Breastfeeding Diet Basics, According To A Registered Dietitian

You made it through those 9 months of pregnancy where you did without massive amounts of caffeine, booze, and raw sushi, indubitably with absolute success. But now that you are a new mama and you are entering a new phase of your journey — namely your lactation journey — it is important to know that there are some nutrition tips that you are still going to have to follow if you want your breastmilk to be as nutritious as it can be for your little one.

Sure, your diet becomes much more liberalized once you are no longer responsible for literally growing a tiny human in your belly (and thank goodness for that!), but you aren’t completely off the hook when it comes to focusing on your diet when you are breastfeeding. Not only does what you eat impact certain aspects of the nutrients provided in your breastmilk, but it can also play a role in your healing progress, your energy levels, and your mental health.

So, what are the breastfeeding tips you need to keep in mind when you are following a breastfeeding diet? Read on to learn the best foods to eat while breastfeeding, what not to eat while breastfeeding, how many calories should a breastfeeding woman eat, and more.

Without further ado, here are the best things to eat while breastfeeding.

How Much Do You Need To Eat When Breastfeeding?

Before we dig into the specifics of which foods to focus on, it is important to understand that your overall nutrition needs have changed once you start lactating. While people claim that you are “eating for two” when you are pregnant, the reality is that your caloric needs have increased significantly once you are producing nourishing milk for your baby — even more than during pregnancy.

According to the National Institute of Health, lactating people need an additional 450-500 calories per day to support their nutrition needs. Additionally, nursing moms need approximately 71 grams of protein per day according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Increasing your calorie and protein intake doesn’t mean that you should be downing a bag of fried potato chips and a dozen slices of fatty bacon every day. Leaning on nutrient-dense foods that contain high-quality protein, a slew of micronutrients, and healthy fats can help you feel your best while helping supply your baby with the critical nutrients it needs in order to grow and thrive.

What Should You Eat When Breastfeeding?

OK – you get that you need to eat more calories and protein when you are lactating, but what the heck should you actually eat while breastfeeding to increase baby weight and help ensure baby is getting what it needs from your breastmilk?

Here are some tips for your breastfeeding diet that can have a profound impact on everything you are trying to accomplish:

The best breastfeeding diet for you and your baby.

1. Include Low Mercury Fish In Your Diet Two Times A Week

Experts agree that including fish that contain lower levels of methylmercury in your breastfeeding diet is one of the most important things you can do to fuel your body with important DHA and EPA omega-3 fatty acids, nutrients that play important roles in baby’s health. Specifically, DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid that is essential for the brain and vision development of your baby.

Adequate DHA omega-3 fatty acids may benefit a lactating mama as well, as some data suggests that taking in adequate amounts during the postpartum stage may have a protective effect against postpartum depression symptoms and promote overall wellness.

Fish also provides important micronutrients that are important to consume in adequate amounts during the lactation stage, including iodine, selenium, and vitamin B12.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that breastfeeding mothers take in 200 to 300 mg of omega-3 fatty acids per day. They also recommend that this population. eat 1-2 servings of fish per week, with sustainably caught or raised fish and shellfish offering the best choices. Similarly, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans includes a suggestion that breastfeeding women consume between 9 and 12 ounces per week of a variety of seafood from choices that are lower in mercury.

When selecting your fish, picking options that are lower in methylmercury is an important step to consider. Methylercury is a naturally occurring element that can be found in our water sources, and therefore can accumulate in the fish we eat. This metal, when consumed in large amounts, is toxic to the nervous system and can result in negative effects on the brain and nervous system development of a baby.

Safe Catch is the only brand of seafood to test every Elite skipjack tuna and salmon to a mercury limit 10X and25x more strict than the FDA action limit, respectively. Plus, these fish options meets Consumer Report’s “low mercury criteria” set for vulnerable populations like pregnant women and young children and it is the official Seafood of the American Pregnancy Association. Safe Catch also uses Certified Sustainable fishing practices through the Marine Stewardship Council where Safe Catch tuna and salmon are internationally certified to the MSC fisheries standard of sustainability.

2. Focus On Important Micronutrients

Your breast milk naturally contains nutrients that your baby needs in order to grow and thrive. And while certain nutrients are found in your milk regardless of what you eat, other nutrient levels are dependent on your intake — meaning that if your diet is low in certain quantities of key nutrients, your breastmilk may not have the most ideal levels.

Choline, iodine, selenium, and vitamin A are key nutrients that lactating moms should ensure they are consuming enough of. Great foods to include in a breastfeeding diet that supply at least one of these nutrients include:

3. Consume Caffeine in Moderation

Unlike during pregnancy, when some experts say that sticking to a maximum of 200 mg of caffeine every day is recommended, you can include a good amount of this stimulant in your breastfeeding diet, as very low amounts of mom’s caffeine intake are transferred to the breast milk. As such, moderate amounts of caffeine do not appear to be as large of a concern as it was during pregnancy. So, feel free to enjoy your morning cup of Joe when you are lactating — you may still want to hold off on the triple espresso lattes though until you are finished with your lactation journey.

The Right Nutrients For A Healthy Breastfeeding Journey

When a mother is breastfeeding, her dietary choices become incredibly important in order to support not only her health and wellness but also her baby’s growth and development. Choosing the right foods to eat, like Safe Catch Elite Wild Tuna and other lower-mercury fish options, lots of produce, and eggs, can help ensure mom is getting what she needs and the breast milk being fed to baby is as nutrient-dense as possible. Prioritizing your diet when you are caring for a newborn may not be the easiest thing to do, but in the long run, doing so may be one of the best things you can do for both yourself and for your baby.

Lauren Manaker – MS, RDN, LD, CLEC, CPT
Registered Dietitian, Certified Lactation Educator-Counselor, Freelance Writer, Dietitian Spokesperson, Media Dietitian