Guide to Diet and Nutrition While Breastfeeding
As a new mother, you want to ensure your little one receives the best nourishment possible. For some, formula is the right choice, while others find that combo feeding (some formula, some breastmilk) is the just-right balance for their lifestyle and baby’s needs. After all, a mother who exclusively nurses or pumps until her baby’s first birthday spends an estimated 1,800 hours doing so. For context, a full-time job at 40 hours a week and three weeks of vacation is just shy of 2,000 hours a year. It really is a full-time job, which helps to explain why new-mother burnout is real.
Whether you plan to breastfeed or pump for some feedings or exclusively, it’s important to understand how your nutrition impacts your baby. Just like in pregnancy, your breastfeeding diet plays a crucial role in supplying essential nutrients to support your baby's growth and development. Here, we’ll explore the link between a mother's breastfeeding diet and her baby, including information on hydration, extra calorie intake, alcohol consumption, allergies and more.
How Many Calories Should I Consume?
While it may seem obvious, breastfeeding mothers use calories to produce their breast milk. While the exact caloric needs vary depending on a few factors, like the mother’s weight, activity level, and metabolism, most breastfeeding mothers require an extra 330 to 400 calories daily. In total, the recommended daily amount is between 2,000 and 2,800 calories for breastfeeding women versus 1,600 to 2,400 daily calories for non-pregnant, moderately active women.
However, focusing on the quality of calories is essential rather than the increase in quantity. The best foods for breastfeeding are nutrient-dense foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats to ensure you and your baby get the necessary vitamins and nutrients.
I’m Breastfeeding and Always Thirsty. Is that Normal?
One of your pregnancy symptoms might have been an incredible thirst. Staying adequately hydrated is essential for breastfeeding mothers, too. Water makes up a significant portion of breast milk, and dehydration can hinder milk production. Aim to drink around 12, eight-ounce glasses of water per day, but listen to your body's cues for additional hydration demands. Breastfeeding women need an extra 24 ounces of water per day.
Remember that thirst is a signal that your body needs water, so keep a water bottle handy and sip on fluids throughout the day. Reaching for water as your primary source of hydration is preferable to sugary drinks or caffeine in excess of three cups a day as it can potentially affect things like your baby's sleep patterns.
What Foods and Drinks Should I Avoid While Breastfeeding?
Wondering what to avoid while breastfeeding? The good news is that the list of things to avoid is significantly smaller than during pregnancy. (Here is advice for your for a pregnancy diet.) Post-birth, many moms are delighted to find sushi from their favorite takeout spot, soft cheese and turkey sandwiches are back on the menu! However, while most foods and drinks are safe for breastfeeding and pumping mothers, there are a few considerations to remember.
When it comes to fish, seafood is a great source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids. However, you’ll want to be mindful of your mercury intake as excessive exposure via breastmilk can pose a risk to baby’s nervous system. Seafood that is high in mercury includes swordfish, tuna, king mackerel and tilefish. Lower mercury seafood options include shrimp and tilefish.
One of the most prominent doctor callouts during pregnancy is that alcohol is strictly off-limits. And while a post-birth celebratory drink is in order when you’re feeling up for it, there are boundaries to be aware of. That’s because alcohol consumption can pass through breast milk to your baby, potentially affecting their development, growth, sleep and overall well-being. Occasional alcohol consumption is okay, but it is important to exercise caution. Plan ahead by expressing breast milk beforehand or allowing enough time for the alcohol to metabolize out of your system before breastfeeding. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests waiting at least two hours per drink to ensure the alcohol has cleared your breast milk. If you have concerns or questions, consult with your healthcare provider or a lactation specialist.
Can I Eat Vegetarian While Breastfeeding?
Yes, you can eat a vegetarian diet while breastfeeding. Seeds and nut butters, avocados, dried fruit, fruits and vegetables, full-fat soy products, dairy and more are great options for vegetarian foods to eat while breastfeeding.
Talk to your doctor and your child’s pediatrician about adding supplements to your breastfeeding diet. This might include continuing your prenatal vitamin, adding vitamin B-12 and/or vitamin D. Vitamin B-12 is found almost exclusively in animal products, so getting enough in vegetarian diets is difficult. If your vegetarian diet doesn’t include fish, your healthcare provider might suggest an omega-3 supplement. When your diet lacks vitamin D-fortified foods, like cow's milk and some cereals, it might be necessary for you or your baby to supplement since your baby needs vitamin D to absorb calcium and phosphorus.
Breastfeeding and Allergies: A Possible Connection
Managing food allergies in kids can be stressful for parents. Mothers offering breast milk need to know there is a chance their breastfeeding diet could be a cause of allergic reaction-like symptoms, such as rashes, diarrhea or wheezing. If these symptoms present themselves soon after nursing, speak with your baby’s doctor. Putting the mother on an elimination diet to see if it makes a difference in baby’s symptoms might be needed.
Gas might also pop up during your feeding journey. If so, Mylicon, the number one pediatrician-recommended brand, can help. Infants’ Mylicon Gas Relief Drops work gently to speed up a baby’s natural process of getting rid of gas, relieving pressure and discomfort. Safe to use on even the newest of newborns, Mylicon can be used at every feeding, up to 12 times a day (use only as directed).
While you don’t need a unique diet for breastfeeding, there are watchouts that nursing and pumping mothers need to know. Here, we also have advice on switching from breast milk to formula and how to increase your supply.
Up next: Know the difference between colic and gas.