If you’re anything like us, you love the festive flavors that pop up at this time of year, such as those in coffee, alcoholic beverages, and baked goods. However, is everything safe to eat and drink during pregnancy and/or breastfeeding? Can you partake in all the tasty treats available to you without compromising the safety of your baby? In short, the answer is, “Usually, yes.” Here we will outline some of the most common questions we get about how to wisely enjoy the season’s yummiest:
Cinnamon, nutmeg, and peppermint are all wonderful spices and herbs typically used in baked goods and hot drinks at this time of year. Typical culinary use (under 1/2 tsp per day) of these ingredients is generally safe during pregnancy. However, pregnant women should not use large amounts of these three spices or their essential oils as they can cause problems. High doses of cinnamon and peppermint can cause uterine contractions, and high doses of nutmeg can inhibit prostaglandin production and contains hallucinogens. As always, check with medical professional before using any herb or oil medicinally. Cinnamon and nutmeg are also safe during breastfeeding, but peppermint should be avoided as it is known to decrease a mother’s milk supply. Typically you’d have to ingest a LOT of candy canes or peppermint tea in order to affect milk supply, but some women do notice a drop in production even with moderate use. So, use caution with holiday minty treats!
According to Kelly Bonyata, IBCLC, “Most pregnant and breastfeeding mothers can drink caffeine in moderation. Some babies, particularly those under 6 months, may be more sensitive to mom’s caffeine intake. Babies whose mothers avoided caffeine completely during pregnancy seem to react more to caffeine in mom’s diet. Even if baby is sensitive to the caffeine now, he may not be when he’s a little older — so if you do have to stop or limit your caffeine intake, you can try again when baby is older.” Caffeine levels in human milk typically peak 1-2 hours after ingestion, and it is important to note that caffeine has a relatively long half-life for newborns and infants. In other words, newborns’ systems have a harder time metabolizing the caffeine, so it accumulates in their little bodies more than it would in an older child or adult. This boils down to moderation. Enjoy your one caffeinated holiday coffee treat per day, but you may not want to have more than that, as newborns are already exhausting enough even when they’re not wired up on caffeine. Happily, there is no evidence that caffeine intake decreases milk supply.
During pregnancy, it’s advisable to avoid alcohol. However, current research says that having one or two alcoholic drinks on occasion (per week) does not appear to be harmful to a baby who is breastfed. Typically, one drink is considered 1 ounce of liquor, 4 ounces of wine, or 1 beer, and the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that the best time to breastfeed is 2 or more hours after the alcohol intake in order to minimize its concentration in mom’s milk. It’s also not a bad idea to nurse your baby while you’re drinking as that way, the milk the baby is drinking at that moment hasn’t absorbed the alcohol yet and you are more likely to not need to feed baby again for 2-3 hours. Plus, drinking while breastfeeding just always looks so classy, right?
A couple final notes about alcohol during breastfeeding: 1) there is no need to “pump and dump” as it does not accelerate the elimination of alcohol from a mother’s milk. Breastmilk alcohol content matches blood alcohol content, so as long as mom is sober, her milk is “sober” too. If mom is neurologically impaired because she’s had a bit too much to drink, then her milk matches that, and it might be best to give baby expressed milk from a different time so as to allow her current milk to decrease its alcohol levels before she feeds from the breast again. You could consider driving as a good test: if mom is sober enough to drive, she is sober enough to breastfeed. Be safe on the roads and for your baby, holiday or not. 2) Alcohol does not increase milk production. In fact, some evidence suggests that it may decrease production as it may inhibit letdown (the milk ejection reflex) and change the sleep-wake patterns of both mom and baby. So, as with caffeine and spices, alcohol can safely be enjoyed by breastfeeding mothers in moderation.
Hooray! Whether you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, you have options in front of you for enjoying the merry flavors of this merry season. Happy holidays to you and your growing family! We’re going to go have a cinnamon chai latte now.