If you are breastfeeding or planning to breastfeed, you may have been told there are certain foods you should avoid while nursing. Foods that often seem to top the list include spicy foods, citrus fruits, and “gassy” foods (like broccoli). Here’s the good news: this isn’t true…mostly.
We know that food flavorings from Mom’s diet do pass into breast milk (and this actually starts in the womb, where the flavor of amniotic fluid is also affected by what Mom eats). In fact, these are often the earliest and most lasting exposures that baby receives from his or her culture!
Studies have shown that breastfed babies who are exposed to Mom’s diet in this way may actually take to solid foods easier when compared to their formula-fed counterparts. This is because the flavor of breast milk is always changing, whereas formula never does. This gives breastfed babies a head start in that the tastes of certain foods are already more familiar to them, making them less likely to reject them later on.
You may think that babies will become fussy and instinctively want to avoid milk flavored with certain strong foods or spices. Again, not so! One study looked at moms who ate garlic and then nursed. They found that the babies who nursed from mothers who ate the garlic actually suckled longer and obtained more milk.
Cultures vary when it comes to what they tell their nursing moms to avoid. For example, in Italy, garlic is considered bad for breastfeeding moms. Meanwhile, in certain parts of India, garlic is considered good for nursing moms.
So what is the ideal diet in terms of flavors? The most basic answer is that variety is best. This allows your baby to be exposed to many different flavors and allows him or her to start to get used to your family’s food preferences.
If you do notice that your baby gets fussy after you eat a certain food, first try to see the bigger picture. Could something else be going on, such as teething, a missed nap, or a growth spurt? If you truly think it is related to something you ate, go ahead and avoid that food. Note that you will need to give it a few days to get out of your system. If you have definitely linked a food to a reaction in your baby, you should avoid it. Then you can try to reintroduce it again in a few months as older babies will often grow out of these intolerances.
Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, March 2020
- There are no foods that a breastfeeding woman must avoid.
- What mom eats flavors her breastmilk, and may help with solid food introduction later on.
- The best diet is a varied one that includes lots of different flavors and nutrients.
- If you do notice that your baby gets fussy after you eat something, try to see if something else could be going on before automatically blaming food.