What foods and products should I include or avoid while breastfeeding?
When you breastfeed, your diet doesn’t have to be perfect. However, it is important to choose nutritious foods, maintain a balanced diet, and eat according to your appetite. This will allow you to restore your nutritional reserves after childbirth and stave off fatigue.
Listen to your appetite
It’s perfectly normal to feel hungrier than usual when breastfeeding. To make breast milk, your body needs between 300 and 1,000 extra calories every day. Some of these calories come from the reserves you’ve accumulated during pregnancy. Your diet provides the rest. So, to produce enough milk, it’s important to eat according to your appetite.
Don’t worry about how much you’re eating and don’t deprive yourself. Most mothers gradually lose weight within six months of giving birth when they listen to their hunger cues. After that, their weight begins to stabilize.
Advice on choosing what to eat
- Consult Canada’s food guide to make sure you’re getting all the nutrients you need to keep you and your baby healthy.
Avoid dieting while breastfeeding. It can leave you feeling low and fatigued.
- In addition to your three daily meals, make sure to eat healthy, nutritious snacks when you’re hungry (e.g., fruit, veggies, muffins, whole grain bread, cereal, cheese, yogurt, smoothies).
- Remember to drink plenty of fluids, as your thirst naturally increases when you breastfeed. If your urine is dark, it may be a sign that you’re not drinking enough water. However, drinking a lot of fluids does not increase the amount of milk you produce. Furthermore, the idea that you need to drink milk to produce milk is a myth.
Experts recommend that women continue taking a multivitamin and mineral supplement while breastfeeding. Finish the prenatal vitamins you were taking during your pregnancy, and then ask your pharmacist for advice on the most suitable options for breastfeeding. If you’re a vegetarian and don’t eat any animal products, be sure to include a vitamin B12 supplement.
Health Canada recommends giving breastfed babies a vitamin D supplement until they reach 1 year of age. The recommended dose is 400 IU per day.
For babies in northern communities, the recommended dose is 800 IU per day for breastfed babies and 400 IU per day if they are formula-fed.
Can my baby have a reaction to my breast milk?
The foods you eat influence both the nutritional value and the flavour of your milk. Depending on what you eat, the taste of breast milk changes from one feeding to another. Your baby will discover a variety of flavours thanks to you, so feel free to eat whatever you like.
For a long time, people thought that certain foods, such as cabbage, onions, and spicy meals, were bad for babies’ digestion. We now know that babies adapt very well to these foods, which do not cause colic. You can therefore eat them worry-free. In fact, it’s quite rare for babies to react to what their moms eat.
About 5 to 6 percent of babies have a food allergy, and it may be related to one or more of the foods in their mothers’ diet. Bovine proteins, such as those present in cow’s milk, are often the culprit. See our fact sheet on milk allergies (available in French only) for more information. Other foods that can cause allergic reactions are eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, and fish.
There is no proven link between a breastfeeding mother’s diet and the risk of her baby developing food allergies. Consequently, there is no reason to avoid allergenic foods, even if someone in your family has food allergies.
If your child seems to be reacting to a food you’ve eaten, try eliminating it from your diet for seven days. After this time, if your baby shows improvement, resume eating the food and observe how your baby reacts. If they start showing symptoms again, it likely means that they have an allergy to that food. Cut the food out of your diet. However, consult a nutritionist to avoid any deficiencies.
If your baby doesn’t improve after seven days, they may be intolerant or allergic to another food, or have another health problem. In this case, talk to their doctor.
Can certain foods increase your milk supply?
In many cultures, new mothers are told to eat certain foods to increase their milk production, such as oats, almonds, rice, chicken, and various herbs. Although some women report success with these methods, no scientific studies have confirmed their effectiveness.
Furthermore, contrary to popular belief, beer does not increase milk production. In fact, alcohol has the opposite effect.
If you find you’re not producing enough milk, increase the frequency of feedings; the more often your breasts are stimulated, the more milk they will produce. If you still aren’t producing enough milk, talk to your doctor. They may prescribe medication to help increase your milk production.
Are there any foods I should avoid while breastfeeding?
When breastfeeding, you can go back to eating certain foods that were not recommended during pregnancy, such as raw fish, smoked salmon, sushi, tartar, and unpasteurized cheeses.
However, there are still some foods and beverages that should be avoided or consumed in moderation during breastfeeding.
- Avoid drinking more than two cups a day of tea, coffee, hot chocolate, or soft drinks such as colas. Caffeine is quickly transferred to breast milk. If you consume a lot of caffeinated beverages, it may make your baby jittery and irritable. Herbal teas, fruit infusions, and other decaffeinated drinks are okay to drink.
- Avoid energy drinks, as they contain caffeine and other substances that can be harmful to your baby.
- Limit your consumption of canned white tuna to 300 grams per week, as it contains more mercury than light tuna. You can eat as much canned light tuna as you want.
- Limit your consumption of fresh or frozen tuna, shark, swordfish, snake mackerel, marlin, orange roughy, black bass, pike, walleye, muskellunge, lake trout, caviar, and fish liver to no more than once a month (max. 150 grams). These species contain higher concentrations of contaminants, including mercury, than other fish, which could harm your baby.
Thinking about having a drink?
To limit your baby’s exposure to alcohol, make sure to breastfeed before you have that drink. Afterwards, drink a glass of water and wait two to three hours before breastfeeding again. If necessary, express your milk in advance so you can give it to your baby safely.
- Be careful when you drink, as alcohol passes into breast milk. It takes two to three hours for every drink to clear your breast milk, but exactly how long may vary depending on your weight and the amount of alcohol consumed. The American Academy of Pediatrics does not consider alcohol and breastfeeding to be mutually exclusive. Having an occasional glass or drinking regularly in moderate amounts does not seem to be harmful for breastfed babies. However, frequent and excessive consumption of alcohol can slow your baby’s weight gain and impair development. In large quantities, alcohol can also impair the milk-ejection reflex in some mothers.
- Avoid cannabis, as it passes into breast milk and exposes the baby to adverse effects. It also remains in the mother’s system for a long time. In addition, make sure to protect your baby from secondhand smoke from cannabis, as it can make your baby sleepier, interfere with their ability to suck, and cause difficulties with breastfeeding.
Too much breast milk?
If you have surplus breast milk, consider donating to Quebec’s Public Mothers’ Milk Bank. The milk bank, which is managed by Héma-Québec, gives premature babies under the age of 32 weeks access to pasteurized human milk. Mothers who give birth prematurely often have difficulty producing enough milk to feed their babies.
To donate your excess milk, you must be a healthy non-smoker and have a baby under the age of 12 months. You must also live in the Greater Montreal or Quebec City area, or within one hour of the drop-off point in Gatineau, Sherbrooke, Trois-Rivières, or Saguenay. For more information, visit Héma-Québec
Things to keep in mind
It’s important to eat according to your appetite because your body needs the extra calories to produce breast milk.
Some foods that were not recommended during pregnancy can be eaten without problems while you breastfeed, but others should still be limited or avoided.
What you eat, including foods like cabbage, onions, and spicy foods, will not make your baby colicky.
Scientific review: Stéphanie Côté, M.Sc., nutritionist
Research and copywriting: The Naître et grandir team
Updated: June 2022
Sources and references
Note: The links to other websites are not updated regularly, and some URLs may have changed since publication. If a link is no longer valid, please use search engines to find the relevant information.
The Nourri-Source Federation. This breastfeeding support movement has more than 600 breastfeeding support volunteers. It has been providing support and information to all families since 1982. Nourri-Source offers a variety of pre- and postnatal activities, information on public breastfeeding spaces, and even a telephone support service. Toll-free number: 1-866-948-5160. nourri-source.org
La Leche League Canada is a volunteer organization affiliated with La Leche League International. Active in more than 60 countries, it offers mother-to-mother support as well as informational and educational tools. Visit lllc.ca or call 1866ALLAITE. You can also call the toll-free number, 18006654324, to find someone in your area who can help.
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