Breastfeeding Diet: Foods To Eat When You're Breastfeeding

Information, Tips, Grocery List For Healthier Eating When You're Breastfeeding

A Healthy Breastfeeding Diet: What To Eat, What To Avoid, Plus A Grocery List Of Healthy Food Choices.
Is there a special diet you should follow when you're breastfeeding?. Cultura/BRETT STEVENS/Cultura Exclusive/Getty Images

What Should You Eat When You're Breastfeeding?

A breastfeeding mom can eat just about anything she wants, so you don't have to avoid any particular types of foods while you're nursing your baby. Women all over the world breastfeed, some with diets full of spices, garlic, and gassy vegetables. Even women who do not have healthy diets can maintain a healthy supply of high-quality breast milk.

Many women begin making changes to their diets while they're pregnant.

You may have started taking a prenatal vitamin, eating more nutritious foods, adding healthy snacks between meals, and cutting the amount of coffee you drink each day. If you've already done these things, then you most likely don't have to make many adjustments to your diet as you transition from pregnancy to breastfeeding.

Why Is A Healthy Breastfeeding Diet Important?

Your body takes whatever it needs to make healthy breast milk from the nutrients that you have stored up in your bones, tissues, and fat. This way, your baby gets all the nutrition he needs. But, if you don't follow a healthy diet that includes the types of foods that replace those nutrients, you will be the one lacking essential vitamins and minerals. It will take a toll on your body, and you will end up feeling drained and exhausted. However, by eating a healthy, balanced diet while you're breastfeeding, you will replenish your stores of nutrients, recover more quickly after the birth of your baby, have more energy, and just feel better overall.

How Does A Healthy Breastfeeding Diet Affect Your Breast Milk And Your Baby?

Many of the foods that you eat travel into your breast milk, and have an influence on the composition, taste, and color of your milk. It is also believed that breastfed babies get used to the taste of foods in their mother's diets, and even develop preferences for those types of foods later in life.

So eating meals full of healthy foods — including fruits and vegetables — while you're breastfeeding may help lay the foundation for good eating habits for your child in the future.

What Is A Healthy Breastfeeding Diet?

A well-balanced meal plan that includes a variety of foods is the goal of a breastfeeding diet. A healthy breastfeeding diet contains vitamins, minerals, protein, dairy, whole grains, and healthy fats.

Making breast milk takes extra calories so, as a nursing mom, you need to eat a little more than someone who isn't breastfeeding. You can get all the calories you need by having 3 meals a day with snacks in between. You should eat a wide variety of different foods every day, and you should not skip meals. If you're concerned that you don't have a healthy diet, or if you have any questions about your eating habits, talk to your doctor, a nutritionist, or a registered dietitian.

See Also: Breastfeeding on a Vegetarian or Vegan Diet

Which Nutrients Do You Need And Which Foods Should You Eat To Get Them?

  • Protein builds and sustains all the parts of the body, including the muscles, brain, bones, heart, lungs, enzymes, hormones and antibodies. Eat protein a few times a day. Meats, dairy products, nuts, seeds, vegetables, and grains contain protein.
  • Vitamin A is necessary for healthy growth and development, especially of the eyes and skin. Vitamin A is found in red, orange, and yellow fruits and vegetables, dark leafy green vegetables, liver and dairy products.
  • Iron helps your body make new red blood cells so you can keep your energy level up. Get enough iron in your diet by eating meat, fish, liver, beans, leafy green vegetables, nuts, eggs, and whole grains.
  • Vitamin C is essential for healthy bones, teeth, ligaments, and blood vessels. It also helps the body absorb iron and prevent infection. Vitamin C is found in citrus fruits and juices (orange, grapefruit, lemon, lime), strawberries, tomatoes, mangoes, and dark green vegetables.
  • Folate (folic acid) is a B vitamin that helps prevent birth defects and is needed for the proper health and development of your baby. Foods high in folate include citrus fruits and juices, fortified whole grain breads and cereals, dark leafy green vegetables, and dried beans.
  • Zinc works with protein and is needed for healthy growth and development, wound healing, immune function, and many other things. Zinc can be found in meat, dairy products, vegetables, and beans.
  • Calcium is necessary for healthy bones and teeth. You need to get enough calcium while you're breastfeeding to replace what is taken from your body and given to your baby. Dairy products, orange juice, and green leafy vegetables are good sources of calcium.
  • Vitamin D helps your body absorb the calcium and phosphorus from your diet, and it's also very important for the healthy growth of your baby's bones and teeth. You can get vitamin D from the sun, fish, eggs, and foods fortified with vitamin D such as cereals, orange juice, milk, and yogurt.
  • Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) is a fatty acid that supports the development of your baby's brain and eyes. You can find DHA in fish, eggs, red meat, and liver.

See Also: Do You Need To Take Vitamins If You're Breastfeeding?

A Shopping List For A Healthy Breastfeeding Diet

You can get all the nutrients you need every day by eating a variety of foods from the major food groups. Here's a list of foods to add to your supermarket or grocery store shopping list.   

Meats: Beef, chicken, turkey, pork, fish, and seafood. Leaner cuts of meat are healthier and preferred over red meats, fried foods, hot dogs and deli meats.

Fruits: Apples, oranges, bananas, pears, peaches, strawberries, grapes, melons, pineapples, grapefruits, fruit juices, canned fruit, and dried fruit. Eat a wide variety of fruits each day.

Vegetables: Dark leafy greens (broccoli, spinach, kale, lettuce), carrots, peas, squash, peppers, and sweet potatoes. Vegetables should make up a large part of your diet.

Whole Grains: Whole wheat pasta, whole wheat bread, brown rice, tortillas, whole grain cereals, muffins, bagels, crackers, and biscuits. Whole grains are more nutritious than white bread, white rice, and regular pasta.

Dairy Products: Milk, cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese, cream cheese, and sour cream. Choose fat-free or low-fat dairy products fortified with Vitamin A and D over whole milk and items made from whole milk.

Nuts, Seeds, Beans: Peanuts, peanut butter, almonds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, dried beans, lentils, nuts and nut butters.

Healthy Fats and Oils: Olive oil, canola oil, sunflower oil, peanut oil, and corn oil. Limit the use of butter, cheese, and lard, which are high in saturated fat.

Liquids: Drink enough fluids, between 6 and 8 glasses of water or other noncaffeinated beverages each day.

See Also: Milk-Making (Lactogenic) Foods To Boost Your Breast Milk Supply

Which Foods Should You Eat Less Of Or Avoid When You're Breastfeeding?

When you decide to breastfeed, it doesn't mean you have to give up all of your favorite things. However, while you do not have to deprive yourself of any foods, there are some foods that you should limit.

It's OK to enjoy a cup of coffee, but you should limit the amount of caffeine containing drinks to 1 or 2 cups a day. You can certainly have chocolate or any other empty calorie snacks once in a while. You can even have an occasional alcoholic beverage. The important thing to remember is not to overdo it.

There really aren't any foods that you definitely have to avoid, but some infants can have a food sensitivity or an allergy to a specific item in your diet. If you have a family history of food allergies or if you make a connection between something that you eat and a reaction in your baby, you can avoid that particular food while you're breastfeeding.

USDA Personalized Food Plan For Breastfeeding Moms

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) will provide you with a free personalized daily food plan if you create a profile on their website. The website offers different plans for women who are breastfeeding exclusively, combining breastfeeding and formula feeding, or breastfeeding only a few times each day.

Sources:

American Academy of Pediatrics. New Mother’s Guide To Breastfeeding. Bantam Books. New York. 2011.

Harvard School of Public Health. Healthy Eating Plate and Healthy Eating Pyramid. Harvard University. 2011: http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/pyramid/

Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD. Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession Seventh Edition.  Mosby. 2011.

Newman, Jack, MD, Pitman, Theresa. The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers. Three Rivers Press. New York. 2006.

The United States Department of Agriculture. Nutritional Needs While Breastfeeding. ChooseMyPlate.gov. Accessed February 8, 2013: http://www.choosemyplate.gov/pregnancy-breastfeeding.html

Whitney, E., Hamilton, E., Rolfes, S. Understanding Nutrition Fifth Edition. West Publishing Company. New York. 1990.

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