The Myths and Truth around Food Don’ts while Breastfeeding


Because I write about maternal and children health for a living, friends around me like to consult me on this topic: “Can I eat fish during pregnancy?” “What women from Szechuan eat when they’re breastfeeding since you can’t have spicy food when nursing?” “What can I give my baby for constipation?”

Well, guess what, many times I don’t have the best answer. I’m a mother myself, and I often fail to persuade my own 6-year-old to eat mushroom. Sounds ironic, but it’s true.

Recently I had an interesting conversation with Dr. Leila Yoonessi, the pediatrician at MY Pediatrics. She is expecting a baby in one month (congratulations, Dr. Leila!) and she told me that she sometimes consults Internet on what not to eat during pregnancy. 

I laughed because I could totally relate to her experience! The information is much needed for every mom, even if you’re a medical professional or a seasoned health journalist. In light of National Breastfeeding Month—which is August every year—we decided to write down the most common myths and truths around what to avoid while breastfeeding for reference of all the moms who wish to nurse, or just anyone who cares about breastfeeding moms.


A friend once told me she chose formula over breastmilk because she “just can’t help having coffee, tea and chocolate.”

That is one of those myths that many mothers believe are true—if the mother drink coffee or tea, her milk does more harm to the babies than formula.

The truth is, it is safe to have caffeine while breastfeeding as long as the mother doesn’t over do it. When caffeine enters the mother’s bloodstream, a small amount of it, usually less than  one percent, ends up in her breast milk. The caffeine amount in her milk peaks a couple of hours after she consume it. 

Since a newborn’s body can’t easily break down and get rid of the caffeine, it may accumulate in his system. At about three months, the baby will begin to process caffeine more efficiently, and over time it will become easier and easier for him to excrete it. 

Experts agree that a moderate amount of caffeine, which means no more than 300 milligrams per day, or the amount in about 16 ounces of brewed coffee, is fine for nursing moms and should cause no changes in most babies’ behavior.


Yes, there are certain herbs and natural remedies that nursing moms should avoid for they might decrease milk supply: sage, sage tea, peppermint candies, menthol cough drops and other foods/teas with large amounts of sage, peppermint or menthol. Sage and peppermint are sometimes used by nursing mothers to treat oversupply, or when weaning. 

The amounts of these herbs used in cooking are unlikely to be of concern; it’s mainly the larger amounts that might be used therapeutically that could pose a problem. However, it is reported that some moms have noticed a decrease in supply after eating things that contain sage and peppermint, so it is recommended nursing that moms use these herbs with caution. 

While some herb might decrease milk supply, there are several herbs that help milk supply. Although there is no efficient lactogenic study that approves the efficacy of using herbs to increase supply, thousands of years of experience suggest it’s safe and helpful.

Some of the herbs that most commonly used to help enhance breast milk production are alfalfa, blessed thistle, fenugreek, fennel and goats rue. Mothers can use them by adding to food, taking capsules or sipping teas.  

Dairy Products

There is no reason that breastfeeding moms should avoid dairy products unless there is an allergic issue. However, nursing moms should keep in mind that food protein induced allergy can happen to exclusively breastfed infants. 

Many confuse allergy with tolerance. There is a difference. A true food allergy causes an immune system reaction that affects numerous organ in the body. It can cause a range of symptoms. In contrast, food intolerance symptoms are generally less serious and often limited to digestive problems. 

The most common foods implicated in food allergies in breastfed infants include cow’s milk, egg, soy, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish and sesame seeds. While cow’s milk protein (CMP) is the most common food allergens in young children, only two percent of children four years old are allergic to CMP. The severity of a food reaction is generally related to the degree of a baby’s sensitivity. Most children will gradually grow out of it: less than 0.5 percent of adults are allergic to CMP. 

In one word: unless there is an allergic situation, nursing moms don’t have to avoid dairy products. And the allergic situation is rare: only happens on one in every fifty infants.