The importance of healthy eating while breastfeeding

It’s only natural to wonder if the foods that you eat affect the content of your breast milk. There’s also a lot of contradictory information out there about how breastfeeding moms should eat. The good news is, your breastfeeding diet doesn’t have to be anything fancy or complex.

For the most part, women who are breastfeeding should stick to the same diet they followed during pregnancy. Research shows that new moms who eat a diet that is generally healthy and well-rounded pass along nutritious breast milk to their babies. If you are meeting your nutritional needs, you’re following the ideal breastfeeding diet for you. One thing that’s similar to pregnancy is that it’s recommended that women who are breastfeeding avoid drinking alcohol, and limit caffeinated drinks to one per day, since both caffeine and alcohol can be transferred into breast milk, though to different degrees.

Keep it balanced

Make sure that you’re getting adequate amounts of iron, protein, healthy fats, and calcium throughout your day. You can do this by eating mostly whole foods, leafy greens, fruits, lean meat, eggs, beans, nuts, and whole grains.

Honor your hunger

Like many new moms, you might be concerned about losing pregnancy weight, but you’ll still need to eat more calories than you usually would while breastfeeding to make up for the calories and nutrients you’re passing on to your baby. Women need about 400 to 500 extra calories while breastfeeding, but as long as you’re eating when you’re hungry, your body should signal to you what extra food you need. Following a strict weight-loss program while breastfeeding can be detrimental, and should be avoided. Your body will make breast milk its top priority, but if you’re not getting enough nutrients, it could begin to have a serious impact on your health.

Love (some) liquids

Try to drink at least 16 8 oz cups of water over the course of a day. It’s important to drink plenty of fluids even before you feel thirst, since feeling thirst is a sign that your body is already starting to become dehydrated. If you find yourself too distracted, an easy way to remember to drink water is to drink a glass every time that you sit down to feed your baby. Not all liquids are created equal, though. If you’re breastfeeding, it’s best to avoid too much alcohol and caffeine, because they can be passed through breast milk. Sugary drinks should also be limited as they contain an unnecessarily high amount of calories.

Choose fish wisely

Certain kinds of fish contain high levels of mercury and contaminants that are dangerous for babies. While breastfeeding, you’ll want to make a point to avoid all seafood that has a high mercury content. This includes swordfish, shark, tuna, marlin, king mackerel, and tilefish. If you decide to eat low-mercury seafood – like sardines, flounder, salmon, or shrimp – try to be aware of how fresh it is, and where it came from. Tilapia, for example, tends to have a high mercury content.

Watch for food intolerance

On some rare occasions, breastfeeding mothers may eat something that causes their babies to experience food intolerance. It is very unusual for babies to experience allergic reactions when their mothers consume allergens during breastfeeding. When babies do experience allergic reactions, signs include fussiness, diarrhea, congestion, or an unexplained, itchy rash on the baby’s skin. If you notice any of these signs, consider consulting with your or your child’s healthcare provider, and consider what foods might be causing the problem. If you come up with a candidate, you can try to eliminate it from your diet for a week to see if the symptoms go away. Some common allergens include peanuts, foods made from cow’s milk, soy, wheat, eggs, and corn.

Most commonly, babies can experience a milk protein intolerance which causes fussiness, blood-tinged stool, and, in some cases, poor weight gain, while their mothers consume milk. In these cases, mothers may be recommended to cut milk and milk-based products, like butter, out of their diets.

Ask your provider about supplements

Babies who aren’t getting enough sunlight may have a hard time absorbing enough vitamin D just from breast milk, and many women are advised by their providers to continue to take prenatal vitamins while breastfeeding, to make sure they’re getting enough vitamins and minerals. The American Academy of Pediatrics has also issued a recommendation that babies who are exclusively breastfed should receive vitamin D supplements, so talk to your provider about whether or not supplementation might be helpful.

Be proud of yourself

Breastfeeding allows you to bond with your baby in a unique way, and it’s admirable that you’re able to help your baby’s health in this way, despite the stress that new parenthood brings. Rest assured that as long as you’re eating a balanced diet and taking any vitamin supplements that your provider recommends, you’re doing your part to make your breast milk as healthy and nutritious as it can possibly be.

  • J Ares Segura, J Arena Ansótegui, NM Díaz-Gómez. “The importance of maternal nutrition during breastfeeding: Do breastfeeding mothers need nutritional supplements?” Asociación Española de Pediatría. 84(6):347.e1-7. Web. Jun 2016.
  • Lindsay H Allen. “B Vitamins in Breast Milk: Relative Importance of Maternal Status and Intake, and Effects on Infant Status and Function.” Advances in Nutrition. 3: 362-369. Web. May 2012.
  • Elizabeth LaFleur. “I’m breastfeeding. Is it okay to drink alcohol?” MayoClinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, Mar 11 2016. Web.
  • “Nutrition tips for breastfeeding moms.” UCSFHealth. The Regents of The University of of California, 2016. Web.
  • Mayo Clinic Staff. “Breast-feeding nutrition: Tips for moms.” MayoClinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, May 5 2015. Web.
  • “Vitamin D Supplementation.” CDC. US Department of Health and Human Services, Oct 20 2009. Web.
  • “Maternal Nutrition and Breastfeeding.” URMC. University of Rochester Medical Center, 2016. Web.
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