Breastfeeding, like most things related to parenting, can be awfully confusing. There's more than one way to do almost anything, and because the same goes for breastfeeding, you might be getting contradicting advice from everyone you talk to. A good example of this is eating spicy food while breastfeeding — some women swear it causes excessive gas or fussiness in their babies, and others claim it has no effect on their nursing infants. If you're a lover of spice, you might be wondering, "how long after eating spicy food can I breastfeed?" As it turns out, there's not one clear answer that works for every mom.
According to Kelly Mom, a leading resource for breastfeeding mothers, there are no foods that a mother should avoid simply because she is breastfeeding and that includes spicy foods. In fact, in many parts of the world, spicy foods are a regular part of nursing moms' diets and there is no evidence that suggests these babies are fussier, gassier, or have intolerances to these sorts of foods. Though we know that strong flavors, like garlic, do pass from mother's milk to the baby, it does not seem to cause any problems in the majority of cases. Unfortunately, because all breastfeeding mothers have a unique body chemistry and metabolism, there is no one answer for how long it takes for these flavors to metabolize into your milk. Though the average is four to six hours, it can take anywhere from one to 24 hours for food to metabolize and for the flavors to make it into your breast milk.
According to Parents, if spicy foods are a regular part of your diet, your baby may already be accustomed to these flavors from pregnancy as they have the ability to change the smell and taste of the amniotic fluid your baby is exposed to in utero. Though moms may restrict their diets if they notice their babies are unusually gassy or fussy, there's a good chance that it has nothing to do with the food you are eating. In fact, it's worth noting that foods that may make you gassy can't directly impact your baby in the same way, since breast milk is made from what's in your bloodstream and not what's in your stomach or intestines. Excess gas or fuss in your baby may just be a blip or a change in their development.
According to The New York Times, there may actually be direct benefits to exposing your baby to a variety of flavors via your breast milk. A study, published in 2001 by Pediatrics, found that babies who had been exposed to a flavor in utero or while breastfeeding were more likely to like that flavor when they were weaned. This often makes breastfed babies easier to feed later on. So you could be doing your baby a big favor by not restricting your diet and continuing to eat whatever is delicious to you. The other big plus of that is, since food gives pleasure, eating flavorful and healthy foods just might boost your happiness in the depths of difficult parenting.
Of course, if you are truly concerned that certain foods are affecting your baby, it helps to keep track of what you eat, and how that milk potentially affects your child. If you notice a pattern of fussiness, gassiness, spit up, loose stools, and other digestion issues, talk to your pediatrician. They may suggest not eating the food (such as dairy products, a common allergen) for a few days to see if there's any change.
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