Foods & Breastfeeding: Proper Nutrition for the Nursing Mother

Veronica Tingzon, IBCLC By Veronica Tingzon, IBCLC, RLC

It’s an age-old myth. I couldn’t eat (insert type of food here) because it gave my baby gas. Sorry to tell you this, ladies, but EVERYTHING will give your baby gas as his/her gut is learning to breakdown new foods. Your baby has never eaten before. His bowels have never moved before. She’s never had the opportunity to swallow air due to how she eats or how much she cries, before. Gas is not a true indicator that baby isn’t tolerating a food, so why are you giving up all of your favorite foods just because you’re breastfeeding?

There are certain signs that your baby may not be tolerating what you’re eating during the year or more that you breastfeed, but gas is a normal part of bowel function. The newer the infant is, the more gas he/she may tend to have. And, let’s face it, it does seem miserable. Hey, it’s no walk in the park when we, as adults, have gas either.  Here are a couple of better indicators that your baby is not tolerating or may be allergic to the foods that you are consuming.

Blood in baby’s stool is a huge indicator that he/she may have an intolerance to something you are eating. If you notice a bit of blood in the baby’s stool, think back to what you’ve eaten in the past 72 hours. Write as much as you can remember down. A week or so later, try to eat one of the same foods again; if no sign of a reaction occurs, add a new food from that list every 3rd day. If you don’t see any reactions once again, you’re most likely in the clear. If you do see a reaction, the food you ate is most likely an allergen to your baby. You may want to wait several months before trying this again. If by six months of baby’s age you perform this test with the same result, the baby may be prone to a more prolonged sensitivity or allergy to that food. However, a blood or skin allergy test is the only way to confirm the sensitivity.

Another indicator of food sensitivities is eczema like patches on the baby’s skin. Commonly, these patches appear on the back of the arms around the tricep area, on the side of the thighs, on the chest or abdomen area, or the face- typically around the eyebrows or along the hairline. Once again, you can do a process of elimination to find the offender, and then eliminate that food for a period of time while you are breastfeeding.

Something I find important to advise nursing moms about is the “family food allergy factor.” If there is a major food allergy within the family, on either side, it’s best to stay away from that/those particular foods. For example, my brother-in-law is allergic to shellfish. I tried to avoid shellfish while I was breastfeeding. The reason for this is that the more exposure there is to an allergen the worse each insult becomes. If someone is already genetically prone to an allergy, even the tiniest exposure (even in breast milk) could create allergenic events that could eventually lead to anything from eczema, hives, or to anaphylaxis, which is a potentially life threatening reaction.  

But, as a breastfeeding mom, rest assured that although your nutrition should be healthy for you and your baby’s benefit, you don’t have to eliminate your favorite foods based on myths. Remember, moderation is the key to everything! So have a cup of coffee in the morning. Eat that broccoli. Pour that salsa on your burrito. And, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, you can even have a 4-ounce glass of beer or wine from time to time. Just a little side note, when drinking alcohol, its best to drink that glass right after you breastfeed and wait about 2-3 hours before feeding or pumping again. This allows for the alcohol to dissipate by the time the baby returns to the breast.

A mom will always provide the best nutrition for her baby via her breast milk. Your food will help to fuel you in order to make that perfect food for him or her. If you feel there is a concern with your nutritional intake affecting your baby, please contact a nutritionist or a board certified lactation consultant to assist you with modifications that will make you and your baby more comfortable.