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  • Writer's pictureMorgan Mcihalowski, CNM, WHNP-BC, IBCLC

How to Eat What You Want While Breastfeeding (and eliminate infant fussiness)

"My baby is fussy and having a hard time sleeping. Is this normal?”

"My baby spits up after each feeding. She's fussy and acting differently. What do I do?"

"Do I need to watch what I eat when breastfeeding?"

If you're wondering whether your breastfed baby is just gassy or if it's something more, you're not alone.

And if it feels like we're in your mind, we're not. But we have seen this question, in its many variations, posted on the app.

This week on Social Mama, we are deep-diving into how to understand if your baby is intolerant to something in your breast milk, what you can or can't eat while breastfeeding, and how to ensure you have a healthy and happy breastfed baby (and mom).

Are you ready? Let's go!

Basics of a Healthy Breastfeeding Diet

Yes, mama, you can eat whatever you like, whenever you want, however much you wish UNLESS you notice a reaction in your baby.

There is no exact science behind foods you should avoid because babies who are sensitive to specific foods are unique – what bothers one may not bother another.

You may be what you eat, but your breast milk is not. The fat-protein-carb combination of human milk isn't directly related to the foods and drinks you put into your body. Even if you don't get enough nutrients to produce milk, your body will tap into its stores to fuel milk production to ensure adequate nutrition for your baby.

Just because you can make milk on a less-than-adequate diet doesn't mean you should.

Pregnancy depletes you of key nutrients, as does breastfeeding; the aim is to keep well-fed and hydrated when you’re easily burning 300-500 calories every single day.

Eating well when you're nursing means getting a variety of nutritious foods which, pro tip, exposes your baby to many different flavors to enhance their growing taste buds and future food preferences!

Tip #1: Eat This, And That

Ensure you’re getting enough nutrients by consuming:

  • Protein: 3 servings/day

  • Calcium: 5 servings or between 1,000 and 1,500 mg/day

  • Iron-rich foods: 1 or more servings/day

  • Vitamin C: 2 servings/day

  • Leafy greens 3 to 4 servings/day

  • Other fruits and veggies: 1 or more servings/day

  • Whole grains and complex carbohydrates: 3 or more servings/day

  • High-fat foods

  • Omega 3s: 2 to 3 servings/day

  • Prenatal vitamin: Daily

  • Drink at least 8 cups per day, more if you feel thirsty.

Foods to Avoid While Breastfeeding

  • Excessive caffeine: 300 milligrams or less is safe while you're breastfeeding. If your baby seems jittery, irritable, or sleepless, dial back caffeine intake.

  • High-mercury fish: Avoid high-mercury fish like shark, orange roughy, swordfish, marlin, bigeye tuna, tilefish, and King mackerel. Limit tuna to 8 to 12 ounces a week of canned light tuna or no more than 4 ounces a week of white albacore tuna.

  • High-fat dairy and meat: Pesticides and chemicals reside in animal fat, so it's best to stick to low-fat dairy and meat.

  • Processed foods: Check labels and avoid processed foods containing long lists of additives.

Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy but are OK to Eat While Breastfeeding:

Raw fish (including sushi and oysters), unpasteurized soft cheeses, cold cuts that are cold, and undercooked meat.

What Doctors & Experts Say about Alcohol and Breastfeeding:

The consensus among pediatric researchers, doctors, and scientists is that the occasional use of alcohol does not appear harmful to the nursing baby.

Many experts recommend drinking more than 1-2 drinks per week.

Thomas Hale, professor of pediatrics at Texas Tech University, states, "mothers who ingest alcohol in moderate amounts can generally return to breastfeeding as soon as they feel neurologically normal." (2019)

I love this advice because it encourages you to listen to your body. While you're tipsy, you probably won't want to interact with the baby at all. Once you feel like yourself again, it's safe to nurse, play, snuggle, and more.

Nursing should take place 2 hours or longer after the alcohol intake to minimize its concentration in the ingested milk. Many of us have heard that last piece of advice before, and it's another great, basic guideline. Give your body some time to process the alcohol before you dive back into pumping or nursing.

Tip #2: Baby Knows Best

Signs your Baby is Adversely Reacting to Your Diet:

While most babies aren't picky eaters, a few have sensitive palates. If you notice a fussy baby after eating garlic or healthy spices, you might have a sensitive baby on your hands.

Foods most likely to cause gassiness, but not necessarily an allergic reaction, in babies include cabbage, broccoli, onions, cauliflower, beans, and Brussels sprouts. If your breastfed baby is sensitive to a particular food, she might be fussy after feeding, cry inconsolably for long periods, or sleep little and wake suddenly with obvious discomfort.

While it is possible food reactions occur within minutes, breastfed babies' symptoms more commonly show up 4-24 hours after exposure. It usually takes between two and six hours from when you eat until it affects your breast milk.

It’s likely your baby will be back to normal within a couple of hours but if your baby is sensitive to a food you eat frequently, you may notice ongoing symptoms.

Top Causes of Food Allergies:

Cow's milk products, soy, wheat, corn, eggs, peanuts and other nuts.

If your family has a history of allergies to a specific food, add it to your list of culprits.

Signs of a food allergy may include

  • Rash, hives, eczema, sore bottom, dry skin

  • Wheezing or asthma

  • Congestion or cold-like symptoms

  • Red, itchy eyes

  • Ear infections

  • Irritability, fussiness, colic

  • Intestinal upsets, vomiting, constipation, and diarrhea, or green stools with mucus or blood.

Your baby might demonstrate extreme fussiness and crying, as well as:

  • Occasional-to-frequent vomiting

  • Loose, watery (or mucousy) stools, possibly tinged with blood.

  • Lack of weight gain

  • Eczema, hives, wheezing, and nasal discharge or stuffiness.

Instead of attempting an elimination diet to determine the cause of your baby’s adverse reaction, try Freedom Strips for a quick and easy way to determine the cause of allergies.

Free to Feed™, a medical technology company, designed an allergen test that identifies various food proteins in breast milk, allowing breastfeeding mothers to determine what is eliciting an infant's response. There IS a better solution to blindly trialing elimination diets or switching to a hypoallergenic formula.

Freedom Strips is an alternative and complementary option for mothers to understand what allergens may be present in their breast milk at the time of feeding.

Tip #3: Boost Your Milk Supply

Boost Key Hormones: phytoestrogens are a natural compound found in plant-based foods. They balance your estrogen and boost your milk supply.

One of the best-known ways to increase milk supply is by eating garlic! Most infants tolerate garlic in breast milk quite well; however, if you notice increased fussiness in your infant, dial it back.

Make this when you want a taste of heaven with zero effort.

Garlic confit magic elixir: Buy fresh peeled garlic to save all the time. Gluten-free, Dairy-free; Prep time: 20 minutes. Recipe

Increase prolactin, a milk-producing hormone, by eating oats. They are rich in plant estrogens and beta-glucan.

Make this when you need a high protein smoothie.

The Breakfast Smoothie: Prep a smoothie bag and buy five more minutes of sleep. Gluten-free, Dairy-Free. Prep time: 5 minutes. Recipe

You can prep smoothies ahead of time by placing all ingredients, except liquid or any ones that won't blend well when frozen, in a sandwich-size plastic baggie. Add liquid in the morning.

Pro tip: Protein powder is safe to consume while breastfeeding! You may want to avoid protein powders with fillers! Milk Drunk Protein Powder is an excellent option if you're looking to boost your supply, too.

Stimulate lactation with foods rich in phytoestrogens. Try:

Fennel: Make this when you need comfort food for any mood.

Roasted Fennel with Parmesan: Gluten-Free; Prep time 10 minutes. Recipe

You can eat fennel raw or cooked, add fennel seeds to a recipe, or drink it as a tea. Pro tip: Fennel is a traditional remedy to reduce colic in infants.

Dark Leafy greens (spinach, kale, collard greens, broccoli): Make this when you need a dish served with a side of tang.

Collards Greens and Kale: Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free. Prep time: 15 minutes). Recipe

Sesame seeds: Make this when you want the perfect energy bar.

Chewy Sesame Bars: Store in fridge or freezer. Dairy-Free; Prep time: 5 minutes. Recipe

Add the milk-producing, immune-boosting powerhouse super seed, Flaxseed, to any meal and get a bonus bump in Omega-3/DHA!

Make this when you're in a pinch and need a sandwich wrap ASAP.

Flaxseed Wraps: Gluten-Free, Vegan. Prep time: 10 minutes. Recipe

One of the oldest milk boosting foods, and a great addition to your diet for being high in proteins and fatty acids, are Almonds!

Make this when you believe it's impossible to be healthy and decadent at the same time.

The Best Vegan Broccoli Salad Ever: Put broccoli, onion, almonds in a food processor to avoid chopping. Gluten-free, Dairy-Free; Prep time: 15 minutes. Recipe

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