15 Things That Make Breastfeeding Bad For Babies

Moms are what they eat - and this especially applies to their breastmilk.

Ever heard the phrase, "you are what you eat?" The discussion of breastfeeding revolves around this phrase, except the saying should go more like this, "they are what you eat." "They," referring to your precious growing infant.

Some of the things proven to be toxic for a feeding baby are foods that we eat; others are hazardous things we breathe in; and some are toxins that sneak in through our pores. It's good to know what the cautions are to best protect you and your baby for as long as you decide to feed.

I have to admit, some of these warnings are easy to ignore, because frankly, it's exhausting to live in constant fear of your surroundings always worrying about what might harmfully affect your child. If there are things on this list that you cannot obey, instead of giving up in defeat, always remember that "breast is best," and the benefits far outweigh the risks every time (unless suggested otherwise by your doctor).

Nonetheless, as a way to heighten your awareness, here is a list of foods and environments to consider avoiding during your breastfeeding journey with your child. Some of them might come as a shock to you.

15Getting Inked

First off, you’ll have a hard time finding a tattoo artist who will agree to tattoo you while you’re breastfeeding. So if you desperately want one, you have to lie about breastfeeding or quit feeding all together. There are two risks associated with getting inked while breastfeeding. First, your body could reject the ink and an infection could develop which would compromise your immune system and your baby’s immune system. (There’s also the small risk of contracting hepatitis and passing it on to your baby.) Secondly, you could have an allergic reaction to the ink that would shut off your milk production all-together.

One woman was recently taken to court by her husband who accused her of harming her child because she decided to get a tattoo while breastfeeding. The judge sided with the husband and banned the woman from breastfeeding her child. Breastfeeding advocates argued that, “Most people consider the risk of contracting HIV or hepatitis from using a tattoo parlor as infinitesimally small. It’s not neglect.”

That might be true, but infection and rejection are more common than you think.

14The Morning Cup Of Brew

Ever have a fussy baby that even when nursed, cannot be soothed? Studies show that when a nursing mother consumes too much caffeine, the chances are high that baby will be irritable and jittery, even suffering insomnia. A 16-ounce cup of brewed coffee a day hasn’t proven to be harmful for babies over three months of age, so if coffee is a love of yours, limit the intake. If it’s the taste you like, decaffeinated teas and decaffeinated coffee are recommended by doctors.

Caffeine is found in more than just coffee. It’s also found in tea, energy drinks and chocolate. Just remember, whatever the craving, keep the intake low. After your baby passes up three months, his or her body will be more capable of breaking down caffeine and discarding it easier.

13Fish Isn't Safe Even After Childbirth

Don't stop eating fish all-together. Fish high in protein and Omega-3 fats is amazing for the development of your baby's nervous system. The USDA and FDA has a list of fish products that are harmful for developing babies. That list includes: shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish. These fish have high mercury levels because the waterways in which they're captured from are unreasonably polluted. The fish are usually contaminated by high levels of mercury.

Salmon, pollock, catfish, shrimp and canned light tuna are low in mercury and are safe to eat in low doses while breastfeeding. One side note about tuna: albacore contains more mercury than canned light tuna, so avoid it if you can.

If a child gets mercury poisoning they could experience tremors (slight twitches) and deficits in their cognitive function.

12Sharing The Bed With Dad

Sharing a bed with your spouse or partner isn’t necessarily toxic to your child, but it can cause problems in your breastfeeding habits. When your baby sleeps with you as a newborn, it helps their development because they're learning how to respond to sensory signals. The lead researcher at the University of Notre Dame’s Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory, states that, “To put a baby alone in a room and close the door doesn’t help the baby learn, grow or develop sensory distinctions. She depends on her mother to teach her how to react.”

That being established, if you’re living with a partner or spouse, the sleeping terms have to be negotiated. Breastfeeding in bed is what grows your baby’s awareness of sensory signals, so choosing to slip out where you won’t disturb your partner, isn’t best. Studies show that an understanding with your partner is key to a healthier breastfeeding experience. If you don’t feed like you should at night, your production will slow down and your baby will wean.

11What Happens When There's An Infection?

Mastitis is inflammation of your breast ducts that happens because of infection. Most women quit breastfeeding after receiving a diagnosis because of how painful it can get, but as severe as your case might be, breastfeeding through the pain usually clears up the infection and cures your mastitis.

Breastfeeding through mastitis sometimes means that your baby will digest stagnant and bacteria-filled milk. In severe cases, antibiotics are prescribed. Those antibiotics can negatively affect your infant by disrupting the healthy bacteria in their gut and causing immune deficiencies. If you receive a diagnosis and want to treat your mastitis naturally, there’s a bizarre way you can do it. You can place raw cabbage in your bra a couple times a day until it goes warm and soft. This will reduce swelling and help you heal. Always remember, if you can bear it, feed through the pain!

10What About That Glass Of Juice?

This topic is really touchy, because who doesn’t enjoy a glass of wine with dinner each night? The debate seems to be over “amount” of alcohol instead of whether or not it should be a hard “yes” or “no.” Medical professionals recommend a hard no while you’re feeding a baby under three months of age. Their brains are so fragile and need all the help they can get in developing. Studies show that mother’s who drink (even one glass a day) risk subjecting their child to slow motor development.

If you choose to drink, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends only drinking 8 ounces (if it’s wine.) This would be the amount of two beers. After you choose to drink, wait three to four hours before feeding your baby. If you’re still feeling a bit buzzed, wait longer. As you can see, drinking alcohol can cause you to skip out on feedings, which will slow down your milk production and make it more likely that you will have to supplement.

9The Dark Side Of Pumping

A recent commentary out the American Journal Of Public Health listed the harmful results of pumping. If for some reason a woman has to pump exclusively, the baby doesn’t learn natural feeding habits and usually overfeeds, leading to sickness. Storing the milk breaks down the immunological cells and lipids therein. Thawing the milk removes key nutrients. Some scientists argue that pumping might not be any better than putting a baby on formula. It doesn’t give the baby the nutrients or comfort that feeding on the source provides.

Contaminants are collected because the milk touches foreign things instead of being sucked out by the baby directly. Pumping produces “fore milk” which is high in carbohydrates, instead of “hind milk” that comes in direct feeding and is high in fats. Bottle fed babies are more prone to ear infections because of the posture they are in when they feed. As breastfeeding becomes the norm and more socially acceptable, pumping at work and in public won’t be as forced and these problems will become less and less.

8Be Careful With Fruits And Veggies

Some fruits and vegetables cause your baby to develop colic. Colic is when a child cries excessively, usually because of gas, and refuses to feed. Your supply might dry up and the bottle have to be prematurely introduced. So avoid these foods if possible.

Fruits to avoid while feeding include: citrus fruits, strawberries, kiwi, pineapples, cherries and prunes. Vegetables to avoid while feeding include: broccoli, onions, brussels sprouts, green peppers, cauliflower, cabbage. The raw state of the vegetables almost always is bothersome to babies. If you're going to eat them, cook them.

How do you know if your baby is having an allergic reaction? If your baby develops eczema, starts becoming congested or has diarrhea, it's likely a reaction to the foods you're eating. It takes some trial and error to figure out which foods are harming your child, but remove one at a time and wait three days to see if your child has improved. Do this until you've nailed the culprit!

7Breastfeeding Your Friends' Baby

The internet went crazy over a recent photo a woman posted of her breastfeeding her son and friend’s son. The caption read, “My son on the right is 16 months and my friend’s son is 18 months. I watch her son while she works and have been feeding them both for a year! SO much love between these milk siblings. It’s a special bond between us all.”

Though you might agree, you have to understand the risks of making the decision to feed children that aren’t yours. Every mother’s milk is specially formulated to meet the needs of her child. Disease, sickness, infection and bacteria can be passed from the woman to the child she’s feeding. Before considering feeding another woman’s baby or letting another woman feed yours, ask your friend to show you their medical history and consult your doctor before starting.

6Is There Smoke In The Air?

Though the smoke itself does not pass through a mother’s breast to her baby, the chemicals and nicotine in the cigarettes do.

There are a few side effects your child will experience if you decide to smoke while breastfeeding. He or she will become addicted to nicotine and will experience withdrawals when or if you stop smoking. He or she will wean earlier and your milk production will become lower than non-smoking women. On top of these things, smoking while breastfeeding will lower the iodine levels in your child. This can lead to future problems with your child’s thyroid function.

Even though smoking cigarettes while breastfeeding isn’t the wisest, doctors still urge women who do smoke to keep breastfeeding. The first phase of breastfeeding is when the colostrums are produced and this serum houses life-giving antibodies vital to your child’s early development.

5Natural Isn't Always Best

Most naturopathic remedies are safe, but some are frowned upon by physicians. Little research has been done on the use of natural supplements while breastfeeding. Since the FDA does not oversee homeopathic remedies, there are no established safety guidelines. Some vitamins increase blood pressure and stop the flow of milk production all-together.

Always make sure you’re in communication with your doctor when desiring to start a new supplement or natural remedy while breastfeeding. On the other hand, just as prenatal vitamins are helpful to the developing child in your womb, there are a few suggested supplements that all doctors will agree are beneficial to you while nursing. That list includes: placenta encapsulation, probiotics, multi-vitamins and cod liver oil. Supplementation of these things while feeding will not harm your growing child and will help boost your milk supply.

4What's In The Medicine Cabinet?

The affects that prescription drugs have on a nursing baby are short-term and not long-term. The infant might experience diarrhea, vomiting and irritability. The meds might lower your milk production and that might affect your child’s growth if you don’t decide to supplement. One thing to note if on prescription meds while feeding: if your child develops a skin rash, call your doctor, they are having an allergic reaction.

Understandably, sometimes there's no way around it. Medications are important and it might not be an option to stop taking them. Painkillers and laxatives have been cleared as “safe” but high blood pressure medications, allergy medications, and medications that treat anxiety and depression have been put on the “don’t use” list by the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada.

If your doctor has to prescribe a harmful drug for a short amount of time, you can pump and discard to keep your milk supply strong. Hopefully your child will revert back to the breast.

3The Environment You Live In

News reports from USA Today and CNN have warned the public on the chemicals being found in breast milk. The most cited study came from the Environmental Working Group, which ran a nation-wide research project of nursing mothers, and measured the levels of fire retardants in their breast milk. Every woman had high levels, so the research dug deeper to figure out how harmful it was or wasn’t for a baby to digest. The toxins were  linked to the non-production or reduced production of breastmilk, because when the levels of pollutants--such as fire retardants--become too high in a mother's milk, a baby's instinct is to stop feeding.

Fire retardants are found in automotive and household products from things such as carpets to computers. Women in American have higher levels in their body tissue than women abroad. Regardless of where you live or what hazards chemicals are near you, breast is still best.

2The Green

A mother out of Oregon told the news crew at KATU Portland that her decision to smoke marijuana while breastfeeding was only permissible with her doctor if she agreed to sign a waver to not sue the hospital if the baby encountered developmental problems. Her baby was born 8-weeks premature and already needed all the help she could get.

Doctors understand that THC will be ingested by the baby and will take awhile to clear out of the baby's tissue. The child might experience loss of coordination and loss of motor skills. Smoking mothers have reported a disinterest in their babies to feed. The lethargic nature of the child, results in longer spaces between feedings until the mother’s supply dries up completely. Asthma is also reported in babies whose mothers smoke marijuana.

But what about oils? There are significant benefits in using cannabis oil. Sometimes women use it to help with post-delivery medical issues or anxieties. THC is removed so that it doesn’t affect a nursing mother and her baby. Though studies have revealed spikes in hyperactivity of babies whose mothers use cannabis oil, the harm of marijuana revolves around THC, so oils are pretty safe.

1Ever Heard Of HAZMAT?

Florence Williams writes in Breasts: A Natural And Unnatural History, that “When we nurse our babies, we feed them not only fats and sugars, but also paint thinners, dry-cleaning fluids, wood preservatives, toilet deodorizers, cosmetic additives, gasoline byproducts, rocket fuel, termite poisons and flame retardants.” For nursing mothers in the military or for mothers who work on flight lines and are around hazardous materials, there are a few things to know.

Exposure to high levels of fuel vapors in an enclosed space while breastfeeding can cause brain damage in your nursing infant. Lead can be transferred to infants as well. This can result in anemia and developmental delays in the child. Be sure to wear protect gear (a hazmat suit) when necessary. Change your work clothes before interacting with your child. Keep your work boots outside or in the garage. Take note: if you smoke or drink alcohol on top of having a high-risk job like working around jets, your toxicity load will be too high to nurse.

Happy feeding!

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