Kids eat right.

Nursing Your Baby? What You Eat and Drink Matters

Reviewed by Karen Collins, MS, RDN, CDN, FAND
nursing your baby? what you eat and drink matters

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Human breast milk is the perfect nutrition source for an infant. It strikes a balance of carbohydrates, protein, fat, water and nutrients. It's easily digested and absorbed, and its composition naturally changes as a baby's developmental needs change.

Mother's milk is rich in antibodies, it builds a baby's immune system into a robust defense force, and seems to support establishment of health-supporting bacteria in a baby’s digestive tract. But does what a mother eats or drinks impact the milk she breast-feeds her child?

While nursing babies are unlikely to develop a food allergy from breast-feeding, some foods may not agree with the infant. Some foods that may cause an infant to be fussy during feedings are: spicy foods or gas-producing vegetables such as cabbage and broccoli. If this happens, avoid that particular food for at least three days and try it again when your baby is a little older.

Keep Hydrated

As a nursing mother, you should consume about 16 cups per day from food, beverages and drinking water. You get some of this fluid from water in foods, but need about 12 cups (96 fluid ounces) from drinking water and other beverages to compensate for the extra water that is used to make milk. One way to help you get the fluids you need is to drink a large glass of water each time you breast-feed your baby.

Babies typically do not need anything but their mothers’ milk to stay hydrated.

If your infant appears dehydrated due to vomiting or diarrhea that lasts 24 hours or more, consult your baby’s doctor.

What about Caffeine?

A mother who drinks small amounts of coffee is unlikely to affect either her unborn child or her nursing newborn's sleep patterns.

About 300 milligrams of caffeine spread throughout the day — the amount found in approximately 24 ounces of coffee; five shots of espresso; or seven 12-ounce cans of cola — is not considered enough to cause adverse effects for nursing mothers. Energy drinks vary widely in caffeine, and some contain large amounts, so it’s best for breast-feeding mothers to avoid these or cautiously check labels. However, if you feel that your infant becomes more fussy or irritable when you consume caffeine (usually more than five caffeinated beverages per day), consider cutting back. Newborns, especially preterm infants, typically are more sensitive to caffeine than older babies.

Alcohol during Nursing

If you breast-feed, it's best to abstain from alcohol. If your baby's breast-feeding behavior is well established, consistent, and predictable, a mother may consume a single alcoholic drink if she then waits two hours or longer before breast-feeding (no earlier than at 3 months of age). Many women have heard that drinking beer increases milk supply, but this is not true.

If you do decide to have that glass of wine or beer, there are some steps you can take to make sure it does not interfere with nursing. To ward off dehydration, be sure to drink a glass of water in addition to the alcoholic drink.

And because it can take a few hours for alcohol to fully clear from your body, preparation and timing of a nursing mother's drink is key. Time your drink so that your baby won't be nursing for a few hours afterwards by having it right after a feeding, for example, or during one of your baby's longer stretches of sleep. Another option would be for you to bottle-feed your baby previously expressed breast milk.

Is Fish OK?

While breast-feeding, reduce your exposure to known chemical contaminants such as mercury. Large bottom-dwelling fish are the most common food source of mercury. Avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish; eat up to 12 ounces of other kinds of fish every week with a maximum of 6 ounces albacore tuna per week; and check local advisories about eating locally caught fish. If no advice is posted, limit your intake of locally caught fish to 4 ounces per week and consume no other fish during that same week.