Breastfeeding Nutrition

Your nutrition is just as important while you breastfeed as it was during your pregnancy. So how does breastfeeding nutrition differ from your pregnancy diet? Not much if during your pregnancy you improved your diet and added more nutritious foods and healthy snacks.

What Should I Eat While Breastfeeding?

A well-balanced meal plan that includes protein-rich foods, such as lean meat, eggs, dairy, beans, lentils and seafood low in mercury, plus whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Eating a variety of foods while breastfeeding will change the flavor of your breast milk. This will expose your baby to different tastes, which might help them more easily accept solid foods down the road.

Do I Need Extra Calories?

Making breast milk takes extra calories so you need to eat a little more than someone who isn’t breastfeeding – about an additional 250 to 500 calories a day will give you the energy and nutrition to produce milk. To get these extra calories, opt for nutrient-rich choices, such as a slice of whole-grain bread with a tablespoon of peanut butter, a medium banana or apple, and 8 ounces of yogurt. If you’re in touch with your body’s hunger cues, then responding to them with a meal or snack will ensure you’re meeting your increased needs. You may find that you are hungry more often or that it takes a bit more food to satisfy your hunger.

Should I Take Prenatal Supplement While Breastfeeding?

To make sure you and your baby are getting all of the vitamins you need, your health care provider may recommend taking a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement until you wean your baby. By taking a supplement designed specifically for nursing mothers, you can be sure you are getting the most important nutrients to help your body stay healthy and produce plenty of high-quality milk for your baby.

When selecting a nursing supplement, be sure it includes:

  • Vitamin D to support the growth of teeth and bones. Insufficient levels of Vitamin D can lead to rickets, a condition which is marked by weak bones, poor bone development, and bowed legs. Although Vitamin D can be found in foods like milk, fish, shellfish, and egg yolks you can also get Vitamin D from sunlight. If you live in northern climates or other places where there is not much sunlight, or if you tend to spend most of your day indoors, you and your baby may not be getting enough Vitamin D. Babies with darker skin need more time in the sun to get the same benefits. Breast milk is not high in Vitamin D, so if you are exclusively breastfeeding, a supplement with Vitamin D could be beneficial.
  • Iron – Although babies typically have enough stored iron to last through their sixth month, iron is still an important supplement for mom. One in five women suffer from anemia – iron deficiency. If you are feeling tired and run down, you may not be getting enough iron. This is especially likely if you are vegan, vegetarian, or just don’t eat much meat. Iron helps carry oxygen to the blood. If you’re blood is not getting enough oxygen, you are likely to feel tired and apathetic. You may have trouble concentrating and have a short attention span – none of which is helpful to a new mom! Be sure you are getting at least 10 mg of iron daily.
  • Folic Acid (Vitamin B9) – Folic acid helps your body to make new cells and to synthesize DNA. It may also reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Even though folic acid can be found in a variety of foods such as beans, leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, and grains, studies show that 2/3 of women do not get the recommended 400 mcg a day of folic acid.
    Calcium – you and your baby need calcium to keep your bones strong and healthy. It is recommended that a breastfeeding mother get about 1,000 mg of calcium a day – that is about 4 servings of dairy products. Since calcium is fairly bulky, you generally cannot get enough in a multivitamin. You can however, make sure you are getting all of your calcium needs met by taking a calcium supplement with your everyday nursing supplement.
  • Omega 3 (DHA) – Omega 3 fatty acids, specifically DHA, are essential for brain, eye, and heart growth and development. Omega 3 fatty acids can increase intellectual development in babies and young children, improving memory, learning ability, and attention span. Omega 3 fatty acids come from oily fish. Women who do not eat much seafood, or who are concerned about mercury and other toxins frequently found in fish should consider supplementing.

What Foods Should I Avoid When Breastfeeding.

You don’t have to give up your favorite things, but there are some foods you should limit.

  • Caffeine will transfer to breastmilk and affect an infant. Stick to one or two cups a day (about 300mg of caffeine total). Pre-term infants can be more sensitive so avoiding caffeine or talk with your doctors about safe amounts.
  • Alcohol – There’s no level of alcohol in breast milk that’s considered safe for a baby. If you drink, avoid breast-feeding until the alcohol has completely cleared your breast milk. This typically takes two to three hours for 12 ounces of 5% beer, 5 ounces of 11% wine or 1.5 ounces of 40% liquor, depending on your body weight. Before you drink alcohol, consider pumping milk to feed your baby later.
  • Seafood – Mercury can be dangerous for you and your breastfed child. Too much mercury can cause problems with the development of the brain and nervous system leading to issues with speech, coordination, attention, memory, and learning. The American Pregnancy Association recommends Safe Catch salmon and herring.
  • Deep-fried foods and processed, fatty meats are high in saturated fats and salt. They do not give you the nutrients you need while you’re breastfeeding. Limit bacon, sausage, deep fried foods, cold cuts and opt for chicken, turkey, low-mercury fish and lean meat.
  • High-sugar foods like candy, cookies and desserts. These are empty calories and can lead to weigh gain, diabetes and fatigue. Snack on veggies, fresh fruit, nuts and seeds, yogurt.

Can the Foods I Eat Make My Baby Fussy or Allergic?

Certain foods or drinks in your diet could cause your baby to become irritable or have an allergic reaction. If your baby becomes fussy or develops a rash, diarrhea or wheezing soon after nursing, consult your baby’s doctor.

If you suspect that something in your diet might be affecting your baby, avoid the food or drink for up to a week to see if it makes a difference in your baby’s behavior. Avoiding certain foods, such as garlic, onions or cabbage, might help.

What About Fluids?

Your body needs plenty of fluids to produce breast milk; 8-10 cups a day. Water is great, but juice, milk (or milk substitutes like soymilk or rice milk), herbal teas, and broths or soups will also fill the bill. Of course you will want to limit alcohol, sugar-filled, and caffeinated beverages. One way to make sure you are getting enough fluids is to drink a glass of water, juice, or tea with each feeding.

USDA Personalized Food Plan for Breastfeeding Moms

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) will provide you with a free personalized daily food plan if you create a profile on their website. The site offers different programs for women who are breastfeeding exclusively, combining breastfeeding and formula feeding, or breastfeeding only a few times each day.

Want to Know More?

Compiled using information from the following sources:

1. American Acadamy of Pediatrics. Policy Statement. Breastfeeding and the use of human milk. Pediatrics, March 2012.

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10. Mayo Clinic Breast-feeding Nutrition: Tips for Moms.