Should You Avoid Certain Foods While Breastfeeding?

When it comes to nursing, moms should focus on eating a balanced diet, not on swearing off specific foods.

If you are what you eat, then so is your nursing baby. You want to give him only the best nutrition and avoid foods that may cause harm. With so much conflicting information out there, it's not uncommon for new moms to swear off entire food groups to benefit Baby. But you can stop scratching foods off your list, says Paula Meier, Ph.D, director for clinical research and lactation in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, and president of the International Society for Research in Human Milk and Lactation. "There really isn't any food a mother should avoid while breastfeeding," Dr. Meier says.

According to Dr. Meier, the human breast actually takes what it needs from body stores to make milk, pulling calcium from bones, and fat from the mother's reserves. When it comes to the baby's health, Dr. Meier recommends that mothers maintain a balanced diet and continue to take their prenatal vitamins. Other than that, she says, the need to restrict -- or expand -- the mother's diet is a myth. "What a mother needs to think about more is what she wants to eat to protect her body's stores so they will replenish," Dr. Meier explains.

By the time the baby is breastfeeding, Dr. Meier says, she is accustomed to the flavors Mom eats. "If a mother has eaten a whole array of different foods during pregnancy, that changes the taste and smell of amniotic fluid that the baby is exposed to and is smelling in utero," she says. "And, basically, the breastfeeding is the next step going from the amniotic fluid into the breast milk." In fact, some items that mothers choose to avoid while breastfeeding, such as spices and spicy foods, are actually enticing to babies. In the early '90s, researchers Julie Mennella and Gary Beauchamp performed a study in which mothers breastfeeding their babies were given a garlic pill while others were given a placebo. The babies nursed longer, sucked harder, and drank more garlic-scented milk than those who had no garlic exposure.

Moms will restrict their diet if they suspect a correlation between something they ate and the child's behavior -- gassy, cranky, etc. But while that cause-and-effect might seem enough for a mom, Dr. Meier says she would want to see more direct evidence before making any diagnosis. "To truly say that a baby had something that was milk-related, I would want to see issues with the stools not being normal. It's very, very rare that a baby would have something that would truly be a contraindication to the mother's breastfeeding."

One thing that moms should be aware of, Dr. Meier says, is the effect of certain medications on the mother's milk supply. Cold and flu remedies that work as decongestants or antihistamines often cause a temporary slowdown in milk production. Although nursing moms can still take the medications, Meier urges them to be aware of the effect. "I tell mothers, if you need something for a cold, don't deprive yourself, but take the lowest dose for the shortest period of time that you need to make your symptoms tolerable."

Copyright © 2012 Meredith Corporation.

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