Eat, Drink, but Be Wary
What's safe (and what's not) while breastfeeding
Your baby. She’ll have your smile, his eyes and, ideally, your breast milk. To make that milk the best it can be, you may think that you need to follow the same stringent guidelines as when you were pregnant. The good news is, now you can relax a little.
It’s still important to have a balanced diet of wholesome foods. But even if it isn’t perfect, your milk will be—with a few key exceptions, according to Ruth A. Lawrence, M.D., a pediatrician and obstetrician in Rochester, N.Y. Nursing moms still should limit—or, in some cases, avoid—certain foods, drinks and chemicals. On the watch list are alcohol, caffeine, medications, foods your baby might be sensitive to and environmental toxins.
What’s safe, what isn’t
If you abstained from caffeine and alcohol during pregnancy, now you can enjoy them in moderation, says Lawrence, who runs a lactation-support and research center in Rochester and is the author of Breastfeeding: A Guide for the Medical Profession (Mosby-Yearbook, 1998). A few sodas or two cups of coffee a day are probably OK, as is a glass of wine or beer. Be aware, however, that caffeine can accumulate in your baby and make her restless and unable to sleep even hours later.
The best time to have an alcoholic beverage is right after you’ve nursed. That gives your body a few hours to metabolize the alcohol and move it out of the 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. But if you’ve had a few drinks to the point of feeling tipsy, pump and discard that milk and use a batch of frozen breast milk for the next feeding. (To keep your body producing the proper amount of milk, it’s important that you pump at about the time your baby would have nursed, rather than simply skipping a feeding.)
Street drugs are never OK, but most medications, though 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 occur in babies under 2 months old. After that, 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 (see “Need More Information?” on pg. 120). 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), follow these rules: