Breastfeeding Diet 101: What to Eat During Breastfeeding

Whether you're a new mom or a seasoned parenting pro, breastfeeding often comes with its fair share of questions. The typical question is: what should I eat during breastfeeding? It’s so, so important to choose nutrient-dense, nourishing foods to support your breast milk production. Plus, eating healthy foods postpartum can help you feel better both mentally and physically — and who doesn’t want that?

This article explains everything you need to know about eating a healthy diet while breastfeeding.

What do breastfeeding mothers need?

  1. More calories

First of all, great news to breastfeeding mothers! In general, most women who are breastfeeding need about 500 calories more than moms who aren't – that's a total of 2,000 to 2,500 calories per day. Instead of counting calories, follow your hunger as a guide to how much you need to eat.

Therefore, don't control your diet too hard. Just eat when you want to, so that you can provide enough breast milk to your baby!

Of course, some moms may reduce their calorie intake in order to regain their attractive figure as soon as possible, but the practice of restricting diet can easily lead to a reduction in breast milk production and may also affect the nutritional content of breast milk. Especially for mothers who are very thin, reducing calorie intake is more likely to affect the quality of breast milk.

Recovering the body is a long process. It took more than a year for mothers to "gain weight", so it also takes enough long time to "lose weight". In fact, moms don’t need to worry about losing weight during breastfeeding, because as long as you have a healthy diet, your body will spontaneously burn calories and it will not affect the quality of breast milk after breastfeeding for 3 to 6 months. Coupled with proper exercise, breastfeeding mothers will lose weight faster than non-breastfeeding mothers. 

  1. Drink plenty of water

Breastfeeding mothers can easily feel thirsty. When your baby latches onto your breast, your oxytocin levels increase. This causes your milk to start flowing. This also stimulates thirst and helps ensure that you stay properly hydrated while feeding your baby.

So how much water should breastfeeding mothers drink every day? How do you know if you have enough water? It’s very simple. You can observe the color of urine. If it is transparent or light yellow, it means that you have enough water, but If it is dark yellow and has a strong smell, that’s a sign that you’re dehydrated and need to drink more water. Therefore, breastfeeding mothers had better consider keeping a water bottle nearby so it's there when you feel thirsty. 

  1. More nutrients.

In addition to calories and water, you need to pay attention to the supplement of various vitamins and minerals. Generally speaking, breastfeeding mothers need higher nutrition than ordinary women, because the nutrition of mothers is not only for themselves, but also for babies through breast milk. Therefore, you must have a balanced nutrition in your breastfeeding diet-- eat different kinds of food, and then pay special attention to take these nutrients:

Group 1 nutrients -- important for both you and your baby

If you’re depleted of any of these nutrients, they won’t secrete into your breast milk as readily. So, supplementing with these nutrients can give a little boost to their concentration in breast milk and enhance the health of your baby as a result.

Vitamin A: sweet potatoes, carrots, dark leafy greens, organ meats, eggs

Vitamin B1 (Thiamin): fish, pork, seeds, nuts, beans

Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin): cheese, almonds, nuts, red meat, oily fish, eggs

Vitamin B6: chickpeas, nuts, fish, poultry, potatoes, bananas, dried fruit

Vitamin B12: shellfish, liver, yogurt, oily fish, nutritional yeast, eggs, crab, shrimp

Choline: eggs, beef liver, chicken liver, fish, peanuts

Vitamin D: cod liver oil, oily fish, some mushrooms, fortified foods

Selenium: Brazil nuts, seafood, turkey, whole wheat, seeds

Iodine: dried seaweed, cod, milk, iodized salt

Group 2 nutrients-- mostly just important for you

The concentration of these nutrients in breast milk does not depend on how much mom takes in, so supplementing won’t increase your breast milk nutrient concentration. Even so, these can still improve maternal health by replenishing nutrient stores.

If your intake is low, your body will take these nutrients from your own bone and tissue stores in order to secrete them into your breast milk.

Folate: beans, lentils, leafy greens, asparagus, avocados

Calcium: milk, yogurt, cheese, leafy greens, legumes

Iron: red meat, pork, poultry, seafood, beans, green vegetables, dried fruit

Copper: shellfish, whole grains, nuts, beans, organ meats, potatoes

Zinc: oysters, red meat, poultry, beans, nuts, dairy

Bottom line: It’s essential for you and your baby’s health to get enough of both group 1 and group 2 nutrients. While the concentration of group 1 nutrients in breast milk is impacted by maternal levels, the concentration of group 2 nutrients is not.

  1. Take supplements

Many moms are confused: should they continue to take prenatal vitamins during breastfeeding? It's a good idea to continue taking your prenatal vitamin– at least for the first month or so. A supplement doesn't take the place of a well-balanced diet, but it can provide some extra insurance on those days when taking care of your new baby keeps you from eating as well as you'd like.

Many doctors have women continue them during breastfeeding. If you are still not sure whether you should take your prenatal vitamins, ask your doctor.

In addition to your prenatal vitamin, consider taking the following supplements:

Calcium: While your prenatal vitamin may have small amounts of calcium, you'll need supplemental calcium if you're not eating at least three daily servings of calcium-rich foods (like milk and other dairy products, canned fish, or calcium-fortified foods like cereals, juices, soy and rice beverages, and breads).

The recommended dose for women before, during, and after pregnancy is 1,000 mg daily. Don't get more than 2,500 mg daily from all sources. Exceeding this safe upper limit can lead to kidney stones, hypercalcemia, and renal insufficiency syndrome.

DHA: The DHA content of your breast milk depends on your diet, particularly on whether you eat fish. So, if your diet doesn't contain a few servings of cold-water fish or other food containing DHA (like fortified eggs) every week, you might consider a supplement.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that breastfeeding moms get 200 to 300 mg of DHA per day.

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