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Foods to Avoid While Breastfeeding: Unpack Myths and Truth

This post is for the breastfeeding moms who want to know which foods actually make sense to avoid, and which ones won’t negatively affect your milk supply or your baby.

Breastfeeding is hard enough as it is. If you also have a colicky baby, a gassy baby, or a baby with a cow’s milk protein allergy, you may find yourself truly stumped. 

What should I eat while breastfeeding?

What should I avoid while breastfeeding?

And if you click around long enough, you’ll sometimes see the same ingredients in articles about what to eat and articles about what to avoid. (I’m looking at you, fenugreek!)

Talk about confusing.

mother breastfeeding infant

We all want to make sure our baby is gaining weight on the right track and that our milk supply is sufficient. But sometimes we are getting conflicting (or just flat out incorrect) information.

So you want to make sure you’re getting information from a reputable source, so that you can feel confident in it.

While I’m not a lactation consultant, I am a nutrition expert. I’m a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with a Master of Clinical Nutrition degree. Everything in this post has been well-researched using reliable resources.

So let’s look at the breastfeeding diet as a whole and pick apart some of the recommendations and myths about what you should and shouldn’t eat while breastfeeding. 

We’ll touch on common foods/ingredients/diets you hear about trying or avoiding. We’ll also talk about the best snacks for a breastfeeding mom, helpful tips for a nutritious breastfeeding diet for a gassy baby, and more.

This post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases at no extra cost to you.

pumped breastmilk

Nutrition and Breastfeeding

In general, breastfeeding is a nutritionally demanding time. You need a minimum of about 300-400 extra calories to keep up with the demand of milk supply. 

You may find that your hunger cues naturally dictate this. Or you may need to be mindful about sneaking an extra snack in here or there. 

Breastfeeding is NOT a time to be in a caloric deficit. “Bounce back culture” may make you feel like breastfeeding will make the weight fall off of you. For most women, that’s not entirely true. Your body needs adequate fat stores and adequate calorie intake to make milk! I recommend avoiding all fasting diets (unless short-term, religious-related) or weight-loss focused diets while breastfeeding.

Hydration During Breastfeeding

This might go without saying, but you need A LOT of water during breastfeeding. Many breastfeeding women talk about the thirst that comes along with breastfeeding. Even if you’re not dying for water, being adequately hydrated supports your milk supply.

water during breastfeeding

More water intake doesn’t mean 1:1 more milk output, but it’s still a necessary part of the equation.

Aim to drink so that your urine is light yellow. It doesn’t have to be totally clear. If it’s clear AND you’re urinating super frequently, that could be a sign that you’re drinking too much water.

Be aware of things that might dehydrate you like sweating during exercise or excessive caffeine intake. 

I personally love these handled water bottles from Simple Modern– they help me stay on top of my hydration throughout the day.

Is a Vegetarian Diet Okay While Breastfeeding?

Yes, a vegetarian diet can be totally adequate for breastfeeding. Even a vegan diet *can* meet all the nutritional demands of breastfeeding. BUT– I would pay attention to a few nutrients of concern that can be harder to come by for vegetarians and vegans. 

First, you’ll want to make sure that you’re getting enough protein. Since animal sources comprise many of the protein options for meat eaters, you might have to be a little more strategic as a vegetarian to make sure you’re getting enough protein each day. 

Some great vegetarian sources of protein are eggs, dairy products like yogurt, cottage cheese, and milk. Some vegan sources include tofu, soy milk, legumes and beans, plant-based protein products, and nuts and seeds.

Also, take a look at the label of some of your favorite grains or bread products. You may be surprised that your sandwich bread or quinoa bowl has quite a few grams of protein too. It all counts! 

Calcium, vitamin B12, and iron are the other top nutrients I’d be aware of as a vegetarian or vegan who is also breastfeeding. 

To get enough calcium, make sure you’re eating some or all of these foods:

  • Soy (like tofu and edamame)
  • Beans
  • Almonds
  • Milk (or fortified non-dairy milk)

For vitamin B12: Eggs and dairy are the main vegetarian sources of vitamin B12. Vegans will likely need to look for fortified soy products or supplements with B12, as there are few good very vegan sources of B12.

To get enough iron, try to get some of these foods daily:

  • Leafy greens
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Legumes
  • Dried fruit
  • Whole grains
  • Iron-fortified breakfast cereal

Also, I love cooking with this nifty little iron fish or in these cast iron pans for a little extra iron boost! Talk to your doctor about whether an iron supplement would be necessary for you.

vegetarian sources of important nutrients during pregnancy

Can I Drink Alcohol While Breastfeeding?

The general consensus is that “there’s no level of alcohol in breast milk that’s considered safe for a baby.”

Many people choose to abstain entirely, which is totally valid. Others may choose to be strategic about alcohol intake to minimize any effect it may have on breastmilk.

If you drink, avoid breastfeeding until the alcohol has completely cleared your breast milk. This typically takes two to three hours for 12 ounces (355 milliliters) of 5% beer, 5 ounces (148 milliliters) of 11% wine or 1.5 ounces (44 milliliters) of 40% liquor, depending on your body weight.”

If you find that you’re having a hard time limiting your alcohol intake, it’s important to reach out to your doctor and discuss what is going on.

alcohol guidelines while breastfeeding

Can I Eat Fish While Breastfeeding?

The guidance on fish during breastfeeding is similar to during pregnancy. 

Fish is a great source of protein and other nutrients, and is definitely recommended for pregnant and breastfeeding people.

But, it may be best to limit or avoid high mercury fish to mitigate any risk of mercury passing into breast milk. 

High exposure to mercury can interfere with baby’s brain and central nervous system development. Don’t freak out though! It is easy to limit your dietary exposure to high mercury fish.

High mercury fish include swordfish, mackerel, and bluefin tuna. Lower mercury fish options are salmon, trout, and tilapia. When it comes to canned tuna – choose light or skipjack instead of white or albacore.

fish salmon while breastfeeding

THIS is a really helpful chart that identifies high vs. low mercury fish. I frequently referenced that chart while I was pregnant and breastfeeding!

The health benefits of fish are great. Eating fish weekly is something I’ve always aimed to do, even when pregnant and breastfeeding.

Can I Drink Caffeine While Breastfeeding?

caffeine and food to avoid while breastfeeding

Like with alcohol, some people choose to abstain from caffeine while breastfeeding. Some people find that it affects their baby’s sleep or causes irritability. 

However, the formal recommendation is just to limit caffeine intake while breastfeeding to no more than 2-3 cups of caffeinated beverages daily. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends no more than 300 mg caffeine daily.

Be careful with energy drinks or other bottled caffeine drinks, because they can have a lot more than the average cup of coffee. One 16-oz can of Celsius has 270 mg of caffeine, compared to 150 mg in a grande latte.

Dairy-Free Diet for Breastfeeding

Many people think dairy is a main food to avoid during breastfeeding. 

It is one of the first things breastfeeding parents tend to cut out when their baby is experiencing any unwanted symptoms.

In some cases, dairy in the parent’s diet can be an issue for the baby. A baby can have a true cow’s milk protein allergy, but this is rare! We see cow’s milk protein allergy in around 5-7% of formula-fed babies and around 0.5-1% of breastfed babies. 

There may be a correlation between cow’s milk protein allergy and colic, but more research is needed. We don’t know what causes colic. Your doctor may or may not recommend trying a dairy-free diet. Many people also cut out dairy when their child has eczema, but the research is conflicting on that, as well.

According to the National Eczema Association, eczema is likely caused by a combination of genetics and environmental allergens. The most common eczema triggers include dry skin, irritants, heat and sweating, infection, and allergens such as pet dander, pollen or dust.

milk food to avoid while breastfeeding

Lactose Intolerance and Breastfeeding

Lactose intolerance is also an unlikely problem for infants, as human milk also contains lactose. Babies are born with the lactase enzyme that allows them to digest lactose properly. This enzyme can decrease later, but onset of true lactose intolerance typically doesn’t occur until around age 3 or after.

The one exception to this would be in a case of congenital lactase deficiency- which only has a few cases ever recorded.

La Leche International says, “usually when it is recommended that you eliminate dairy products from your diet, it is because of a problem that may be caused by a protein in dairy, not because of lactose intolerance. Human milk is full of lactose, and the vast majority of babies and toddlers can digest it. Large protein molecules from cow’s milk can pass into human milk fairly intact and it is these particles that can bother a sensitive baby.”

What’s even more interesting is that new research has found a potential connection between maternal consumption of cow’s milk during lactation and a lower incidence of food allergy in the baby!

yogurt with berries dairy

Like always, definitely consult your child’s pediatrician if you have any questions or concerns about your child during breastfeeding. I just wouldn’t want you to cut out dairy unless you really have to.

Dairy is a great way for you to get the calcium your body needs. The recommended daily amount of calcium when you’re breastfeeding is 1300 milligrams daily. As a reference, one cup of milk or yogurt contains 300 milligrams of calcium.

Soy Free Diet For Breastfeeding

Soy is another common food that people are told to cut out during breastfeeding if they are experiencing any unwanted symptoms. 

Similarly to dairy, a baby can be sensitive to it, but it’s more rare.

A baby who is sensitive to soy would have what is called MSPI, or milk soy protein intolerance

If a baby does have MSPI, then it would be necessary for the breastfeeding parent to avoid cow and soy products. The good news is that babies can and usually do grow out of MSPI. 

Aside from babies with MSPI, soy is generally well tolerated by infants.

In fact, soy consumption by the breastfeeding parent may even have some benefits.

Studies show that it can increase the antioxidant content of breast milk and lead to more favorable metabolic markers.

*If you’ve stumbled upon this post looking for more information about food allergies in babies, check out my post on introducing allergenic foods to baby!

Foods to Avoid While Breastfeeding for Gassy Baby

Cruciferous veggies get a bad reputation in the breastfeeding world. Cruciferous veggies include foods like broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower. (All the ones that stink up your house when you cook them!)

cruciferous vegetables food to avoid while breastfeeding

Studies show a potential connection between consumption of cruciferous veggies and colic. These study designs aren’t the best, but that doesn’t rule out that there may be a possible correlation.

It’s important to note that the fermentable fiber that gives us gas does not pass through to breast milk. So just because a food may give you gas, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s giving your baby gas, too!

On the other hand, cruciferous veggies in the maternal diet can have some major benefits! The phytonutrients they contain– which have a wide array of benefits from improved cardiac function to disease prevention– can pass through breast milk to the infant. 

Fenugreek for Breastfeeding

Fenugreek is one of the ingredients I see online as both a solution and a potential issue. 

I remember looking into it the first time I was breastfeeding. 

I saw it as an ingredient in a product aimed at supporting milk supply and then immediately saw another product labeled “fenugreek free!”

So, is fenugreek a good food for breastfeeding?

Let’s look at what the research says. 

“Fenugreek has been used in a number of geographical regions worldwide as a galactagogue to increase milk supply and is included in numerous proprietary mixtures promoted to increase milk supply. Evidence for a galactagogue effect is mostly anecdotal. A limited number of published studies of low to moderate quality have found mixed results for a galactagogue effect for fenugreek. A meta-analysis of controlled studies found fenugreek to have a mild galactagogue effect and unknown safety profile.”

So there you have it, a big fat…maybe. Maybe that’s why you can find milk supply products both with and without it!

The bottom line is that we don’t have any high quality evidence showing that it does much for milk supply. We also don’t know a ton about its safety during breastfeeding. 

Is Sunflower Lecithin Safe While Breastfeeding?

If you’ve ever had mastitis, first of all, I’m sorry. Second of all, you’ve probably heard of sunflower lecithin.

sunflower lecithin for clogged ducts

It helps by potentially reducing the viscosity of milk causing the clogged ducts that can lead to mastitis. For clogged ducts, the usual recommended daily dosage is between 3600-4800 mg. A positive side effect of sunflower lecithin supplementation is that it also can raise choline levels for the mother, which can promote good neurodevelopment in the baby. 

Sunflower lecithin has GRAS status. That means “generally recognized as safe.” There’s no known reason to avoid it while breastfeeding. GRAS status is something that qualified, non-government officials determine. The FDA essentially ratifies the status after it is presented to them.

I personally like the NOW brand (which you can find on Amazon.) I’ve visited their main office and factory, and have witnessed firsthand the many procedures they have in place to make sure you get high quality supplements.

Just remember – if you are prescribed antibiotics to treat mastitis, it’s important to finish the whole course of antibiotics as directed by your physician.

Is Brewer’s Yeast Safe While Breastfeeding?

Brewer’s Yeast is another ingredient, similar to fenugreek, that some milk supply products include and others avoid. 

What exactly is brewer’s yeast?

“The dead yeast cells of brewer’s yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) is used as a dietary supplement to enhance milk production. No scientifically valid studies in humans have been performed that establish any effect of brewer’s yeast on milk supply. Although studies in ruminants indicate that brewer’s yeast might increase milk supply, the effect is attributed to improved nutrition (increases in vitamin B and chromium) rather than any specific effect on lactation.”

While we don’t have evidence that brewer’s yeast definitely increases milk supply, it is not harmful. Many mothers choose to give it a shot!


So, there seems to be a theme here. We don’t have any high quality evidence attributing an increase in milk supply to any one ingredient. 

Adequate nutrition and nutritional balance seem to be the biggest drivers of milk supply, rather than supplementation. 

breastfeeding mother

Lactation Cookies and Lactation Lattes for Milk Supply

What about these trendy products and recipes that pop up when you search for pretty much anything related to breastfeeding?

They usually contain galactogogues– ingredients thought to increase milk production. However, we don’t have any randomized control trials (the highest quality study design) to demonstrate their effectiveness. (It would be great if we did!)

Many of these food products marketed to support lactation do not include fenugreek and other ingredients that have unknown safety profiles. They are safe to try if you want to give them a whirl. 

But usually, if things seem too good to be true, they are. It’s highly unlikely that a lactation cookie is going to meaningfully increase your milk supply.

That’s not to say that you couldn’t experience a positive change in milk supply when using one of these products. They’re just not a magic bullet.

As is the case with most nutrition topics, an adequate, varied diet will always trump a trendy product or a popular lactation cookie recipe. 

For helpful information on increasing or maintaining milk supply, check out this article.

infant breastfeeding

Breastfeeding Myths

If you’re worrying about foods to avoid while breastfeeding, I’d focus mainly on avoiding the ones we know are potentially harmful. That includes alcohol and high mercury fish. 

Beyond that, focus on eating enough, eating variety, hydrating, taking a postnatal vitamin (I like this one, and you can also check out my favorite supplement board for more supplement recs) to cover your bases, and don’t stress about the minutiae. 

I know it’s hard not to stress when you’re having breastfeeding challenges, though. I cried so many times over breastfeeding. The best support I received was from an angel lactation consultant who a friend recommended to me.

Beyond Breastfeeding

If you find yourself making the leap from breastfeeding to starting solids, I’ve developed lots of resources to help your transition.

Here you can find a post on all my favorite baby-feeding tools, as well as an Amazon storefront page dedicated to making feeding your new eater as easy as possible. 


Also, check out my FREE, comprehensive Simply Solids guide to help you navigate the world of solids with confidence!

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Kacie Barnes holding an apple
Hi, I’m Kacie!

I’m a mom of two and a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. I offer e-guides and e-books (go to my Shop page), workshops, brand partnerships, and nutrition counseling. Check out my blog for nutrition and feeding tips for your little ones.

Disclaimer:

This post may contain affiliate links. I may earn a commission. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

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