May 31, 2023 • 8 min read

Foods to Avoid While Breastfeeding 

Medically Reviewed by Kim Langdon, MD on 07.16.23
  • Facebook
  • Linkedin
  • Twitter
  • Message

Most women recognize that they’re eating for two when they’re pregnant and try to eat as healthy as possible. Once they switch to breastfeeding the baby, however, they may not be sure if the same rules apply. Issues like losing baby weight and returning to a pre-pregnancy diet can complicate their decision-making. 

Many of the same foods you needed during pregnancy are still needed for a healthy breastfed baby:

  • Whole grains (whole grain bread, brown rice, quinoa)
  • Fresh or frozen vegetables (tomatoes, leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, beans, peas)
  • Whole fruits (grapes, citrus, stone fruits, berries)
  • Lean meats, poultry, and fish (chicken, duck, turkey, fresh fish)
  • Dairy (yogurt, milk, ice cream)
  • Water (lots of it)

But are there foods you would normally eat that now aren’t good for your baby? The short answer is yes! There are foods you should avoid when breastfeeding your baby. Some of these are things you avoided during pregnancy like alcohol and caffeine. Others are specific to breastfeeding. 

This guide covers the foods you should avoid while breastfeeding and explain why they should not be part of your diet during this important time in your baby’s life. You’ll learn how to spot when your baby is not tolerating the food you eat and where to find support for making the healthiest choices.

Foods to avoid while breastfeeding

When planning your breastfeeding diet, it’s important to learn the best foods to eat after giving birth. There are also great recommendations for what to drink to increase your breastmilk supply

You also want to learn what to avoid while breastfeeding. Some of the foods and beverages you should avoid are obvious because they aren’t healthy at any time in life. Others may surprise you because they seem healthy. 

  • Fish high in mercury. Fish carry mercury from the environment. Fish that eat other fish have the highest mercury levels. While salmon, canned tuna, and many freshwater fish are safe, those you should avoid include stingray, shark, orange roughy, barramundi, and bluefin tuna. 
  • Shellfish. Shellfish are notorious allergens. Around 2% of people have a notable allergy to shellfish. Because the shellfish you eat is delivered through your breast milk to your baby, you will want to watch for shellfish-mediated allergic reactions (such as eczema) in your baby. Most women can still eat shellfish but, if there is an allergy to shellfish in other children or family members, your baby could also have them. 
  • High amounts of alcohol.  There is no evidence that small amounts of alcohol consumed by breastfeeding moms are harmful to the baby, particularly when you follow certain guidelines. The CDC recommends no alcohol if you can, but says that one standard drink per day isn’t harmful if you wait two hours until you breastfeed. One standard drink is a glass of wine, a shot of hard liquor, or a can of beer. 
  • High amounts of caffeine. Any caffeine you consume in sodas, coffee, tea, and chocolate will be consumed by your baby during breastfeeding. If you don’t want an alert, fussy, or agitated baby, avoid caffeinated foods or beverages. Studies show that most babies do okay as long as mothers stick to less than three cups of coffee daily (about 300 milligrams of caffeine). More coffee may mean your baby will be too fussy or won’t sleep well after nursing. 
  • Spicy or heavily seasoned foods. Spices that may affect your baby include cayenne pepper, paprika, ginger, curry, habanero pepper, cinnamon, and other types of hot peppers. None of these is dangerous to your baby but, if you eat food that is heavily spiced and your baby is repeatedly fussy afterward or has other issues, you need to avoid that particular spice. 
  • Garlic and onions. Garlic and onions have a specific substance called allicin that makes them pungent. It is not dangerous to your baby but will have a strong odor and flavor your baby may not like. You might also notice that your baby has garlic breath after nursing—something you might not appreciate either. 
  • Foods that cause gas. Postpartum gas is an issue for many women and can be painful. Some of the foods you eat may cause gas in your baby as well. Those that are more likely to give rise to this issue include soy, broccoli or cauliflower, cabbage, dairy products, citrus fruits, caffeinated beverages, and spicy foods. As with other foods you eat, it helps to pay attention to how your baby acts after eating what you’ve eaten. 
  • Very sugary foods and drinks. High-sugar foods are not healthy for adults, particularly as they cause weight gain and diabetes. Your baby may also have a poor start in life if you consume too much sugar. Research shows that excessive sugar intake among breastfeeding moms leads to poorer intellect in their children later in life. 
  • Foods very high in fat. High-fat foods slow down digestion and contribute to weight gain in children and adults. There is some evidence that high-fat diets cause babies to gain excess weight they may not need. If you want to eat fatty foods, stick with those high in omega-3 fatty acids (seeds, nuts, and fish), which are good for your baby’s brain health. 
  • Foods that are known allergens. If you know or suspect that your baby is allergic to something you’re eating, avoid that food. The foods that children are most likely to be allergic to include dairy products, eggs, fish, soy, wheat, oats, shellfish, sesame, and nuts. 
  • Certain herbal supplements. Herbal supplements are taken for their health benefits. Some, like fenugreek, are used to enhance your breast milk production but can cause GI upset and diarrhea in your baby. Research is scarce in the area of herbal supplements and nursing. Most are not likely to harm your child, but you need to be aware of the possibility that your baby may have an adverse effect when you consume them. 
  • Highly processed foods. Highly processed foods are never good for your health, especially when compared to fresh, homemade foods. Processed foods like baked goods, premade meals, and processed meats are higher in fat, salt, and sugar than foods you make at home. Your baby may have effects from so much fat or sugar and will rarely gain nutrients from these foods. 
dietitian patient image

Find a dietitian covered by insurance

90% of Zaya Care patients pay $0 for dietitian visits

Warning signs that your diet is negatively impacting your baby

How do you know if your baby is having difficulty with the food you are consuming?  Side effects from food proteins, allergens, or other properties of the food range from GI symptoms to serious allergic reactions. 

The best thing you can do as a mom is to pay attention to how your baby behaves after nursing. If they behave differently than usual, you may want to explore the reason why. 

There are a few common symptoms to expect if your baby is intolerant of your diet: 

  • Excessive gas. Gas can mean that your baby is consuming too much indigestible fiber that they can’t process. Anything your baby cannot easily digest will be consumed instead by the bacteria in your baby’s gut. The gas is released by the bacteria as part of their metabolism. 
  • More fussiness or irritability than usual. Foods that cause stomach discomfort and allergens can make your baby fussy or irritable. If your baby is having belly pain, itching, or other discomfort, it may be an adverse reaction to the food you’ve eaten.
  • Diarrhea or constipation. Just as certain foods cause you to have constipation or diarrhea, there will be foods that have similar effects on your baby. Food intolerances are more likely to cause diarrhea as a side effect, but constipation can also be caused by co-feeding cows’ milk or rice cereal along with your breast milk.  
  • Poor sleep. A baby with an upset stomach may sleep poorly. Consuming caffeine may also cause poor sleep in a baby just as it does in adults. 
  • Baby isn’t gaining enough weight. If your baby fails to gain weight despite eating enough, something may be impairing nutrient and calorie absorption. If your baby is not eating enough, it may be that they don’t like something in your breast milk. 
  • Vomiting. Vomiting may mean that your baby is intolerant to something in your diet or is having an allergic reaction to a substance in their food. 
  • Bloody stool. Bloody stools could mean the baby has swallowed blood from cracked nipples. A condition called allergic colitis can also cause bleeding in the bowels from an allergy that often occurs with cows’ milk. If you’re consuming cows’ milk and your baby drinks your breast milk, the allergy they have comes from the milk you’ve consumed (the milk proteins are expressed in the breast milk). 
  • Hives. Hives or urticaria come from your baby demonstrating an allergy to their environment. If your baby has urticaria, it often means they have ingested something triggering the release of IgE antibodies. 
  • Wheezing. Wheezing is another sign of allergies in your baby. Allergic reactions causing urticaria (hives) can also lead to respiratory symptoms like wheezing. 
  • Anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is the most serious manifestation of an allergy. Your baby will have difficulty breathing, pallor, lip or face swelling, and vomiting. 
  • Eczema or other skin rashes. Eczema is a mild skin rash or irritation often seen on the scalp, face, or upper arm regions of the body. It is almost always caused by an allergy. Eczema may or may not lead to your baby having symptoms but because it is itchy, the rash may cause them to be irritable. 

How a postpartum nutritionist can help you choose healthy foods to eat while breastfeeding

postpartum nutritionist may help you navigate the challenges of breastfeeding your baby, particularly if you’re concerned about your baby having a food allergy or intolerance. Postpartum nutritionists are trained in nutrition, breastfeeding, and pediatric nutrition so they have a wealth of experience to share with you. 

Your postpartum nutritionist can analyze your diet, aid you in determining which foods to eat and which to avoid while breastfeeding, and help with other issues like postpartum weight gain. Be sure to share what your diet is like and talk with them about your baby’s symptoms as they relate to their diet. 

Your nutritionist can help even if you have no issues with breastfeeding or are only contemplating breastfeeding. If you have special needs in your own diet or are concerned in any way about the breastfeeding process, your nutritionist can guide you through a successful breastfeeding experience. 

You can use Zaya Care’s provider search tool to find a postpartum nutritionist who can help you navigate the challenges of breastfeeding. You can filter results by location, insurance accepted, visit type, and more, then book completely online.

dietitian patient image

Find a dietitian covered by insurance

90% of Zaya Care patients pay $0 for dietitian visits

Christine Traxler MD is a family physician, lifelong writer, and author with a special interest in mental health, women’s healthcare, and the physical after-effects of psychological trauma. As a contributing writer and editor for numerous organizations, she brings a holistic focus to her work that emphasizes healing and wellness through daily self-care, connecting with others, and setting stepwise goals toward achieving more balanced and authentic lives.