Breastfeeding FAQs: Your Eating and Drinking Habits

Whether you're a new mom or a seasoned parenting pro, breastfeeding often comes with its fair share of questions. Here are answers to some common inquiries that mothers — new and veteran — may have.

What should I eat?

Just as when you were pregnant, it's important to eat well while you're breastfeeding, with plenty of wholesome fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein, and calcium-rich foods. Follow the recommendations in the MyPlate food guide and you'll be well on your way to giving both you and your baby a nutritious diet.

Your diet doesn't have to be perfect. You need an estimated 300-500 extra calories per day as a breastfeeding mother. Breastfeeding might make you thirsty, so consider keeping a water bottle nearby so it's there when you need it.

Also ask your doctor if you should still take your prenatal vitamins — many doctors have women continue them during breastfeeding. To prevent problems associated with iodine deficiency, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all lactating women take a supplement that contains 150 micrograms of iodine per day, use iodized salt in their cooking, and eat foods high in iodine, like seafood and dairy products. If you are vegan or don't eat dairy or fish, talk to your doctor about getting checked for iodine deficiency.

Does my breastfed baby have an allergy?

A breastfed baby may have an allergy or sensitivity reaction after the mother consumes certain foods or drinks (such as common food allergens like cow's milk, soy foods, wheat, corn, oats, eggs, nuts and peanuts, and fish or shellfish).

Signs of such a reaction to food can include:

  • frequent spitting up or vomiting
  • apparent belly pain (lots of gas and/or pulling up the knees in pain)
  • bloody, mucousy stools (poop)
  • hard stools
  • rash and swelling

If you think your baby has had a reaction to food, call your doctor and avoid eating or drinking anything your little one can't seem to tolerate. If your baby has difficulty with feeding, try to keep a journal of exactly what you eat and drink, along with any reactions your baby had, which could help both you and your doctor pinpoint what the problem food, or foods, might be.

Although extremely rare, if your child is having trouble breathing or has swelling of the face, call 911.

Should I avoid certain foods?

Every baby is different. Some moms may discover that their little ones get gassy or fussy after they eat beans, cauliflower, or broccoli, while other babies can tolerate these foods just fine. And some mothers can confirm that after they eat spicy foods, their babies don't seem to like the taste of their breast milk. Again, other babies may not mind if mom just enjoyed a bunch of red-hot chili peppers.

Just like during pregnancy, nursing moms should avoid or limit their intake of fish high in mercury, since high mercury levels can damage the developing nervous system.

Also, if you notice a pattern (of fussiness, gassiness, colicky behavior, etc.), try to keep track of exactly what you eat and how your baby reacts to it each time, then talk to your doctor. He or she may suggest not eating the food (such as dairy products, a common allergen) for a few days to see if there's any change.

Is alcohol still a "no-no"?

When a nursing mom drinks alcohol, a small amount of it gets into her breast milk.

The amount of alcohol in breast milk depends on the amount of alcohol in the blood. It takes about 2 hours after consuming one drink for the alcohol to be metabolized and no longer be a concern for nursing. So do not give your baby fresh breast milk, from your breast or pumped for a bottle, for at least 2 hours if you've had one drink, 4 hours if you've had two drinks, and so on.

If you do plan to drink more than a few (preferably after breastfeeding's been established for about a month), you can "pump and dump" — pump your milk and then throw it away.

Can I have caffeine?

As with alcohol, it's best to limit the amount of caffeine you consume while breastfeeding. One or two cups of coffee a day are fine, but more than one or two servings of caffeine per day may affect your baby's mood and/or sleep.

Reviewed by: Joseph DiSanto, MD, and Karin Y. DiSanto, IBCLC
Date reviewed: January 2012