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.

The good news is while you’re nursing, your body will prioritize making nutritious breast milk no matter what you’re eating.

What should you eat when you’re breastfeeding? More good news. You can eat just about anything you want. There’s no reason to avoid any particular types of foods while you’re nursing your baby. Women all over the world breastfeed, some with diets full of spices, garlic, and cruciferous vegetables.

What Is a Healthy Breastfeeding Diet?

A well-balanced meal plan that includes a variety of foods, and enough food overall, is the goal of a breastfeeding diet. A healthy breastfeeding diet contains foods that provide vitamin- and mineral-rich sources of protein, high-fiber carbohydrates, and healthy fats.

Making breast milk takes extra calories so you need to eat a little more than someone who isn’t breastfeeding. 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?

Many doctors recommend that breastfeeding mothers continue to take a prenatal supplement. In theory, if you eat a well-balanced diet, you should be able to get all the nutrients your body needs. In reality, however; it can be hard to be sure you are eating enough of the right foods every day. 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.

Nursing Blend from Fairhaven Health provides 100% Daily Value of most vitamins, and extra amounts of vitamins known to be especially important for lactating women, including 700% Daily Value of Vitamin D and 200% Daily Value of the B vitamins. And in the event that you experience any difficulty establishing your milk supply, Nursing Blend also contains natural galactagogues such as fenugreek to help you build and maintain your milk supply.

  • 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. Nordic Naturals is the Official DHA Supplement of the American Pregnancy Association.

How Does Good Nutrition Affect Your Breast Milk and Your Baby?

Many of the foods that you eat travel into your breast milk, and have an influence on the composition, taste, and color of your milk. It is also believed that breastfed babies get used to the taste of foods in their mother’s diets, and even develop preferences for those types of foods later in life. So eating meals full of healthy, nutritious foods — including fruits and vegetables — while you’re breastfeeding may help lay the foundation for good eating habits for your child in the future.

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 – It’s best not to drink alcohol on a regular basis. Having a glass of wine with dinner or an occasional drink with friends is generally okay. Just be sure to time it so your baby isn’t nursing when there is still alcohol in your milk supply.
  • Seafood high in 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.

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:

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9. Sneed SM, Zane C, Thomas MR.The effects of ascorbic acid, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and folic acid supplementation on the breast milk and maternal nutritional status of low socioeconomic lactating women. Am J Clin Nutr. 1981 Jul;34(7):1338-46. Thomas MR, Kawamoto J, Sneed SM, Eakin R.