Women who breastfeed their babies should be aware that even after the umbilical cord has been severed, they are still physiologically linked to their children inasmuch as whatever food they eat and beverage they drink have either health benefits or are health hazards for their babies. Breastfeeding women should not make sudden changes in her diet nor consume foods in a particular food group excessively just because they happen to be her favorites.
Flavors of food and beverage affect the taste and condition of breast milk. Discoloration of a baby’s skin, irregularity in breathing pattern and change in the stool’s color all indicate allergic reactions to the foods and drinks that the mother has ingested. Foods which bring on allergies to the baby must be eliminated from the mother’s diet immediately. Sometimes, though, it is not one particular food that triggers a baby’s allergy but may be a couple of ingredients used in cooking that single dish.
The nursing mother needs to be observant about her baby’s behavior right after feeding. It is every breastfeeding mother’s responsibility to eat and drink nutritious and healthy meals and beverages, respectively, because anything the mother eats or drinks is also ingested by her baby. The foods that a breastfeeding mother should avoid include:
• Caffeine – consumption of more than two cups of coffee a day can result in disturbances in the baby’s sleeping pattern and cause the baby to become fussy. Because caffeine can also be present in sodas or some kinds of chocolates, nursing mothers should take caution in consuming these foods. Tea and some over-the-counter medical prescriptions contain caffeine as well. Because caffeine can cause dehydration, drinking plenty of water can help the breastfeeding mother avoid this condition.
• Fish and seafood – while these are excellent sources of iron, protein and zinc, seafood such as king mackerel, canned tuna and albacore contain high mercury levels which can accumulate in the nursing mother’s bloodstream and passed on to her baby. Excessive mercury can do damage to the baby’s brain and nervous system development.
• Chocolates – the tiny intestines of babies cannot handle digestion of dark chocolates because these give them gas. White chocolates may be easier for babies to digest, but going overboard on these can cause the mother’s glucose levels to shoot up, passing the condition to her baby as well.
• Spicy foods – cinnamon, curry, jalapeños, red chili peppers and onions will irritate the baby’s intestinal lining and may cause diarrhea, fever and vomiting, as well as abdominal discomfort. The nursing mother has to make sure that the dishes she eats, such as apple pie or beef stew, for instance, has little or no cinnamon or onions, respectively.
• Citrus fruits with concentrated content of vitamin C – eating lemons, grapefruit, oranges and pineapples while breastfeeding is a no-no because the acidity found in these fruits are highly potent and can cause rashes. Likewise, vegetables such as cucumbers, beans, cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli will give the baby so much gas.
• Dairy products – as much as these foods provide calcium both to mother and child, there are just some dairy products that cause colic, diarrhea, bloating and skin rashes in some babies. When these occur, the baby is allergic to the milk protein found in cow’s milk that the mother drank. Eliminate foods that have ingredients indicative of the presence of milk protein such as margarine, artificial butter, caramel, whey, sour cream, nougat, pudding, buttermilk, butter, custard and cheeses. The nursing mother should get her daily calcium requirement from other foods such as spinach or kale because calcium deficiency results in the baby’s underdeveloped bone growth and structure.
• Alcohol – babies have much difficulty processing alcohol because their livers aren’t fully developed, and while nursing mothers are sometimes allowed by their doctors a certain limited alcohol intake, these mothers shouldn’t nurse their babies soon after ingestion of alcohol. Forty five minutes to an hour should be safe for the mother’s digestive system to rid itself of the ingested alcohol. For the baby’s sure safety, however, it shouldn’t be too much to ask that the breastfeeding mother should just abstain from alcohol altogether while nursing.