What Are You Eating?

Spoiler: It probably isn't something you ate.

Lactating parents will often hear recommendations to try to take a food out of their diet to fix a particular issue. Friends, family, and sometimes healthcare providers may recommend changes without any basis, dietary counseling, or explanation of why.

Let me break this down for you because you deserve to know why you should choose to remove something from your diet… or not. 

Every food takes a different amount of time to get into your breastmilk. When you eat something, it has to be digested in your stomach, then the nutrients, proteins, and fats are absorbed by your intestines into your bloodstream. The blood needs to circulate all around your body before it is sent to your breasts to be used to create breastmilk. Your breastmilk will pull what it needs from your blood. Needless to say, if you had broccoli for lunch, your baby probably isn’t eating that same broccoli for dinner. Foods can stay in a lactating parent’s breastmilk for up to three weeks. So, guess all day long if it was something that you ate, but all it will be is guessing. 

Most importantly, lactating parents should be eating a balanced diet. You should be eating enough calories and drinking enough fluids. All those no-nos from pregnancy are back in. Lunch meats, unpasteurized cheeses, sushi(!) are all fine to eat. 

Drink caffeine in moderation, like in pregnancy.

Go ahead and drink alcohol. But, if you wouldn’t drive, don’t nurse. You don’t need to buy those fancy breastmilk tester strips to find out if your milk has alcohol in it; just use your brain. Alcohol moves in and out of your breastmilk just like it moves in and out of your bloodstream. When you have a little too much alcohol, you feel tipsy and there is alcohol in your blood and in your breastmilk. As your liver metabolizes the alcohol, it pulls the alcohol back out of your bloodstream and also out of your breastmilk. Cool, huh? 

Rarely, a lactating parent may need to eliminate a food due to an allergy or sensitivity, most commonly Milk and Soy Protein Intolerance. The most common sign that this may be an issue is blood in the baby’s stool. Elimination is needed to determine if a certain food is the culprit. This process should only be completed in collaboration with both your pediatrician and lactation consultant. Often, seeing a GI specialist and nutritionist is helpful as well. Healthcare providers can help guide you through the recommended steps of proper elimination to limit the stress and difficulties accompanying the process.

If your baby has been diagnosed with an allergy or food intolerance and you need to avoid a food:

Consider consulting with a nutritionist for ideas and tips to consume enough calories in a balanced diet.

Read all labels to determine if the food you need to avoid is in the product. (A nutritionist can help teach you how to do this too).

Eating Out

  • Let the staff know you have an allergy or food intolerance.
  • Know that there is no guarantee of no cross-contamination. They do their best, but it is possible a little piece of something ends up in your food. You have to be okay with that possibility if eating out. This comfort level will vary based on your child’s diagnosis and reactions.
  • Bring food with you.
  • Parties: Potluck? Bring a hearty dish of something you can eat. Eat before and after instead of at the party. Pack a snack.