Breastfeeding and Eating Right

Nutrition and Quick Healthy Meals for Nursing Mothers

Breastfeeding and Eating Right. Woman holding fork with healthy food.
Eating healthy meals gives you the nutrients and energy you need when you're breastfeeding. Tom Grill/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Breastfeeding and Eating Right

The answer to the age-old worry of what foods should you eat (or avoid eating) while you're breastfeeding is full of myths and old wives' tales. Many women are concerned that breastfeeding moms have too many dietary rules and restrictions to follow.  It might be scary to think you won't be able to eat well enough for your baby, or it might sound like you have to give up too many foods that you like.

It's enough to make some women think twice about breastfeeding. 

The truth is that there really aren't very many rules and restrictions for breastfeeding moms. Aside from needing about 500 extra calories a day, you can pretty much eat anything and everything you want, in moderation, of course.

So then, what foods should you eat when you're breastfeeding, what truly constitutes the "right" breastfeeding diet, and how can you possibly fit in healthy food choices in these harried days as a busy new mom?

Don't Worry About Being Perfect

You have plenty of other things to think about these days. There's no need to stress about having the perfect diet to build an abundant breast milk supply. Your body is prepared -- regardless of what you eat -- to make enough breast milk for your baby (or babies, as the case may be). With that said, it is still important to eat well so that your body and your breast milk has plenty of nutrients.

How to Get the Nutrients Your Body Needs

You can continue to take your prenatal vitamin while you're breastfeeding, but the majority of your nutrients should come from the foods you eat. Yes, your body has an excellent nutrient storage system for those times where you're not eating so well, but you need to give your body the actual nutrients to store.

To do this, try to eat a well-rounded -- not "perfect" -- diet as often as possible.

There is no one and only breastfeeding diet that you have to follow. Mothers across the world eat the foods that are part of their culture, and most can provide healthy breast milk for their children. So you can continue to eat the cultural foods that you're used to, but keep in mind that it's important to eat a variety of foods that are low in sugar, caffeine, fat, and salt.  Focus on foods that are high in iron (meat, dark leafy greens, broccoli, beans) and high in fiber  (whole grains, dried fruit, vegetables, beans). These foods will keep your body strong while you're breastfeeding. 

If you're a vegetarian or a vegan, or you have a medical issue such as iron deficiency anemia, you may have to take additional vitamins or supplements. Talk to your doctor about your situation to find out what you need to add to your everyday diet to make it more complete and healthy. 

How to Fit Eating Right into Your Day: 8 Tips for Quick and Nutritious Meals

You may feel totally consumed, time- and energy-wise, by your role as a breastfeeding mom.

It's hard to imagine taking any moments in the day for yourself, but it's actually very easy to fit healthy eating into the picture. Here are some ideas:

  • For breakfast, add some berries to your cereal or toss some dried fruit and granola into low-fat yogurt. If you're a bagel lover, add some chopped peppers and carrots to your cream cheese, or top it with cottage cheese.
  • For lunch or dinner, add some beans and peas to a salad.
  • Always have cut-up vegetables ready in the refrigerator. You can either eat them raw or dip them into salad dressing. Most grocery stores sell an array of pre-cut veggies. The best part is that you can munch on these snacks all day or prepare a salad quickly. If you don't go for the pre-cut vegetables, do the job yourself soon after you get home from the store, so they're ready to go when you most need them. For dinner, you can melt some cheese on top of the vegetables.
  • If you have ​to go to Dunkin' Donuts or Starbucks, go for the bran muffin instead of the donuts, and go easy on the caffeine
  • A great way to sneak some protein and fiber into your diet is with trail mix. Trail mix is usually a combination of nuts and dried fruit. You can even add some dark chocolate to the mix; it's good for you.
  • Cut up some fruit and dip it into yogurt for a tasty and healthy snack. 
  • Keep some hard-boiled eggs in the fridge. You can grab one quickly for a good protein punch.
  • Feel like a kid again and have a peanut butter sandwich on whole grain bread. It'll fill you up for hours while giving you a healthy dose of power.

Eat Your Fruits and Veggies

Eating a lot of fruits and vegetables is important. Fresh fruit and vegetables are ideal, but it's fine to eat the frozen version if the fresh are not available. Apples are a great standby since you can find them year-round.

Stay Hydrated

Remember to drink at least eight glasses of water each day. Your body is made up of approximately 55% water, and water plays and important role in your body's ability to function. If you're not drinking enough, you may feel tired, dizzy, or even get a headache. If you need a break from the water, a glass of low-fat milk is nutrient-rich and can give you a good boost. 

Keep Your Kitchen Cabinets Stocked With These Items

  • Canned foods: water-packed fruit (avoid light or heavy syrups), vegetables (peas, corn, tomatoes), beans (all kinds are great for salads), and soups
  • Dried fruits: raisins, cranberries, apples
  • Whole grains: cereals (including that breastfeeding superfood, oatmeal), pasta, rice, and low or reduced fat crackers
  • Nuts, beans, and seeds: sunflower seeds (for ease, buy them already shelled -- they add great protein to salads), sesame seeds (cook with them to add flavor and excitement), almonds, walnuts, peanut butter, and almond butter
  • Healthy oils: canola, extra-virgin olive, flaxseed, sesame, walnut, peanut, and grapeseed

Just Do Your Best

Keep these foods on hand and have healthy snacks readily available for when you're hungry. Do your best to add healthy items to your daily diet and don't stress over it. If you're feeling guilty that you had a little too much junk food one day, try not to worry. Remember, you can eat almost anything you want in moderation. 

Talk to a friend who's breastfed or call a breastfeeding hotline if you need some reassurance from another breastfeeding mom. And, if you're really concerned, call your doctor or a nutritionist. They can evaluate what you're eating and help you make a plan so that you can feel good about your diet while you're breastfeeding.

Sources:

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

Riordan, J., and Wambach, K. (2014). Breastfeeding and Human Lactation Fourth Edition. Jones and Bartlett Learning.

Whitney, E., Rolfes, S. (2015). Understanding Nutrition Edition Fourteenth Edition. Cengage Learning.

Updated by Donna Murray

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