Can You Have Pesto When Breastfeeding?

Breastfeeding baby

Short answer
The NHS advises that unless your baby starts to show signs of an allergic reaction to your breastmilk, there is no need for breastfeeding mothers to avoid any of the ingredients found in classic basil pesto.

Long answer
Speak to enough residents of Genoa, the birthplace of pesto, and sooner or later one of them will tell you that pesto is the second thing a baby tastes after its mother's milk. Even though we suspect that's a slightly embellished story, we think it sums up rather nicely the fact that, in moderation, pesto is fine for breastfeeding mothers to eat.

The NHS states that the seven ingredients in the recipe for traditional pesto, basil, oil, pine nuts, garlic, pecorino, Parmigiano Reggiano, and salt, are all perfectly fine to eat during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. In fact, it takes a surprisingly relaxed approach to the diets of breastfeeding mothers and broadly advises that as long as you follow a healthy, balanced, and varied diet, there is very little that is off limits.

Anything you avoided during pregnancy (fish high in mercury, unpasteurised cheese, cured meats, etc.) should continue into your breastfeeding journey. However, unless you are consuming a particularly wacky pesto (such as Sacla's 'nduja pesto that contains a salty, cured sausage), you're unlikely to encounter any of them.

Fat and salt content are two things to avoid eating excessive amounts of while breastfeeding. By its very nature, pesto is high in fat, and even though it falls into the "good fat" category (i.e. high in polyunsaturated fat and low in saturated fat), it's still very high in calories, so should only be enjoyed in moderation.

The jury is out on spices. Some mothers worry that eating sauces with very strong flavours like chillies, onions, and some spices may upset their babies' tummies, but you certainly don't find millions of Asian mothers cutting back on spicy food while breastfeeding.