Foods to avoid

Which foods (and drinks) should I avoid when breastfeeding?

The most important thing is to include a wide variety of fresh, healthy foods in your breastfeeding diet. However, if your baby is sensitive to certain foods or drinks, you may need to avoid them. This is because traces of what you eat and drink can pass through to your breastmilk. If you have any concerns, always talk to your health visitor or GP.

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Cow’s milk

Cow's milk allergy (CMA) is one of the most common childhood food allergies. Although it's more common when formula milk is introduced, or when your baby starts eating solids, it can happen while breastfeeding. Symptoms include:

  • skin reactions – such as a red itchy rash

  • swelling – lips, face and around the eyes

  • tummy ache, vomiting, colic, diarrhoea, or constipation

  • runny or blocked nose

  • eczema

Some babies can be lactose intolerant (lactose is the natural sugar in milk). This means they can't digest it – but this not an allergy and may only be temporary. Symptoms include:

  • diarrhoea

  • vomiting

  • tummy pain or rumbling

  • wind

If you're worried that your baby is showing signs of an allergic reaction, or intolerance, speak to your doctor. They can assess your baby and advise you on the best course of action.

Caffeine

It's not just tea and coffee that contains caffeine, it's in chocolate and various energy drinks and soft drinks. It's wiser to cut out caffeine while you're breastfeeding (it's a stimulant so can make your baby restless). If you do drink caffeine, be aware of how much you're having - try not to have any more than 300mg a day. To give you an idea of what that looks like:

  • 1 mug of filter coffee: 140mg

  • 1 mug of instant coffee: 100mg

  • 1 250ml can of energy drink: 80mg (larger cans may contain up to 160mg caffeine)

  • 1 mug of tea: 75mg

  • 1 50g plain chocolate bar: up to 50mg

  • 1 cola drink (354mls): 40mg

Alcohol

Obviously, it's safer not to drink any alcohol while breastfeeding, but an occasional drink is unlikely to harm your baby. One or two units of alcohol, once or twice a week, should be fine.

What is a unit of alcohol?

  • a small glass of wine (125ml)

  • half a pint of beer

  • single measure of a spirit (25ml)

If possible, allow 2 to 3 hours in between drinking and breastfeeding (but you should only do this after breastfeeding is well established). This allows time for the alcohol to leave your breast milk. An alternative option is to express your milk before drinking any alcohol, then your baby can be bottle fed and you can skip a feed. But if you do miss a feed, make sure your breasts don't become uncomfortably full.

It's very important that you never share a bed, or sleep on the sofa with your baby if you've been drinking – as this is linked to the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Peanuts

Unless you are allergic to peanuts, there is no evidence to suggest you should avoid them (or any peanut based foods like peanut butter) while breastfeeding. If you are worried about it, or you're concerned about your baby developing a food allergy, speak to your doctor or health visitor.

Fish

It's good to include 2 portions of fish per week, but when you are breastfeeding:

  • limit swordfish, marlin or shark to 1 portion a week. This is because of the high levels of mercury found in them

  • don't eat more than 2 portions of oily fish a week (such as fresh tuna – tinned tuna is fine, salmon, trout, mackerel, herring, sardines, pilchards)

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