Nourishing foods to support breastfeeding

Breastfeeding is a journey that includes a lot of questions for many new moms. Among them may be the question, “Does the way we feed ourselves help feed our babies?” A quick search on the internet reveals hundreds of articles about foods that help produce breast milk, or what you “should” and “should not” eat. But before we go judging ourselves based on what we’ve read online, let’s take a look at the current recommendations according to the experts.

Your baby benefits from the nutrients you are getting through your food. Contrary to what you might hear, however, there is no breastfeeding-specific diet. Rather, a generally healthy diet that includes a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats can support your and your baby’s health while you’re breastfeeding. You can continue taking a multivitamin, but it does not have to be a specific prenatal supplement, which typically has more iron than is needed. (Your healthcare provider may recommend the additional iron if you had anemia during pregnancy, or a lot of blood loss.)

Healthy fats are important for your baby’s development. Aim for two to three servings of seafood per week, choosing low-mercury fish like salmon, shrimp, sardines, and tilapia. You should also be drinking plenty of water, which might not be hard since many breastfeeding moms feel thirstier than usual. Staying well-hydrated provides the extra fluid needed to produce breast milk. You will know if you are drinking enough fluids if your urine is only lightly colored. Breastfeeding mothers should also focus on calcium-rich foods, such as dairy, dark leafy greens, nuts and seeds, and calcium-fortified foods.

Some folks believe that certain foods or herbs (like barley, oats, or fennel) can improve your milk supply. However, the evidence is lacking. Although there is no harm in eating these foods, the best way to make sure you are producing enough milk is to feed your baby on-cue, and try to empty the breast at each feeding. Certified lactation consultant and registered dietitian Danielle Lavallee says “Feeding frequency and skin-to-skin contact, throughout lactation but particularly early in the postpartum period, go a long way in establishing and maintaining a healthy milk supply.” So continue to pay attention to your baby’s cues while eating a healthy diet to promote lactation.

“Don’t forget that your body needs energy to produce that milk,” Lavallee adds. “Lactation isn’t the time to be dieting or restricting.” Between 300 and 500 additional calories per day are generally needed while breastfeeding, with the exact amount depending on how much milk you are producing and how active you are.

It’s also important to know that some medications and herbal supplements can affect your milk supply, so talk with your healthcare provider if you have concerns about what you are taking.

The bottom line is this if you don’t have a picture-perfect diet, you will still be able to give your baby everything they need through breast milk, so feel confident that you are doing the best for your little one. If you are having difficulties with breastfeeding, working with a lactation consultant can make a difference. Go to the International Lactation Consultant Association or La Leche League to find support in your area. 

About the author: Jennifer is a dietitian passionate about connecting good nutrition with tasty food. She runs a private practice, Nourish for Life, where she works with new moms and parents of young children to help them eat well and have a healthy relationship with food. She is a mom of one tiny human and two fur-babies, and loves creating yummy new recipes in her free time.

Read more
  • Kelly Bonyata. “Do breastfeeding mothers need extra calories or fluids?” KellyMom., June 3 2017. Retrieved September 19 2017.
  • Sheri Lyn Parpia Kahn. “Maternal Nutrition During Breastfeeding.” New Beginnings. 21(2). 44. March-April 2004. La Leche League International.
  • Danielle Lavallee, Personal interview, August 2017.

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