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Breastfeeding and Your Diet

Your breastmilk is the ideal food for your baby. It gives your baby the right amounts of protein, carbohydrate, fat, water, and other nutrients. Eating a balanced, healthy diet while breastfeeding can do the same for you.

What is a breastfeeding (lactation) diet?

You can enjoy a wide range of foods while breastfeeding. But it’s important to choose a balanced mix of nutrient-rich foods. You also need extra calories and more of certain nutrients while breastfeeding, compared with your diet before you were pregnant.

How can this diet help you?

Eating wisely while breastfeeding provides the energy and nutrients you need for health and wellness. The nutritional rewards are passed on to your baby through breastmilk. Plus, breastfeeding itself has many benefits for you. Among other things, it may make it easier to lose the "pregnancy weight."

Does this diet have any risks?

At times, you may find that a particular food you have eaten doesn’t agree with your baby. For example, your baby might get fussy after feedings if you’ve eaten a spicy food or gas-causing veggie such as cabbage or broccoli. Try skipping the food next time to see if that helps. Also, discuss the issue with your baby’s healthcare provider. In a few months, you may be able to try the food again with better results.

Which foods should you eat?

You need extra calories to make breastmilk. Many breastfeeding moms need 450 to 500 more calories per day than they did before they were pregnant. But this amount can vary. Discuss with your provider how many calories you need.

Eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Also include healthy protein foods and low-fat or fat-free milk and dairy foods in your diet. Below are some things to keep in mind.

Iodine is important for your baby’s brain and bone development. The amount in your breastmilk depends on how much you get in your own diet. You need almost twice as much iodine now than you did before pregnancy. Sources include fish, shrimp, other seafood, milk, yogurt, and cheese.

Choline needs increase more than when you were pregnant. Choline helps in the development of the baby's brain and nervous system. Choline can be found in eggs, meats, some seafood, beans, peas, and lentils.

Vitamin B-12 needs also increase while you’re breastfeeding. In a baby, lack of this vitamin can lead to delayed milestones, weak muscles, tiredness, vomiting, and other problems. Sources of vitamin B-12 include beef liver, clams, meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and milk. If you eat no animal foods, you and your baby may not get enough. Ask your provider about taking a supplement.

Water helps keep your body systems working as they should. It’s also used to make breastmilk, so you need extra water while breastfeeding. Sip water throughout the day. Drink more if your urine is dark yellow.

Protein is vital for both you and your baby. Healthy sources include poultry, lean meats, beans, eggs, unsalted nuts, low-fat dairy products, and tofu. Experts also advise eating 2 to 3 servings of fish and shellfish per week. Pass up any types of fish that are high in mercury (see below).

Which foods should you pass up?

Certain substances that pass to your baby through breastmilk could cause harm.

High levels of mercury in fish may be bad for your baby’s brain and nervous system. Don’t eat bigeye tuna, king mackerel, marlin, orange roughy, shark, swordfish, or tilefish. If you eat albacore (white) tuna, have only 1 serving per week.

Alcohol may harm your baby’s growth, development, and sleep patterns if you drink more than a moderate amount. The safest option while breastfeeding is no alcohol at all. If you choose to have an occasional alcoholic drink, limit yourself to no more than one per day. Time the drink so that your baby won’t be nursing for at least 2 hours afterward.

Too much caffeine might make your baby fussy or interfere with your baby’s sleep. Limit your caffeine intake to no more than 300 mg per day. That’s about the amount in 2 to 3 cups of coffee.

Tips for following this diet

  • In addition to making healthy food choices, some breastfeeding moms should take a vitamin and mineral supplement. Discuss this with your provider.

  • Have a glass of water each time you nurse your baby. If you’re not a fan of plain water, add a couple of cucumber or lemon slices to your glass. Other drinks, such as low-fat milk, also help meet your water needs. But limit drinks with added sugars, such as sodas.

  • Eating healthy foods with a high water content also boosts the amount of water you get. Examples are strawberries, cantaloupe, watermelon, lettuce, celery, and cooked squash.

Suggestions for planning meals

  • For breakfast, have strawberries, cantaloupe, or a banana with a bowl of whole grain cereal.

  • For lunch, have a mixed veggie salad with beans, a hardboiled egg, or tofu.

  • For dinner, have poultry, fish, or lean meat with steamed vegetables.

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