What you eat or put on your skin may affect your nursing infants. We tackle common queries mothers may ask.


Is it safe to… eat raw food and unpasteurized products?

There is no concern for the consumption of raw foods such as cold cuts, deli meats, sushi, seafood, unpasteurized dairy items, uncooked eggs whilst breastfeeding. During pregnancy, the above food sources may pose potential food poisoning risks and should be avoided but they do not carry the same danger in breastfeeding mothers.

The reason why these foods are considered unsafe for pregnant women is because of the risk that they contain listeria, a foodborne disease-causing bacteria, says Dietitian Vanessa McNamara, from The Travelling Dietitian. Listeria cannot be passed through breastmilk, so it is safe for breastfeeding mothers to consume such food.

In cases where a mother gets sick from such foods, there is low to negligible risk to the infant. However it is important to note any reactions from the baby, or if there is pre-existing family allergies or eczema. Adjust your diet accordingly to eliminate any triggers to your baby.

Is it safe to… take caffeine?

Caffeine is safe for breastfeeding mothers, says Ms McNamara.

However, it can be passed through breastmilk, and this might unsettle some babies more than others, particularly newborns. “If a baby is fussy and irritable, it is worth monitoring a mother’s caffeine intake to see if it is having an impact on their behaviour,”

It is difficult to suggest a safe amount of caffeine as all babies will react differently. Ms McNamara explains some babies may react to half a cup of coffee, while others may react to two cups. “This needs to be worked out by the mother but it is important to note the baby’s sensitivity will most likely reduce as the baby gets bigger and older.”

drinking coffee caffeine

According to the Australian Breastfeeding Association, excessive caffeine consumption (this is subjective to each person) may face inhibition to their let-down reflex and affect the milk supply.

Infants may also experience signs of upset, jitters, poor sleep or appear colicky. Babies with mothers who avoided caffeine during pregnancy may have a higher sensitivity to caffeine exposure during breastfeeding.

➡️ Related Read: Handling Baby’s Colic: Causes and Tips on How to Relieve Colic

Is it safe to… processed foods?

Processed foods such as instant noodles and sausages are safe for consumption but are low in nutritional value. It is best to consume in moderation and make up for a balanced diet in other areas.

Is it safe to… to take medicine?

What you need to know before buying fever and pain medicine

It is crucial for mothers to inform their physicians who are prescribing drugs that they are breastfeeding. Double-check the medication you receive and read the labels or prescription leaflet. If in doubt, the prescription leaflet accompanying each medicine should state whether the medicine is contraindicated for lactating women. This would serve as a good reference.

There are also lactation apps and web tools which may help to provide general information regarding safety categorisation of the drug. However, these only serve as a basic guide. Do seek professional medical advice for a personal condition if in doubt.

Is it safe to…smoke?

Smoking is harmful during pregnancy and the dangers are elevated in breastfeeding. Smoking before, during, or after the gestation of a baby; also known as maternal smoking, exposes the baby to the smoke as second hand and third-hand smokers, and transfers nicotine to the baby via breastmilk.

According to Quitday, an organisation committed to supporting smokers to quit the habit, smoking inhibits the hormone prolactin and tobacco reduces the let-down reflex.

The National Health Service in England states smoking also increases risks of sudden infant death syndrome, as well as breathing problems, behavioural issues, ear disease and deafness. Efforts should be made to make the environment as smoke-free for the baby as possible.

Is it safe to… use cosmetics?

Things To Avoid During Breastfeeding

Topical products which contain salicylic acid, beta hydroxyl acid (BHA) are common especially in topical exfoliants, cleansers, toners, masks and peels and are absorbed into breastmilk. Retinoids and vitamin A derivatives are found in sunscreens, whitening products, serums and creams. It is advisable not to use products containing such ingredients for breastfeeding women.

Dr Lynn Chiam, Dermatologist, Children & Adult Skin Hair Laser Clinic at Mt Elizabeth Novena Hospital states that it is generally safe for pregnant women to use make-up. However, precaution must be taken for certain ingredients found in make-up.

Parabens are environmental contaminants which can be used as preservatives in cosmetics and healthcare products. Phenols, like benzophenone-3, are used in sun protection products. Triclosan, an antibacterial agent, is found in certain soaps.

Although further studies are needed to verify their effects on the unborn child, these substances may contribute to adverse health effects in mothers or their offspring. Dr Chiam explains, “Exposure to phenols, select parabens, and ticlosans during pregnancy may be related to oxidative stress and inflammation, potential mechanisms by which exposure to these compounds may influence birth outcomes and other adverse health effects.”

Chemical sunscreens should be avoided as they are absorbed into the skin as compared to natural mineral or fortified sunscreens which instead produces a water-resistant barrier to pollutants. In extreme cases, side effects may result in defects or allergies in babies.

While the mode of application and the extent of exposure may determine whether a certain product causes effective harm to a baby, it pays to be cautious of the products mothers apply on the skin. Read labels and prescription leaflets carefully to check what you are using is safe for you and baby.

This was first published in New Age Pregnancy e-guide.

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