(NaturalNews) Contrary to popular impression, there are actually very few foods that women need to give up in order to safely breastfeed, according to Loyola University Health System registered dietitian Gina Neill.
"One of the many reasons women stop breast-feeding is because they believe they have to follow restrictive dietary guidelines," she said. "However, a nursing mom's food and beverage intake does not have to be as regimented as you might think."
For example, many women have heard that chocolate, garlic, citrus or even "ethnic food" may cause gassiness and fussiness in breastfeeding babies. But studies have shown that gassiness and fussiness are normal in newborns, and there is no evidence that a mother's food intake has any effect.
Some babies may indeed develop allergies to certain foods in a mother's diet, Neill said, typically manifesting as a rash or as blood in the stool between two and six weeks of age. There is no way to predict which foods might cause allergies in particular infants, however.
If your baby does develop an allergic reaction, Neill said, you should consult a doctor and get help designing an elimination diet to identify the allergen.
Alcohol, caffeine and fish
Many women believe that they need to eat the same way while breast feeding that they did while pregnant. But according to Neill, such extreme caution is unnecessary.
For example, breastfeeding women can safely consume alcohol in moderation, as long as they make a point of nursing before having a drink. Drinking alcohol is not a good reason to use formula, Neill warned, since formula supplementation can actually decrease milk supply.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, breastfeeding women can also consume two to three caffeinated beverages per day safely. Some nursing infants may become irritable or have trouble sleeping if their mother has had caffeine, but these symptoms usually decrease over time--so even if you have such an infant, there's no need to think you will have to give up caffeine the entire time you are nursing.
Breastfeeding women should continue to avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel or tilefish, which are all high in mercury. The FDA and Environmental Protection Agency say that consuming up to two six-ounce servings of other fish or shellfish per week while breastfeeding is safe, however. Albacore (white) tuna has moderately high mercury levels, and should be limited to one serving per week.
Breast is best
The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding all children for at least the first year of life. No other foods or liquids--even water--should be given for the first six months.
Breast milk provides optimal nutrition for human infants, and also provides them with important antibodies that can protect them against diarrhea and pneumonia, the top two causes of infant death. Well into adulthood, people who were breastfed as infants are healthier than those who were not.
"Breast milk is the ideal food for the healthy growth and development of infants," the World Health Organization says.