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Diet and medication while breastfeeding

6-minute read

Breastfeeding mothers often worry that what they eat and drink (consume) can affect their baby. You don't need to follow a special diet when breastfeeding. But you do need to be careful with some things.

Your diet and breastfeeding

No matter what foods you eat, your body will make healthy breast milk. Eating a nutritious diet and drinking enough fluids will help you produce enough milk.

Breastfeeding uses a lot of calories so you may need to eat a little more than normal.

Make sure to include plenty of protein, calcium and iron in your diet. You may also need an iodine supplement.

You might worry that some foods like spices, garlic, beans or cabbage might make your baby gassy and irritable. Food is rarely the cause, and you should rule out some other possibilities before changing your diet.

There is no need to avoid allergenic foods such as peanuts, egg or milk while you are breastfeeding. The research suggests that this will not stop your baby becoming allergic to these foods.

There is little evidence to support eating foods that claim to boost your milk supply. If you are worried about your milk supply you should talk to your doctor.

Caffeine and breastfeeding

Most breastfeeding mothers can consume a few cups of tea or coffee each day.

But caffeinated energy drinks are not recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women.

The amount of caffeine in your breast milk usually peaks about 1 hour after you consume it.

You should not have more than 200mg of caffeine per day while breastfeeding. The following is a handy guide:

  • espresso coffee has 60–120 mg per 250 mL cup
  • instant coffee (one teaspoon/ cup) has 60–80 mg per 250 mL cup
  • tea has 10–50 mg per 250 mL cup

Newborn babies are particularly sensitive to caffeine. This is because it can take them between 2 and 4 days to process caffeine.

Alcohol and breastfeeding

It’s best to limit alcohol while you’re breastfeeding. The amount of alcohol in your breast milk is the same as in your blood.

Alcohol enters your breast milk 30 minutes to 1 hour after you start drinking. This depends on how much alcohol you drink, whether you have eaten, how much you weigh and how quickly you are drinking.

It takes about 2 hours for your body to get rid of the alcohol from one standard drink.

If you do have an occasional drink, feed your baby and express milk before you start drinking. Your baby can drink the expressed milk while there is still alcohol in your body.

The safest option is to avoid drinking alcohol when you are breastfeeding.

If you do plan on drinking alcohol use the Feed Safe apps.

Medications and breastfeeding

Ask your doctor or pharmacist for advice on medicines that are safe to take while breast feeding.

Most medicines are safe to take at the recommended dose while breastfeeding. Even if the medicine does pass into your breast milk, it’s usually in such a small amount that it won’t harm your baby.

Take special care if your baby was premature, is sick or on medication.

For more information on medicines that are safe to take while breastfeeding, call 1300 MEDICINE (1300 633 424) Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm AEST.

Contraception and breastfeeding

If you are breastfeeding, you can get still pregnant, even if your periods haven't started again.

Except for combined hormonal contraception (products that contain both oestrogen and progestogen), contraception can be safely used immediately after birth. Talk to your doctor about protection while breastfeeding.

Complementary and alternative medicines and breastfeeding

Complementary and alternative medicines (CAMs) include vitamins, dietary supplements, aromatherapy and homeopathic products.

We often think of CAMs as safer than pharmaceutical medicines. But there is little research to support the safety of CAMs.

Many CAMs are not recommended for use when breastfeeding. Talk to your doctor, pharmacist or call the Medicines Line before you take any CAMs while breastfeeding.

If you’re unsure about consuming something while you’re breastfeeding, ask your doctor or lactation consultant about it.

Smoking and breastfeeding

It is best not to smoke if you are breastfeeding.

If you can’t quit smoking, it is still better for your baby to be breastfed.

The amount of nicotine in your breast milk halves about 1.5 hours after each cigarette. So, if you smoke, do so right after a breastfeed. The longer the time you leave between a cigarette and the next feed, the better.

It is very important to protect your baby from cigarette smoke, which puts your baby at risk of chest infections, asthma and sudden infant death syndrome. Don’t smoke around your baby, in the house. Smoking in your car with a child aged under 16 years is illegal.

Where to get more advice:

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Last reviewed: June 2022

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