What to Eat While Breastfeeding

A good post-pregnancy diet for breastfeeding moms means eating the right balance of healthy food and maintaining the same daily fluid intake you did during pregnancy—at least eight glasses of water per day (juice raises blood sugar levels and adds more calories than benefits). Your healthcare practitioner may recommend that you continue taking a prenatal vitamin every day while breastfeeding to ensure that you and your baby receive the necessary vitamins and minerals.

There is no need to count calories while breastfeeding, but you should pay attention to the quality of the foods you are eating. Your baby will get the nutrition it needs regardless of how well you eat. The only problem is that it will be at your expense if you don’t eat well. Breastfeeding moms need not worry about losing their pregnancy weight. Producing milk burns a ton of calories — about 500 calories a day. By eating healthy, you’ll have enough energy to take care of your new baby and maybe fit in a little exercise, which will help you get back in shape faster and encourage weight loss. Expect the weight to come off slowly and steadily over your baby’s first year. Losing too much weight too quickly can decrease your milk supply and cause other health issues, such as dehydration.

Foods to Eat While Breastfeeding

For the most part, no food is off limits to a breastfeeding mom. However, if you notice that your baby reacts badly to something you’ve eaten, try leaving that food out of your diet for a few days to a week before trying it again. A good post-pregnancy diet for a breastfeeding mom includes a balance of “quality” foods, such as the following:

Fatty fish. Certain fatty fish, such as salmon and sardines, contain DHA, which is essential for the development of your baby’s nervous system. These foods are also a good source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids. To avoid exposing your baby to the mercury found in most fish, limit the amount of fish you eat to two servings a week, or 12 ounces.

Lean beef. Beef contains iron, protein, and vitamin B-12. These nutrients are important for maintaining a healthy energy level.

  1. Eggs are another good source of iron and protein that most moms can easily incorporate into their diets.
  2. Beans, particularly black beans and kidney beans, are rich in iron and a budget-friendly source of high quality, non-animal protein.

Whole grains. Whole-grain breads, cereals, and pastas and brown rice are important sources of carbohydrates, which you need for energy — and you will need the energy from carbohydrates to take care of your new baby. Many whole-grain breads and pastas are fortified with folic acid, which both you and your baby need for good health.

Low-fat dairy products. Dairy products, such as milk, yogurt, and cheese, are rich in calcium, B vitamins, and vitamin D.

Dark, green, leafy vegetables. Spinach and kale are the two leafy greens that give you the most nutrition from one serving. They are not only a good source of vitamin A, but also a good source of vitamin C, iron, and calcium, all of which are good for both mom and baby.

  1. You should try to eat two or more servings of fruit or juice a day. Blueberries are especially good for you; they contain antioxidants and many of the vitamins and minerals you and your baby need. Oranges are a great source of vitamin C, and it is better to eat an orange than to drink a glass of orange juice. Some may recommend orange juice that has been fortified with calcium, but it’s better to get calcium from milk than from juice, especially since milk also has protein.

Supplements to Consider Taking While Breastfeeding

Eating healthy may not be enough when breastfeeding. Your body is burning calories at a fast rate, you are not sleeping as well because of frequent feedings, and you’re taking care of a new baby. This is hard work, especially if you are managing your home and a career. Most women need to increase their calorie intake while breastfeeding to keep energy up. But it can be difficult to do that when your primary focus is on how much your baby is eating. To ensure that you and your baby are getting the necessary amount of vitamins and minerals, your doctor may recommend that you take the following supplements:

  • A prenatal vitamin helps fill the gaps in nutrition by providing vitamins that your diet may be lacking. Having a little extra A, B, and C vitamins and folate in your diet doesn’t hurt, and can be of great benefit to you and your baby. Vegetarians and women with lactose intolerance should consider taking a prenatal vitamin.
  • An iron supplement (65 mg or 325 mg ferrous sulfate) may be needed in cases of anemia. Iron levels can drop due to breastfeeding. If iron levels become too low anemia can result, after which maintaining a healthy iron level requires iron supplementation.
  • A 500-mg calcium supplement can meet a breastfeeding mom’s need for extra calcium. The amount of calcium the mother needs depends on the amount of breast milk she is producing and how long breastfeeding continues. A mother breastfeeding twins will need more calcium than a mother breasting one. A prenatal vitamin usually contains about 200 mg of calcium. Most sources, including the National Academy of Sciences, recommend an intake of 1,000 mg of calcium while breastfeeding.

Studies have shown that women often lose three to five percent of their bone mass during breastfeeding. This bone loss may be caused by the growing baby’s increased need for calcium, which is drawn from the mother’s bones. Another reason women may lose bone mass during breastfeeding is because they’re producing less estrogen, which is the hormone that protects bones. The good news is that bone lost during breastfeeding is usually recovered within six months after breastfeeding ends, with or without supplementation.

What to Limit While Breastfeeding

You have to be cautious when indulging in certain foods and drinks that you had to limit or eliminate during pregnancy. Taken in excess while breastfeeding, the following items can cause problems:

  1. While you can have an alcoholic beverage now and then while breastfeeding, you have to make sure that the alcohol has cleared your breast milk. For one drink (for example, one beer, one glass of wine, one shot of liquor), this usually takes two to three hours.
  2. Your baby may react to your caffeine intake in the way you might react to too much caffeine, by becoming jittery or having problems with sleep. It is best to limit caffeine consumption to one or two eight-ounce cups a day, or less.
  3. It is important to continue eating fish because of its many benefits. However, eating too much fish can be harmful because high levels of mercury in breast milk can compromise a baby’s developing nervous system. In general, it is best to eat seafood with a low mercury content, such as salmon, shrimp, canned light tuna, and catfish, and avoid high-mercury content fish, such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish.

Foods Linked to Fussiness and Allergy While Breastfeeding

Some babies can be sensitive to certain foods you eat. Foods that can be troublesome include cow’s milk, eggs, fish, citrus fruits, nuts, and wheat. Temporarily eliminating the food that you think is causing your baby’s fussiness may help. A rash, diarrhea or change in stools, constant spitting up or vomiting, or congestion may indicate an allergy. If your baby has any of these symptoms, notify your pediatrician.

This page was last updated on 06/2017

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