4 foods to avoid or limit when breastfeeding

Chloe Best

Nursing mothers may burn an average of an extra 500 calories a day while breastfeeding, but that isn’t a free pass for adding junk food and chocolate into their diets.

MORE: 7 helpful breastfeeding tips for mums from an infant feeding expert

A healthy balanced diet is best for both mum and baby while breastfeeding, and while there are no strict rules on what you shouldn’t eat while nursing, there are some foods and drinks that are best avoided or at least limited.

A healthy balanced diet is best for both mum and baby while breastfeeding

Studies have found that rather than negatively impact milk supply and quality, poor diet choices while breastfeeding have the most impact on the mother’s health. However, some things – such as caffeine and alcohol – can pass into breast milk in small quantities, which can sometimes have an impact on a baby’s behaviour and digestion. Here are four foods to avoid when breastfeeding…

READ: 27 essential items to help with breastfeeding for new mums


When you’re surviving on little or broken sleep, it’s no surprise many new mothers rely on caffeinated drinks or chocolate as a much-needed pick-me-up. And while you don’t need to cut caffeine out of your diet completely, it is better to restrict the amount you consume – and consider timing your tea or coffee fix to after a feed rather than before.

This is because it is estimated that 0.06 to 1.5 percent of the amount of caffeine that is drunk crosses into breast milk and can sit in the body for long periods – particularly so for newborns. This can lead to babies showing signs of agitation, jitteriness, constipation and unsettledness, and can also have negative impact on a mother’s health, too.

It is recommended to limit caffeine intake while breastfeeding

One study found that caffeine can reduce milk supply and may even be implicated in recurrent mastitis (Australian Breastfeeding Association, 2004), while other research suggests that mothers who drink caffeinated beverages may have lower iron levels in their breast milk than those who abstain.

The American Academy of Paediatrics recommends that breastfeeding mothers should consume no more than three cups of coffee per day – which is equivalent to less than 300mg per day.

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After abstaining from drinking alcohol during pregnancy, you may be looking forward to having a well-deserved tipple after welcoming your baby, and the good news is you don’t have to give up alcohol completely while breastfeeding.

However, as with caffeine, it is important to limit the amount you are drinking, not only because of the impact it may have on your baby, but also for safety reasons.

Breastfeeding mothers should drink alcohol in moderation

Studies show that within 30 minutes of a mother having one alcoholic drink, it can have a mildly sedative effect on baby as well as reducing a mother’s letdown reflex.

The NHS say that an occasional drink is unlikely to harm your baby, but if possible, you should allow two to three hours in between drinking and breastfeeding (only once breastfeeding is well established), to allow time for the alcohol to leave your breast milk.

They add: “You should never share a bed, or sleep on the sofa with your baby if you’ve been drinking. This is linked to the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).”

READ: 4 reasons why your baby won’t stop crying and how to stop it

Highly-processed foods and additives

Swap junk food for a diet of clean, whole foods

Junk foods and additives are best avoided at any time, but especially while breastfeeding, with mothers instead advised to focus on consuming a diet of clean, whole foods. This is because they provide excessive calories with little nutrition to meet the body’s increased demands during breastfeeding.

Meanwhile, research has also suggested that a mother’s diet while nursing may influence her child’s diet preferences later in life, with one finding that a child whose mother ate more vegetables while breastfeeding is also more likely to eat more vegetables at the age of six (Beckerman JP, Slade E, Ventura AK, 2020). So not only will your own health benefit, but you may be also helping to establish better eating habits in your child from a very early age.


There are no strict guidelines on fish consumption while breastfeeding, but for safety, some mums may prefer to follow the recommendations for pregnancy in order to limit their mercury intake.

The transfer of mercury is very low through breast milk, but it is still a good idea to keep your consumption as low as possible to avoid a build-up of mercury in the blood. The NHS recommends to limit swordfish, marlin or shark to one portion a week, and not to eat more than two portions of oily fish a week, such as fresh tuna, salmon, trout, mackerel, herring, sardines and pilchards.


Beckerman, J. P., Slade, E. and Ventura, A. K. (2020) “Maternal diet during lactation and breast-feeding practices have synergistic association with child diet at 6 years,” Public Health Nutrition. Cambridge University Press, 23(2), pp. 286–294. doi: 10.1017/S1368980019001782.

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