Can a nursing mother eat this food? FAQs

August 2, 2011. Posted in: Mother's Diet

By Kelly Bonyata, IBCLC

Is there a list of foods that I should avoid while breastfeeding?

There are NO foods that a mother should avoid simply because she is breastfeeding. It is generally recommended that you eat whatever you like, whenever you like, in the amounts that you like and continue to do this unless you notice an obvious reaction in your baby to a particular food. There is no such thing as a “LIST OF FOODS THAT BREASTFEEDING MOTHERS SHOULD NOT EAT” because most nursing moms can eat anything they want, and because the babies who are sensitive to certain foods are each unique – what bothers one may not bother another. If you have a family history of allergies and think your baby might be allergic, you might want to avoid certain foods, but again, this would be different for every child.

More information:

How does mom’s diet affect her milk?

My baby is gassy. Is this caused by something in my diet?

Can nursing mothers eat strong-flavored or spicy foods?

Yes, in general. There are many cultures who regularly eat spicy foods and strong-flavored foods, and there is no evidence that a greater percentage of these babies are fussy, gassy, or have other problems with the foods their moms eat. We do know that some strong flavors, like garlic, can pass into the milk but it does not seem to cause problems. In fact, one study showed that babies nursed better after mom ate garlic.

Related information:

Do you need to avoid garlic or spicy foods? by Debbi Donovan, IBCLC

How will eating “gassy foods” affect baby?

It is common for nursing moms to be warned away from eating the so-called “gassy foods” such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, beans, etc. However, gassy foods have no more potential to affect your baby than other foods.

Eating certain foods may cause gas in mom due to the normal breakdown of some of the undigested carbohydrates (sugar, starches, soluble fiber) by bacteria in the large intestine (see Gas in the digestive tract).

However, breastmilk is made from what passes into mom’s blood, not what is in her stomach or digestive track. Neither the gas nor the undigested carbohydrates (whose breakdown can cause gas in mom) pass into mom’s blood, so it is impossible for these things to pass into your milk to make your baby gassy.

This is not saying that your baby will not have a sensitivity to a certain food, but a food’s potential to affect baby really has nothing to do with whether it makes mom gassy.

See also My baby is gassy. Is this caused by something in my diet? @

Can acidic foods that mom eats be “too acid” for baby?

No. Acidic foods like citrus, tomatoes, etc. can not change the acidity of breastmilk. Like any other food, however, some babies will be sensitive to the proteins that pass into mom’s milk.

Will too many sweets or increasing/decreasing fat in my diet affect breastmilk?

No. Breastmilk is not affected by the amount of sugar that mom eats.

In addition, the fat and calorie content of mom’s milk is not affected by her diet. However, the kinds of fats in the milk can be changed (to a certain extent) via diet.

See also:

Does Mom’s sugar intake affect her breastmilk? by Debbi Donovan, IBCLC

What affects the amount of fat or calories in mom’s milk? @

Is my exclusively breastfed baby gaining too much weight? @

How might I increase baby’s weight gain? @

Can I drink soda (diet or regular)?

Soda generally contains carbonation (the part that makes it fizzy), caffeine and/or artificial sweeteners. See below for more information.

Can I drink coffee or soda that contains caffeine?

See Breastfeeding and Caffeine.

Can I eat/drink foods containing artificial sweeteners?

Nutrasweet (aspartame)

According to Hale (Medications and Mothers’ Milk, 2012), Nutrasweet (aspartame) levels in mother’s milk are too low to produce significant side effects in infants who do not have PKU (phenylketonuria). It IS contraindicated in babies with proven PKU. Hale lists aspartame in Lactation Risk Category L1 (safest), but L5 (contraindicated) if baby has PKU.

Splenda (sucralose)

According to Hale (Medications and Mothers’ Milk, 2012), there has been little research on sucralose in breastfeeding women. Per Hale, it is poorly absorbed from the GI tract and is excreted unchanged in the urine. The United States FDA considers sucralose to be safe for use in breastfeeding women. Hale lists sucralose in Lactation Risk Category L2 (safer).

Sorbitol

Sorbitol is a sugar alcohol found naturally in some fruits and vegetables and is used as a sweetener in foods and medications. It’s not listed in Hale, but is unlikely to be a problem breastfeeding-wise. It’s commonly used in toothpaste, sugar-free chewing gum, etc.

Saccharin

Per Hale (Medications and Mothers’ Milk, 2012), milk levels of saccharin tend to accumulate over time, but still are considered minimal. Moderate intake should not be a problem for nursing mothers. Hale classifies it in Lactation Risk Category L3 (probably safe).

Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana)

Stevia is a very sweet herb that is used by many as a zero-calorie sugar substitute. Rebaudioside A (purified from Stevia rebaudiana) is “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) as a sweetening agent for foods by the US Food and Drug Administration, but no studies have been done on pregnant or breastfeeding women. Hale (Medications and Mothers’ Milk, 2012) recommends caution when it comes to using stevia while breastfeeding because many different herbs in the same genus are being used as natural sweeteners, and because there are no studies on the use of stevia in breastfeeding women. He classifies stevia in Lactation Risk Category L3 (probably safe).

More information:

Safety of sucralose from the Splenda website

Artificial sweeteners by William Sears, MD (general info, not breastfeeding related)

Artificial sweetener info from Dr. Jay Gordon (general info, not breastfeeding related)

Butchko HH, et al. Aspartame: review of safety. Regul Toxicol Pharmacol. 2002 Apr;35(2 Pt 2):S1-93.

Spiers PA, et al. PDF Aspartame: neuropsychologic and neurophysiologic evaluation of acute and chronic effects. Am J Clin Nutr. 1998 Sep;68(3):531-7.

Can a nursing mother eat honey?

Honey is not a problem for mom to eat. The gut flora of adults and children over a year old are able to fend off the botulism spores that may be present in honey, and render them harmless. Since the spores would be killed in your gastrointestinal tract, they would not make it into your bloodstream and therefore cannot be present in your milk.

A baby’s gut can’t defend itself against the botulism spores, and so they can colonize the intestinal tract, germinate and release botulinum neurotoxin. As a result, honey is not recommended for babies under a year old. It’s recommended that you avoid giving baby anything that contains honey, or make sure that the cooking process kills any botulism spores that might be present. Botulism spores are very heat resistant – the toxin is less resistant.

More information:

Honey accidentally eaten by baby

Tanzi MG, Gabay MP. Association between honey consumption and infant botulism. Pharmacotherapy 2002 Nov;22(11):1479-83.

Infant botulism from FamilyPracticeNotebook.com

Botulism from the US Centers for Disease Control

Can I eat foods containing MSG (monosodium glutamate)?

Human milk normally contains free glutamates (avg. of 22 mg/100g milk). Breastmilk levels are only modestly affected by moms ingestion of MSG. [FSANZ 2003, IFICF 2001, Stegink 1972]

The American Academy of Pediatrics considers MSG to be compatible with breastfeeding [AAP 2001].

References and additional information:

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ). PDF Monosodium Glutamate: A Safety Assessment. Technical Report Series No. 20. Canberra, Australia: Food Standards Australia New Zealand; 2003 June.

International Food Information Council Foundation (IFICF). Glutamate and Monosodium Glutamate: Examining the Myths [PDF]. Washington, DC: International Food Information Council Foundation; 2001 Nov. 12 pp. [See p. 2-3.]

Stegink LD, Filer LJ Jr, Baker GL. Monosodium glutamate: effect of plasma and breast milk amino acid levels in lactating women. Proc Soc Exp Biol Med. 1972 Jul;140(3):836-41.

Committee on Drugs, American Academy of Pediatrics. The Transfer of Drugs and Other Chemicals Into Human Milk. Policy Statement. Pediatrics. 2001 Sept;108(3):776-789. [See Table 7: Food and Environmental Agents: Effects on Breastfeeding.]

General information:

MSG: A Common Flavor Enhancer by Michelle Meadows, from FDA Consumer magazine, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, January-February 2003

Everything You Need To Know About Glutamate And Monosodium Glutamate from the International Food Information Council Foundation, January 1997

Should I be avoiding certain kinds of fish?

Due to the risk of too-high levels of methylmercury affecting an unborn child, the US Food & Drug Administration advises pregnant women to avoid eating several types of fish: shark, swordfish, king mackeral and tilefish (these are longer-lived, larger fish that feed on other fish and are thus more likely to accumulate higher levels of mercury). Per the FDA, “While it is true that the primary danger from methylmercury in fish is to the developing nervous system of the unborn child, it is prudent for nursing mothers and young children not to eat these fish as well.” They recommend that your consumption of other kinds of fish (shellfish, canned fish, smaller ocean fish or farm-raised fish) average no more than 12 ounces per week.

Others recommend that the FDA list of unsafe fish be expanded. See Mercury In Your Fish by Ken Cook, President of the Environmental Working Group, for additional information and suggested lists of safe and unsafe fish during pregnancy.

What about tuna? Per the FDA, you can safely include tuna as part of your weekly fish consumption. The FDA ranks fresh and canned tuna as “Fish and Shellfish With Much Lower Mercury Levels.” The varieties of fish that the FDA does suggest we avoid contain methylmercury in amounts ranging from 0.96-1.45 PPM (parts per million). Fresh tuna averages 0.32 PPM and canned tuna averages 0.17 PPM. Tuna steaks and canned albacore tuna generally contain higher levels of mercury than canned light tuna. On the other hand, the Environmental Working Group suggests that pregnant mothers avoid eating tuna steak altogether, and eat canned tuna no more often than once a month.

References and additional information:

Breastfeeding and Mercury Exposure @

What You Need to Know About Mercury in Fish and Shellfish: Advice For Women Who Might Become Pregnant, Women Who Are Pregnant, Nursing Mothers, Young Children . (March 2004). US Food & Drug Administration.

Mercury Levels in Fish from the Maine Environmental Health Unit

Mercury In Your Fish by Ken Cook, President of the Environmental Working Group

State Advisories on Methylmercury in Fish

FDA and EPA Announce the Revised Consumer Advisory on Methylmercury in Fish. FDA News Release, March 19, 2004.

Mercury Levels in Commercial Fish and Shellfish from the US FDA. Lists various varieties of fish and seafood along with methylmercury levels in each.

Environmental contaminants and breastfeeding @ kellymom

Can I eat sushi?

Yes; just make certain that you are comfortable with the source and care of the raw fish (reputable sushi bars are very careful about this). Like any raw food, sushi can carry carry parasites or a bacteria called listeria monocytogenes (see below for more on listeriosis), and some species of fish should be avoided due to mercury levels. The consensus among breastfeeding experts seems to be that eating raw-fish-sushi doesn’t pose a problem for a breastfeeding baby (though it has the potential to make mom sick).

More information:

Can a nursing mom eat sushi? by Debbi Donovan, IBCLC

Can a nursing mother eat unpasteurized soft cheeses?

Yes, nursing mothers can eat soft cheeses. Unpasteurized soft cheeses (and other unpasteurized dairy products) can carry a bacteria called listeria monocytogenes. Cheese made in the United States must be made from pasteurized milk (pasteurization kills the listeria organism), but imported cheeses may be a problem. Listeriosis is usually a minor flu-like illness in healthy adults, but can cause serious problems for pregnant women and may be linked to stillbirth and miscarriage (as it can be passed to baby via the placenta). Although eating unpasteurized dairy products is not recommended during pregnancy, it is not considered a problem for nursing moms.

Per Lawrence (Breastfeeding: A guide for the medical profession 1999, p 569), “No evidence in the literature suggests transmission of Listeria through breastmilk.” This reference indicates that the only thing that might interfere with breastfeeding is a mother’s inability to nurse due to severe illness.

Other foods that can carry listeria that are considered safe for nursing moms (but not during pregnancy):

  • hot dogs, luncheon meats, bologna, or other deli meats unless they are reheated until steaming hot
  • soft cheese such as Feta, queso blanco, queso fresco, Brie, Camembert cheeses, blue-veined cheeses, and Panela unless it is labeled as made with pasteurized milk. Make sure the label says, “MADE WITH PASTEURIZED MILK.”
  • refrigerated pâté, meat spreads from a meat counter, or smoked seafood found in the refrigerated section of the store. Foods that don’t need refrigeration, like canned tuna and canned salmon, are okay to eat. Refrigerate after opening.
  • salads made in the store such as ham salad, chicken salad, egg salad, tuna salad, or seafood salad
  • raw (unpasteurized) milk or foods that have unpasteurized milk in them
    Source: Protect Your Baby and Yourself From Listeriosis

More information:

Listeriosis information from the US Centers for Disease Control

Is it safe to eat peanuts and peanut butter while nursing?

Current research indicates that avoiding peanuts during pregnancy or breastfeeding does not help to prevent peanut allergies in your child.

Until recently, allergists recommended that children not get peanuts or peanut products until at least 36 months old, but recent studies tell us that this delay does not help to prevent peanut allergies..

More information:

Peanut allergies, children and pregnancy from the March of Dimes

Greer FR, Sicherer SH, Burks AW; American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition; American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Allergy and Immunology. Effects of Early Nutritional Interventions on the Development of Atopic Disease in Infants and Children: The Role of Maternal Dietary Restriction, Breastfeeding, Timing of Introduction of Complementary Foods, and Hydrolyzed Formulas. Pediatrics. 2008 Jan;121(1):183-91.

Thompson RL, Miles LM, Lunn J, Devereux G, Dearman RJ, Strid J, Buttriss JL. Peanut sensitisation and allergy: influence of early life exposure to peanuts. Br J Nutr. 2010 May;103(9):1278-86. Epub 2010 Jan 26.