Eating well when you’re breastfeeding is just as important as getting proper nutrition during your pregnancy. The goal is to have mothers put herself and her body in the best state for successful breastfeeding. Choosing nutrient-rich foods can help optimize the nutrition composition of your breastmilk, the quantity of your milk supply, and the resultant health of your baby for years to come.
You don’t need a special breastfeeding diet during breastfeeding, but what you eat does need to be nutritionally balanced.
Maintaining your healthy eating habits while breastfeeding is vital, because just like in pregnancy, during breastfeeding your body will prioritize the baby. This means that if you are not taking in enough nutrients, your baby will use up what he needs and you may experience symptoms of a nutrient deficiency.
Most women need about 300 to 500 extra calories per day while breastfeeding. This amount may vary based on your metabolism, weight and activity level. Focus on making healthy food choices to help fuel your milk production. Opt for protein-rich foods, such as lean meat, eggs, dairy, beans, lentils and seafood low in mercury. Choose a variety of whole grains as well as fruits and vegetables.
Eating a variety of foods while breast-feeding will also change the flavor of your breast milk. This will expose your baby to different taste, which might help him or her more easily accept solid foods down the road.
When breastfeeding, aim to include the following foods in each day’s meals:
Breastfeeding women should aim to eat 2-3 cups of vegetables a day. Vegetables are rich in vitamins and antioxidants. Consuming a sufficient quantity will help the body to replenish the nutrients it needs to make milk.
Fruits are a rich source of many nutrients. They may also help relieve constipation, which some mothers experience after giving birth. Aim for about 2 cups of fruit per day, which should include a wide variety of different fruits.
Whole grains, especially oatmeal, quinoa, brown rice and whole grain bread, offer vital nutrients. Avoid processed foods with simple carbohydrates like white flour and refined sugar. Fortified cereals provide added nutrients and are also an easy to grab option. It is best to stick to whole grain cereals that do not contain added sugar.
Eat several dairy servings of high-protein foods, like low mercury fish, lean meat and poultry, eggs, low-fat dairy, beans, tempeh, tofu, and nuts.
Seafood is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which can support healthy brain development in the baby. Salmon, sardines and trout are excellent choices because they are high in omega-3s but low in mercury. Breastfeeding women should avoid other fish, such as albacore tune, swordfish, shark, and king mackerel, which are high in mercury. Other forms of tuna are safe to eat.
Both pregnancy and breastfeeding can leach calcium from the bones. This puts moms at risk of osteoporosis if you do not get enough calcium and vitamin D. Dairy products, such as milk, yogurt, cheese, are excellent sources of calcium, and many have added vitamin D.
Breastfeeding women should aim for a minimum of 3 servings of dairy products each day. If you do not eat dairy can also get calcium from dark leafy greens and beans. The sun is a primary source of vitamin D, but consuming eggs and fatty fish can increase intake. Supplements may also be beneficial.
Increasing your intake of fluids is also critical because you’ll be losing fluid through your breastmilk. The average adequate intake is about 12 cups (3.1L) of fluid a day. It is recommended that breastfeeding women drink to thirst to meet the increased fluid needs and pay attention to early signs of insufficient fluid intake (e.g. dark-coloured urine). Drink a full glass of water each time you sit down to nurse and keep a water bottle handy throughout the day.
In most cases, a well-balanced diet should provide all the nutrients that a breastfeeding mother needs. However, many breastfeeding women also find it beneficial to take a multivitamin, as it offers some security that they are getting a sufficient amount of nutrients to protect their health and produce quality breast milk. While many breastfeeding women opt for their normal multi or prenatal vitamin, there are postnatal vitamin supplements available specifically for breastfeeding women. It is important to note that supplements cannot replace a healthful diet.
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- Institute of Medicine. Dietary reference intakes for energy, carbohydrate, fiber, fat, fatty acids, cholesterol, protein, and amino acids. Washington, DC: National Academies Press; 2005.
- Institute of Medicine. Nutrition during lactation. Washington, DC: National Academies Press; 1991.
- Mennella JA, Johnson A, Beauchamp GK. Garlic ingestion by pregnant women alters the odor of amniotic fluid. Chemical Senses. 1995 Apr;20(2):207-9.
- Cooke L, Fildes A. The impact of flavour exposure in utero and during milk feeding on food acceptance at weaning and beyond. Appetite. 2011;57(3):808-11.
YeTing Tan, Dietitian, Simple Balance Nutrition