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What to Eat While Breastfeeding

Eat Well for You and Your Little One

Eating well when you’re breastfeeding is just as important as getting proper nutrition during your pregnancy.

“Milk production can burn anywhere from 300 to 500 calories a day,” says Northwestern Medicine Obstetrics and Gynecology Physician Emily A. Donelan, MD. “It’s important to not only consider your baby’s nutritional needs, but your own strength, stamina and health while breastfeeding as well.”

Here’s what new moms who opt to breastfeed need to know about their nutrition.

Calories Count

Most women need about 300 to 400 extra calories per day while breastfeeding. “This amount may vary based on your metabolism, weight and activity level,” clarifies Dr. Donelan.

Ensure that these extra calories are beneficial for you and your baby by selecting nutrient-rich foods, which are high in vitamins, minerals and macronutrients that provide you with energy, like protein, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates, typically found in whole grains. Nutrient-rich foods will help you feel fuller longer.

Dinner for Two

“Everyone’s food preferences and dietary restrictions are different,” says Dr. Donelan. “Breastfeeding moms should find foods they like with the nutrients they need, rather than going on a special ‘breastfeeding diet.’”

When breastfeeding, be sure to get enough of the following.

Protein: According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, breastfeeding moms need at least 65 g of protein per day.

Good sources of protein:

  • Lean meats.
  • Fish, but be cautious of mercury intake. Here are guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on mercury, seafood and breastfeeding. Having no more than two seafood meals per week is a good way to keep mercury intake at bay.
  • Yogurt, especially Greek, which is high in protein. Avoid yogurt with added sugar.
  • Nut and nut products.
  • Legumes, beans and whole grains.
  • Eggs.

Omega-3 fatty acid: Especially docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fatty acid shown to support infant vision and brain development.

Good sources of omega-3:

  • Low-mercury fish, like salmon and sardines
  • Flax seeds
  • Chia seeds

Calcium: Breastfeeding moms require the same amount of calcium as non-lactating women, which is about 1,000 mg per day. You should try to get this from dietary sources if possible. While breastfeeding can temporarily lead to bone density loss, this has been shown to be fully reversible after weaning.

Good sources of calcium:

  • Dairy products
  • Produce, including collard greens and broccoli
  • Some seafood, like shrimp

Vitamin D: The recommendation for Vitamin D intake in breastfeeding moms is the same as for women who are not breastfeeding, about 600 IU/day. However, some women will increase vitamin D intake when breastfeeding to boost the vitamin D content of their milk and thus avoid having to supplement their baby’s vitamin D. One study showed that increasing maternal vitamin D intake to 6,400 IU/day was equivalent to supplementing baby with 400 IU/day, which is the recommended supplementation amount for exclusively breastfed infants.

Good sources of vitamin D:

  • Milk (or milk substitutes) fortified with vitamin D
  • Cereals and grains fortified with vitamin D

Iron: Iron is your first line of defense against fatigue while breastfeeding. You need 9 mg of iron per day while breastfeeding. Some women may require more than this, especially if they have been diagnosed with anemia in the past or had heavy bleeding during delivery.

Good sources of iron:

  • Lean meat and seafood
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Fortified grains

Lactation and Hydration

Breast milk is 88 percent water. That’s why it’s imperative to stay hydrated during breastfeeding.

“There is no exact recommendation for the amount of water a breastfeeding mom should drink. This can vary drastically based on each woman’s environment, activity level and diet,” says Dr. Donelan. “Forcing yourself to drink more water than your body needs does not increase milk volume, and if done excessively can actually cause health issues.”

In general, drink to quench thirst and monitor for signs of dehydration like concentrated urine or constipation.

What to Limit While Breastfeeding

Caffeine and alcohol.

If you choose to consume either, follow these guidelines to keep your breast milk safe for your baby.

Caffeine: Keep caffeine consumption less than 500mg per/ day if possible.

“While the data is limited, some report fussiness, jitteriness and poor sleep in babies whose moms ingest high levels of caffeine while breastfeeding,” says Dr. Donelan. “A few cups of coffee per day is unlikely to pose a problem, but keep an eye on how your baby responds.”

Preterm infant or infants with other health conditions may be more sensitive.

Alcohol: “It’s okay to enjoy the occasional alcoholic drink while breastfeeding,” says Dr. Donelan. “I recommend that patients adhere to the CDC guideline of one or fewer drinks per day while breastfeeding.”

The best time to have a drink is during or immediately after breastfeeding since it takes time for the alcohol to reach the breast milk. This will give the most time for the alcohol to clear before your next feeding. If you are intoxicated, it is not safe to breastfeed your baby.

You also cannot “pump and dump” the alcohol out of your milk. It will clear at the same rate it clears from your blood. If feel sober, you are likely safe to breastfeed.

Note: Premature babies and newborns require a more conservative approach because they may not metabolize medication and alcohol as effectively as healthy older infants. If your child consumes alcohol-tainted breast milk frequently, they may experience developmental delays, sleep pattern interruptions and other health issues.

Remember: Breastfeeding fuels your child but can be fatiguing for you. Keep your child and yourself safe with proper nutrition during this special time. Consult your physician with specific questions about what to eat and what to avoid while breastfeeding.