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Your baby. He’ll have your smile, his father’s eyes and, ideally, your breast milk. To make sure that milk is the best it can be, you may think you need to follow the same stringent dietary guidelines as when you were pregnant. The good news is, you now can relax a little.
It’s still important to have a balanced diet of wholesome foods. However, even if your diet isn’t perfect, your milk will be—with a few key exceptions, says Ruth A. Lawrence, M.D., professor of pediatrics and obstetrics at the University of Rochester School of Medicine in New York. Nursing moms still should limit—or, in some cases, avoid—certain foods, drinks and chemicals. These include alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, some medications, environmental toxins and foods your baby might be sensitive to.
Caffeine, alcohol and medications If you abstained from caffeine and alcohol during pregnancy, you now can enjoy them in moderation, says Lawrence, who is the author of Breastfeeding: A Guide for the Medical Profession (Mosby-Yearbook, 2004). A few caffeinated sodas or two cups of coffee a day probably are OK, as is a glass of wine or beer. But be aware that caffeine can accumulate in your baby and make him restless and unable to sleep even hours later.
The best time to have an alcoholic drink is right after you’ve nursed. That gives your body a few hours to metabolize the alcohol and move it out of your bloodstream before the next feeding, says Stephanie Gabela, M.P.H., R.D., a nutrition consultant in San Diego who specializes in breastfeeding and pediatric nutrition. It takes two hours to metabolize one glass of wine or 12 ounces of beer; but if you need to breastfeed prior to that or have had more drinks, pump and discard that milk (aka “pump and dump”) and use frozen breast milk for the next feeding. To keep your body producing the proper amount of milk, it’s important to pump at about the time your baby would have nursed, rather than simply skipping a feeding.
Illegal drugs are never OK, but most medications, although they will get into your milk in small amounts, won’t harm your baby, says Philip O. Anderson, Pharm.D., director of the Drug Information Service at the University of California, San Diego, Medical Center. “As important as what you take is when,” he says. “Most reactions, such as drowsiness and fussiness, occur in babies less than 2 months old. After that age, they’re much more tolerant.” When in doubt, check with your doctor. If he’s unsure, call a help line that specializes in nursing moms and medicines. But in general, says Craig Towers, M.D., a perinatologist in Long Beach, Calif., and the author of I’m Pregnant and I Have a Cold: Are Over-the-Counter Drugs Safe to Use? (RBC Press, 1999), you should follow these rules:
Medications to treat asthma and low thyroid function are fine, as are most antibiotics and anti-depressants. However, check in with your doctor in the first six weeks after delivery if you’re taking an anti-depressant, to rule out postpartum depression.
Nonsedating prescription medications for allergies, such as Allegra and Claritin, are safe, as are nonsedating over-the-counter antihistamines, although they may inhibit milk production in some women. To clear a stuffed nose, you can use a nasal-spray decongestant; oral decongestants probably are OK as long as they are used only at the prescribed dosage.
Most painkillers (such as those prescribed after a Cesarean section) are OK short-term. Avoid aspirin, as it can thin your baby’s blood; use acetaminophen (Tylenol) instead. Ibuprofen (Advil/Motrin) also is safe, but only in minimal amounts, and only for a few days.