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Breastfeeding: What affects milk supply and foods to avoid

Want to get your breastfeeding journey off to a good start? Be sure to avoid these eight things that could diminish your milk supply, cause discomfort for you and your little one, or just be deemed unsafe. “There are a few factors that can cause a low milk supply during breastfeeding,” explains lactation consultant at Mayo …

Want to get your breastfeeding journey off to a good start? Be sure to avoid these eight things that could diminish your milk supply, cause discomfort for you and your little one, or just be deemed unsafe. “There are a few factors that can cause a low milk supply during breastfeeding,” explains lactation consultant at Mayo Clinic, Elizabeth LaFieu.

Some of these include:

  • Waiting too long to start breastfeeding
  • Not breastfeeding often enough
  • Incorrect latch
  • Certain medications

“Sometimes, previous breast surgery can also affect milk production,” says Elizabeth. “Factors such as premature birth, pregnancy-induced high blood pressure, and poorly controlled insulin-dependent diabetes can also affect milk supply,” she explains.

Foods, drinks, and herbs

“Although not all foods and fluids pass through your breast milk during the digestive process, my rule of thumb is that if a food or drink affects you in any way, it’ll have an effect on your baby too,” believes nutritionist and wellness coach, Desi Horsman. Most fresh herbs used in cooking are unlikely to cause any serious health concerns, but some may diminish milk supply if used in large amounts, says Desi. These include sage, peppermint, basil, parsley, and rosemary. If you’re unsure about how a certain herb might affect your milk supply, speak to your healthcare provider.

Avoid the following herbs altogether:

  • Artemisia
  • Black cohosh
  • Black walnut
  • Bladderwrack
  • Borage
  • Licorice root
  • Buchu
  • Buckthorn
  • Mugwort
  • Cascara sagrada
  • Myrrh
  • Coltsfoot
  • Comfrey leaf
  • Devils claw
  • Ginseng
  • Juniper


Although sleep deprivation in the first year often calls for a good dose of caffeine to get you through the day, sadly it’s not ideal for breastfeeding – for you or your baby. It’s best to avoid coffee, tea (except certain herbal teas), chocolate, cocoa, sugary sodas, and most iced teas, says Desi. Some babies are more sensitive than others to caffeine, particularly younger babies. In fact, newborns often struggle to metabolise caffeine in coffee, which means it stays in their systems much longer, which can affect their mood and sleep patterns.


Breastfeeding and alcohol don’t mix well, says Elizabeth. Research suggests that breastfed babies who are exposed to one drink a day might have impaired motor development and that alcohol can cause changes in sleep patterns. Also, “While folklore says that drinking alcohol improves milk production, studies show that alcohol actually decreases milk production and that the presence of alcohol in breastmilk causes babies to drink about 20% less.” If you’re off to a special occasion and want to have a drink, Desi suggests expressing milk in advance that can be fed to your baby later without concern or waiting at least four hours before feeding.

Spicy foods

While spicy foods are generally safe for you and your baby, some studies have shown that they change the taste of breast milk and this might affect how much your baby drinks at each feed.

Allergy-inducing foods

Allergies and food sensitivities can be inherited, so it’s best to avoid and introduce slowly at a later stage.

Some cruciferous veggies and pulses

We know that beans, pulses, and veggies like cabbage, broccoli, onions, and cauliflower are rich in a variety of nutrients, but they’re also known to cause gas, abdominal bloating, and cramps if eaten in excess.

If your little one is suffering from colic, cramps, and digestive issues, it’s best to avoid these foods:

  • Cabbage
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Garlic
  • Onions
  • Artichokes
  • Lentils
  • Chickpeas
  • Certain beans, particularly pinto, kidney, and soybeans

Large amounts of dried fruit, particularly prunes and apricots, can also have a similar effect.

Fish (high in mercury)

Thanks to its high omega-3 content, plus a variety of vitamins and minerals including zinc, potassium, iron, and B-vitamins, fish can form part of a healthy breastfeeding diet. However, it’s important to be selective about which fish you eat as some types are high in mercury.  The FDA recommends that pregnant and breastfeeding moms stay away from shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tuna. Chemicals like mercury are unsafe for human consumption and could affect your baby’s brain, so it’s best to steer clear of these types of fish.

Unwashed fruit and vegetables

Food that hasn’t been safely and hygienically prepared and washed is a health hazard. Unwashed fruits and veggies can also contain harmful pesticides and chemicals. Therefore, it’s important to wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating them. It’s also important to cook all meat and poultry thoroughly and avoid raw foods such as fish in sushi, raw eggs, or unpasteurised dairy products as these can be contaminated with bacteria such as listeria.

Certain medications

Certain medications decrease milk supply, including medications containing pseudoephedrine (Sudafed or Zyrtec D), warns Elizabeth. Your healthcare provider might also caution against certain types of hormonal contraception, at least until breastfeeding is firmly established, she says. Because the issue of breastfeeding while on certain medications is a complex one, it’s always important to check with your healthcare provider before taking any medication, advise breastfeeding experts from non-profit breastfeeding organisation La Leche League.

Consider asking your doctor the following important questions:

  • Has the medicine been given to other nursing mothers? A medicine that has a history of use by nursing mothers is a better choice than a new, possibly untested medicine.
  • How long do I need to take the medicine for? This might affect how compatible the medicine is with breastfeeding.
  • Is the medicine short-acting? A short-acting type of medication might be a better choice than a longer-acting form that stays in your system for longer.
  • How do I need to take the medicine? A medication that’s given by injection or by mouth is less concentrated than one given intravenously, and this might affect how much of the medicine your baby is subjected to through breastfeeding.


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