your blood’s insulin and triglyceride levels in ways that may increase your diabetes and heart disease risk. While it’s found in fruits (here’s a breakdown of how much sugar is in some of your favorites), that doesn’t mean you should swear off your daily banana and berries. The fructose found in whole fruits isn’t a problem because it’s generally pretty low and comes with digestion-slowing fiber, according to Manabu Nakamura, Ph.D., an associate professor of nutrition at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, as we reported here. The main culprit for fructose consumption is soda and other sugary drinks, as well as processed foods loaded with table sugar or high-fructose corn syrup.

One thing the researchers didn’t look at: the mother’s dietary habits. So it’s possible that these women all had diets super high in fructose, and that’s why so much “secondhand sugar” was passed along. (Here’s what you need to know about the different types of sugar and how they affect your health.)

If you’re a new mom don’t freak out and drop the apple you were munching on; for one, this was a small prelim study, so there’s still a lot for researchers to learn about the link between maternal diet, fructose, and baby health. And even with this new information about “secondhand sugar,” breastfeeding is still the ideal form of infant nutrition, and mothers should continue to do so for as long as possible or up to one year, according to Tanya Alderete, Ph.D., coauthor of the study and a postdoctoral research scholar at the Keck School of Medicine. (Breastfeeding has a ton of perks.)

To stay safe, Goran recommends dialing down the sugar while pregnant or breastfeeding and carefully choosing infant formula, baby foods, and snacks without added sugars or sweeteners. (Try these tips for cutting your sugar intake the right way.)

  • By Lauren Mazzo @lauren_mazzo

What to Eat – and Avoid – While Breastfeeding

The great chocolate dilemma

I remember it so well: I was pregnant with my first child and attending an antenatal class, where we were being told very seriously that chocolate is an absolute no-no while breastfeeding. I was devastated: with me, chocolate is a habit bordering on an addiction! But I was determined to breastfeed, so I decided I would just have to be strong.

I actually managed to go without my daily chocolate fix for about a month (I still don’t know how I did it!), but the festive season came and everyone was having Quality Street. The temptation was just too great. “Surely one small chocolate can’t hurt,” I told myself – but needless to say the one turned into six. And then that night – nothing. Not a cramp, not a burp, not a squeak from my baby. He was just as happy as always. I was flabbergasted – and delighted!

Fast forward 3 years to baby number two (a few weeks old at the time): I’m at a party of some sort and helping myself to an enormous slice of the most delectable chocolate cake on earth. A kindly lady looks at me with concern and says “isn’t that going to make your baby awfully sick?” Well, as it turns out, no. Because I had learned an important lesson: don’t cut out anything from your diet unless you have a really good reason to do so.

Dietary confusion

These are all pieces of advice that I’ve heard regarding what you should eat while you are breastfeeding:

  • Drink lots of tea, it helps you make more milk
  • Don’t drink tea, the caffeine will give your baby cramps
  • Drink ginger beer, it will help you make milk
  • Don’t drink fizzy cold drinks, it will give your baby wind
  • Don’t drink any sugar-containing cold drinks, it will make your baby hyperactive
  • Don’t eat any spices, it will give your baby stomach aches
  • Take fenugreek (a spice!) to help increase breast milk production
  • Don’t eat garlic, it will give baby cramps
  • If you eat garlic, baby will drink more breast milk (this one was actually proven by research!)

Just that short list leaves me feeling very confused – what one person says is good for me, another person says I must avoid! But things get even worse if you start to list everything you’re supposedly not allowed to eat: onions, garlic, spices, tomatoes, green peppers, cabbage, half the vegetables you can think of, dairy, gluten, pepper, sugar, tea, coffee, juice… the list is endless! We’ll all end up living off apples and water. Oh, no, wait; apples give some people gas – better avoid them too!

The truth

Fortunately, the truth about diet and breastfeeding is not nearly as extreme, and you can ignore pretty much all the well-intentioned advice about what not to eat. The list of things to avoid while breastfeeding is, in reality, very short. And that is because your body is very good at controlling what goes into breast milk.

The first thing we need to remember is that breast milk is made from your blood, not from your stomach contents. There is no pipe connecting your stomach to your breast. So only things that can get absorbed into your blood (e.g. medications, alcohol and caffeine) can even get into your breastmilk. And just because something can get into your breast milk, it doesn’t mean it’s going to cause a problem.

Let’s look at a few of the foods we are most often told to avoid:

Gas-forming foods

Onions, garlic, cabbage, beans, green peppers… everyone has a few items that they will add to this particular list. And if you eat these foods, they certainly can cause gas, but they do not cause your breast milk to become gas-forming.

Gas-forming vegetables cause flatulence because of certain fibres that they contain. These fibres are not absorbed into your body; they go to your colon where they are fermented by your gut bacteria –that’s what causes the gas to form. This gas is not absorbed into your blood – so neither the gas nor the fibres that cause the gas can actually get to your breast milk! What does get absorbed is the sulphur compounds in these vegetables (sulphur compounds is what gives these veggies their strong taste and smell). The good news is that these sulphur compounds are actually very good for your health. The bad news is that they can make your breast milk smell funny, and they can make your baby’s farts smell really stinky. That’s it. So feel free to go ahead and eat whatever vegetables take your fancy.

As an interesting fact, one research study seems to show that babies like the taste of garlic-flavoured breastmilk: after moms ate a lot of garlic, it was found that their babies suckled more vigorously and took in more milk!


I’ve heard so many people say that if you eat a lot of sugar, your breast milk will be higher in sugar, and they blame this for everything from sleepless nights to colic. In fact, your breast milk pretty much always contains the same amount of sugar, in the form of lactose: around seven grams per 100ml. The amount of sugar in breast milk is very tightly controlled by the body, regardless of how much or how little sugar you are eating.


Caffeine is absorbed into the blood, so yes, it can definitely get into the breast milk and into the baby. And yes, some babies do not react well to caffeine. So it is worth having a closer look at caffeine.

Caffeine is a chemical compound that is naturally found in coffee, cola drinks (Coke, Pepsi and the like), tea (green and black tea, but not rooibos tea) and chocolate. Most energy drinks are also very high in caffeine (I’m talking about things like Red Bull, not sports drinks). When you drink caffeine, it is absorbed into the bloodstream, and after hanging around for a while, it is broken down by the liver and excreted. In very young babies, the liver is not able to break down the caffeine effectively, so it stays in their system for a longer time. Caffeine can make babies quite irritable; it can cause them to cry more and not settle, which can be very difficult for the adult looking after them!

Does that mean you can’t have another cappuccino until baby is weaned? Not at all! As babies grow, the liver gets much more adept at metabolizing caffeine. From about a month old, most babies don’t even notice if you have a cup of tea or coffee. In fact, some babies tolerate it even from birth. There’s only one way to know: try it and see. Start with a small dose – a small chocolate, say, or half a cup of weak tea or coffee. If baby doesn’t react badly, try a bit more next time. And if baby does get irritable from it, just wait a week or two and try again. In the meantime, there’s always decaf.

Spicy food

Let’s just make something clear: eating chillies will not cause you breastmilk to burn like Tabasco sauce! What spices can do is flavour your breast milk – and that’s not a bad thing at all. If your family likes to eat heavily spiced foods, those traces of their flavours in your breast milk makes it more likely that your baby will enjoy the same foods once he starts eating. Many cultures base their diets around heavily spiced foods, and they find it thoroughly strange that we think spices should be avoided during breastfeeding.

Cow’s milk and gluten

These are two proteins that can cause problems in babies who are intolerant to them. They key thing to realise is that most babies aren’t intolerant. Don’t cut these out unless you have a good reason to do so (as I explain below)

So, is it ever necessary to avoid something?

Babies are individuals, and just like adults, some babies simply do not tolerate some foods. But there’s no way to predict how a certain food will affect a specific baby: you just have to eat it and see. You can assume your baby is sensitive to a certain food if it follows this pattern:

  1. Whenever you eat the offending food, your baby has some unpleasant symptoms – cramps, colic, phlegm on the chest, eczema or whatever. (Sometimes, with food allergies, the reaction only comes later, so it may be difficult to pin it on a specific food)
  2. When you stop eating the offending food, the symptoms disappear. The problems may stop immediately, or decrease gradually over a number of weeks.
  3. After not eating the food for a while, if you eat it again, the symptoms return. This is a step that a lot of people leave out, but it is an important one. It is always possible that the problem resolved because the baby grew out of it (this is especially true of stomach problems), and the food actually had nothing to do with it. So try it again and see – there’s no point in needlessly depriving yourself of something you enjoy!

If you go through this 3-step process for a certain food, and your baby still reacts badly, then and only then do you need to avoid that particular food. And allergies are often outgrown over time, so try your offending food again every few months and see if it is still a problem.

A balanced breastfeeding diet

That just leaves one question: what do you actually have to eat while you breastfeed? Pretty much what you would usually eat. If your diet was balanced enough to sustain a healthy pregnancy, it will be just fine for breastfeeding. There’s no need to worry about the precise nutritional content of your breast milk: your body is very good at making sure your baby will get what he needs. In fact, if your diet is deficient in any nutrient, your body will take it from your own stores to make sure that your breast milk stays perfect. For that reason, it is a good idea to carry on with a multivitamin like the one you used during pregnancy, to ensure that your body’s own stores don’t get depleted. And it is common sense to eat lots of healthful, natural foods; a diet of junk food will not give you the energy you need to raise a child. But as long as you include plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, protein and whole grains, you can’t go wrong. And that leaves room for my chocolate 😉

Foods to Avoid While Breastfeeding

On one of your very first prenatal appointments, your doctor probably handed you a list of all of the foods and drinks that weren’t safe to consume while you were pregnant. Now that your little one is here, you can loosen up a little bit about what you have for dinner. Though restraints have recently eased up on what breastfeeding moms should and shouldn’t eat, there are still some foods that you should avoid and others that you should take care with when eating and drinking.

Foods and Drinks to Avoid While Breastfeeding


Fish are a great source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids and are okay to eat in moderation during breastfeeding. Certain types of fish, such as swordfish and king mackerel, have high levels of mercury. This mercury can make its way into your breast milk and can harm your little one. Because of this, it’s best to eat no more than six ounces of fish twice a week.

If you do choose to eat fish, select a type of fish that is lower in mercury whenever possible, such as tilapia, salmon and trout. During pregnancy, sushi was strictly off-limits due to the possibility of bacteria and parasites. This possesses less of a concern during breastfeeding, so it’s okay to eat sushi once in awhile as long as it comes from a reputable restaurant.

Coffee and Tea

After several middle-of-the-night nursing sessions, the first thing you may want in the morning is a comforting cup of coffee. While it’s not strictly off-limits, be careful before you drink it. The caffeine in coffee and tea does end up in breast milk, which can make napping difficult for both you and your little one. Your baby’s body doesn’t process caffeine as quickly as yours does, and consuming it can quickly throw off their sleep schedule.


It’s safest for your baby if you don’t have any alcohol at all but if you choose to drink, timing and moderation are key. Alcohol typically takes one to two hours to metabolize. Once it’s out of your bloodstream, it’s no longer in your breast milk. If you are going to drink, have one drink right after you last nurse your little one. This will give your body time to metabolize the alcohol so that it doesn’t adversely affect your baby when you nurse next. “Pumping and dumping” isn’t necessary as long as you don’t feel the effects of the alcohol you drank.


Not only can the caffeine in chocolate cause problems with your little one’s sleep, it seems to have a laxative effect on many babies. Eat it in moderation and be on the lookout to see if it’s disrupting your little one’s sleep schedule or causing runny stools to occur.

Parsley, Peppermint and Sage

While these herbs are a great way to add flavor to your meals, they can also have a negative effect on your milk supply. Consume them in moderation and skip them altogether if you notice that your little one is on a growth spurt.


Your breast milk will take on the flavor of the food that you have eaten, and studies show that babies typically enjoy this wide-range of flavors. Garlic, however, is one flavor that many babies don’t enjoy. If your baby is refusing the breast and you have recently eaten garlic, it may be the taste that is turning him or her off.

“Gassy” Foods

Foods that typically cause gas with you, such as beans, brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower, can cause problems in your little one. While burping, passing gas and bloating may occur in all babies after you eat these foods, it can cause a baby who already has colic to become downright miserable.

Medicines to Avoid While Breastfeeding

Though a small amount of most medications does make its way into your breast milk, most medications can be safely taken while breastfeeding. Some medications to avoid include:

  • Acebutolol
  • Antihistamine and decongestant combinations, such as Dimetapp
  • Doxepin
  • Narcotics
  • Thiazide diuretics

How to Tell if a Food is Bothering Your Baby

Because everything you eat could possibly cause an adverse reaction in your little one, it’s important to look for possible problems. These reactions include:

  • Eczema, a red, itchy rash on the body
  • Congestion
  • Abnormal fussiness
  • Excessive gas
  • Diarrhea

These symptoms could be caused by another condition, such as an allergy to the laundry soap that you use, or it could be caused by something that you are eating that has made its way into your breast milk. Most problems that are caused by breast milk typically occur two to six hours after you have consumed the food. Common foods that can sometimes cause an adverse reaction in babies include:

  • Dairy products
  • Spicy foods
  • Citrus fruits and juices
  • Kiwi
  • Pineapple
  • Strawberries
  • Cherries
  • Prunes

If you suspect that your baby is having a reaction to something that you are eating, talk with your doctor before completely omitting it from your diet. If your doctor does recommend that you stop eating that food, ask about supplements to make up for any nutrients you may be missing out on and continue to take your prenatal vitamins for the duration of the time that you nurse.

Eating sugar while breastfeeding

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