Food safety during lactation (yes, it is different than pregnancy!)


Pregnant mother's can be vigilant about what they put into their bodies during the 9 months they are carrying another human - and there are very well known "no-no's" as far as food and pregnancy go. However, there is a common misconception that these foods should also be restricted during lactation (and it's not true!).

Let's start by reviewing important foods to avoid during pregnancy:

  • Raw or smoked fish

  • Oysters

  • Fish high in mercury content

  • Unpasteurized or soft cheeses

  • Eon meats

  • Raw or undercooked eggs (yes, please avoid the cookie dough)

  • Hot dogs/processed meats (including deli meats, unless heated to 165 F)

  • Raw or undercooked meat

  • Unpasteurized milk and juices

  • Pre-packaged deli salads (e.g. potato salad, chicken salad)

The main reason for avoiding these food items is that they can carry Listeria monocytogenes - the bacteria that causes listeriosis. If the mother contracts listeriosis the placenta does not protect the developing infant. Mild infection in the mother can be fatal to the fetus.

During pregnancy, mothers should also be sure to wash their fruits and vegetables well. If you have a pet cat, have another member of the family clean the litter box!

The reason for extra-careful cleaning of fruits and vegetables and avoiding the cat litter box is due to a protozoan known as Toxoplasma gondii. This protozoan can cause very severe issues with the developing fetus such as seizures and blindness.

So, do the recommendations stay the same after pregnancy?

Nope. These issues are of concern during pregnancy because the developing fetus would not be protected if the mother got sick. These foods are no longer of concern when you are breastfeeding. So, you can have that long awaited sushi, bleu cheese, or medium-rare steak!

But....are there foods I should avoid during lactation?

The short answer - no. Most infants respond just fine to milk produced by a mother eating an unrestricted diet. In fact, you will likely feel hungry due to the extra ~500 calories you burn per day when you are nursing!

The longer answer - maybe, it depends on your child. Some infants may be sensitive to caffeine intake and some infants are sensitive to dairy proteins. If your baby is sensitive to something in your milk they may get (abnormally) fussy and you may see little specs of blood in their poop. If you notice any of these signs, please see your pediatrician. dietitian, or lactation consultant for further assistance. Additionally, women who practice a pescatarian diet need to continue to limit their consumption of fish to 2-3 servings a week of fish with low mercury levels.