Breastfeeding Diet for Nursing Moms
Wondering what you should and should not be eating while breastfeeding your little one? Read on to find out which foods to eat and which foods to avoid so that both you and your baby stay healthy and get the best possible nutrition.
Do You Need to Follow a Special Breastfeeding Diet?
There is no specific menu or diet regimen that you, as a breastfeeding mom, definitely need to follow. Instead, try to eat a normal, healthy diet to help maintain your breast milk supply and support your and your baby’s nutritional needs.
Just as you should at other times in life, it’s important when you’re breastfeeding to enjoy a well-rounded diet that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein, and foods rich in calcium and minerals. To help you do this, check out ChooseMyPlate.gov, which lets you select healthy options from each of the main food groups and provides tips and a personalized food plan for breastfeeding moms.
As a breastfeeding mom, you may need to consume an extra 300 to 500 calories per day to keep your energy levels up. To get those extra calories, you could, for example, eat any of the following: a slice of whole-grain bread with one tablespoon of peanut butter, a medium banana or apple, or eight ounces of yogurt.
Foods to Eat While Breastfeeding
It’s necessary to consume a sufficient amount of certain nutrients while you’re breastfeeding since you’ll be passing on those nutrients to your little one through your breast milk. Read on to find out what the best foods for breastfeeding are.
One of the most important dietary minerals is calcium, which helps keep your bones healthy and strong. That's why you'll need to make sure you get your daily dose of 1,000 milligrams (1,300 for teenaged mothers). Studies show that moms lose about 3 to 5 percent of their bone mass while breastfeeding. To help offset this, make sure you load up on calcium while you’re breastfeeding.
Shoot for three servings of dairy products per day, which can include things like milk, cheese, and yogurt. To give you an idea of serving size, eight ounces of milk is one serving.
Calcium-rich dairy alternatives include:
dark leafy greens like kale, spinach, and broccoli
fortified breakfast cereals
Talk to your healthcare provider if you are having trouble reaching the 1,000 milligrams per day recommendation. Your provider may recommend a calcium supplement, which should made without crushed oyster shells, as these can contain lead.
To support your baby’s ongoing development, aim for at least 400 micrograms of folate (folic acid) per day. Your provider may recommend taking a multivitamin or tell you to keep taking your prenatal vitamin to get enough folate.
You’ll also want to eat folate-rich foods such as spinach, citrus fruits, meat or poultry liver, and a variety of beans. You can also get folate from folate-enriched breads, cereals, and grains.
Foods Rich in Vitamin D
Vitamin D, along with calcium, is crucial for maintaining bone strength. Although sun exposure is one of the best ways to get vitamin D, it’s not the safest method, given the risks of skin cancer, nor is it always practical. You can obtain a good supply of vitamin D through foods such as:
fortified milk or orange juice
Most experts recommend between 400 and 1,000 IU (international units) of vitamin D per day. To give you some examples of foods high in vitamin D, three ounces of cooked sockeye salmon has 477 IU, a can of tuna in water has 154 IU, and 1 cup of fortified orange juice has 137 IU.
The good news is that fish like salmon, tuna, and mackerel are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which help promote the growth and development of your baby’s brain and eyes.
Getting plenty of vitamin D is also important because it helps your digestive tract absorb calcium.
Your baby’s healthcare provider may recommend a vitamin D supplement for your baby. This is because babies who are exclusively breastfed are at risk of developing a condition called rickets (a softening and weakening of bones) if they don’t get enough vitamin D from breast milk alone.
Foods High in Protein
When you’re nursing you need six to six-and-a-half ounces of protein a day, which helps build, repair, and maintain body tissues. Aim for two or three servings of lean meat, poultry, or fish, knowing that a three-ounce serving is about the size of a deck of cards.
You can also get 1-ounce protein equivalents from 1 egg, 1 tablespoon of peanut butter, nuts (such as 12 almonds or 24 pistachios), or a quarter cup of cooked beans.
If peanut allergies run in your family, pay especially close attention to how your baby responds after you’ve consumed peanuts or peanut butter. Speak to your healthcare provider if you have any concerns.
Lean meats and dark, leafy green vegetables are great sources of iron; fish, iron-fortified cereals, and dark poultry meat also contain this important mineral. The body more easily absorbs iron from animal sources than from plant sources. Your healthcare provider may recommend taking iron supplements to ensure you’re getting enough in your diet while breastfeeding.
You may notice that you are thirstier than usual while you’re lactating. It’s important to make sure you’re drinking enough water every day. A good tip is to drink a glass of water every time you breastfeed.
Foods to Avoid or Limit While Breastfeeding
After carefully watching what you were eating during your pregnancy, you might hope that after your baby’s birth you can go back to eating and drinking the way you were beforehand. However, there are still some foods and drinks to be wary of when breastfeeding..
Below are some of the foods and drinks to avoid or limit while breastfeeding.
Seafood That’s High in Mercury
Fish can play an important role in a healthy diet, since it’s rich in protein and omega-3 fatty acids. However, some types of fish contain high levels of mercury, which can cause damage to the nervous system in babies and small children. For this reason, avoid fish such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish.
Instead, stick to fish such as canned light tuna (limit canned albacore tuna to no more than six ounces per week since it contains more mercury), shrimp, salmon, pollock, and catfish.
If you like locally caught fish, check local advisories about the safety of the fish. For more information on the mercury levels of the different types of fish, check out this handy guide from the FDA.
Alcohol and Breastfeeding
Long-term, repeated alcohol consumption can reduce your breast milk supply and may be harmful to your baby. Alcohol also changes the way your breast milk tastes, which your baby may not like. That's why it's best to avoid alcohol altogether.
If you must have an occasional alcoholic drink, have one just after you’ve nursed your baby or expressed/pumped, and wait at least a couple of hours before you breastfeed, express, or pump again. This gives your body enough time to metabolize the alcohol.
Caffeinated Beverages and Breastfeeding
Drinking up to three cups of caffeinated beverages while breastfeeding a day is usually OK. Any more can make your baby fussy or irritable.
Keep in mind, there’s caffeine in coffee, but there’s also caffeine in some teas, sodas, and chocolates, so factor all these into your calculations of how much caffeine you’re consuming.
Sugary Drinks and Breastfeeding
Try to limit or avoid sugary drinks, including soft drinks like fruit juices and iced teas. Instead, drink lots of water.
A Note on Vitamins and Supplements
Iodine is another crucial mineral while you’re breastfeeding. Your healthcare provider may recommend you take a supplement that includes the 150 micrograms needed per day.
If you adhere to a vegan or vegetarian diet, your healthcare provider may recommend a daily vitamin B-12 supplement. Vitamin B-12, which is essential for your baby’s brain development, is contained in much higher levels in animal protein than in vegetables. Your provider may also recommend an omega-3 supplement if you’re not eating fish.
Food Reactions, Intolerances, and Allergies That May Affect Your Baby
Your baby may have a reaction to your breast milk after you’ve had certain foods or drinks. For example:
After you eat beans, cabbage, broccoli, or cauliflower, your baby may get gassy or fussy.
After you’ve had spicy food, your baby may not like the taste of your breast milk because it can change the taste.
Your little one may be more fussy or irritable if you’ve had too much caffeine.
Your baby may also develop an allergic reaction after you’ve had cow’s milk, soy, wheat, corn, oats, eggs, tree nuts, peanuts, fish, or shellfish.
Signs of an allergic reaction in your baby include
frequent spitting up or vomiting
lots of gas
pulling up the knees in pain
blood or mucus in his stool
skin rashes and swelling
Call 911 immediately if your baby has trouble breathing or his face swells. Reach out to your baby's healthcare provider if you’re concerned that your baby may be unwell after feeding.
In some cases, you might consider keeping a food diary to track any possible allergies or intolerances, gassiness, fussiness, or signs of colic, and then go back to your baby’s healthcare provider with the results. The provider may suggest an elimination diet, which means eliminating a certain food from your diet to see if there’s a change in your baby’s response.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Keeping your diet as healthy, varied, and well-rounded as possible while breastfeeding helps give your baby a great start in life, and also helps you take good care of yourself. The few watch-outs are important to note since they can affect your breast milk supply and/or your baby’s health.
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