When a woman is pregnant, there is nutrition information coming at her from 100 different directions. From her doctor to Instagram to her well-meaning great-aunt, everyone is an expert when it comes to nutrition and pregnancy. Once baby is born and mom has to heal from delivery, and at the same time focus on milk production to keep her new baby alive, advice gets a little more lean. Unfortunately, the nutrition advice many breastfeeding women get when they breastfeed does not go beyond “keep taking a prenatal vitamin.” When you are breastfeeding you are really “eating for two” and your breastfeeding diet should reflect that too.
Below are some nutrition guidelines and tips for breastfeeding moms:
1. Calories and Protein
Thanks to the Kardashian clan and other celebrities, many people believe that it is possible to be pre-pregnancy “bikini ready” days after giving birth. Not only is it unsafe to start exercising, taking on that type of activity level, and restricting calories shortly after delivery, but it is also highly unrealistic. Forget the pregnancy weight or other weight gain for a little while. Extra calories are needed for healing, for lactation support, and to help you have the energy you need to care for your new baby.
According to the National Institute of Health, breastfeeding women need an additional 450-500 calories per day to support her needs. Additionally, nursing moms need approximately 65 gm protein/day according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Choosing protein sources rich in the amino acid glycine may also support the healing process. Think foods that incorporate connective tissue like skin or stew meats.
Having quick and easy protein-rich healthy snacks that are easy to eat with one hand will help you meet your breastfeeding diet needs. Boiled and peeled eggs in your fridge are a great grab-and-go snack. A nut-butter and fruit combo (like fresh apple and almond butter) is also an easy no-prep snack.
2. Choline-rich Food (or supplement)
Choline is needed in higher amounts when mom is lactating, because this nutrient is key to brain development for your baby and is transferred through breastmilk. Many infant formulas are supplemented with this nutrient, and breastmilk may provide adequate amounts if mom takes in enough. Although your needs have increased to 550 mg/day, some studies suggest that baby benefits from even more than that!
One of the best sources of choline is egg yolks. Many women include a choline supplement into their regimen because there are only so many egg yolks a person can eat in a day, and most generic prenatal vitamins provide a very small amount of this nutrient.
DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid that is essential for brain and vision development for baby. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that breastfeeding mothers take in 200 to 300 mg of omega-3 fatty acids per day. Adequate DHA may benefit mom as well. Some suggest that taking in adequate amounts may protect against postpartum depression symptoms and promote overall wellness.
Choosing two servings of low-mercury seafood like salmon or shrimp can help you meet your goals. Try to avoid eating fish such as king mackerel or swordfish as they are high in mercury. Canned tuna is an easy seafood source, and 6oz of Albacore can safely be consumed one time a week (skipjack typically has less mercury than Albacore and is an even better choice).
Even if your prenatal vitamin has DHA in it, making a point to eat fish/seafood is still recommended to get all of the benefits of the food that can’t be bottled up in pill-form.
4. Selenium-rich food
In the human body, selenium has a role as an antioxidant, in thyroid hormone metabolism, and in immune function. Levels of selenium in breast milk is dependent on mom’s intake. If you are already taking in two servings of low-mercury foods, you are already on the right track for getting in enough selenium (since many fish choices are rich in selenium). If not (and your prenatal multivitamin doesn’t have it), eating one Brazil nut every other day is a great way to naturally get in a boost of this nutrient.
Mom’s self-care should be emphasized to make sure she is able to give baby everything she needs emotionally and nutritionally.
Iodine is important for your new baby’s health, specifically for thyroid function and proper brain development. It is also an important nutritional need for you, as taking in adequate amounts may reduce the risk of developing postpartum thyroid dysfunction and also support breast health.
Lactating mom’s needs for iodine are higher than when mom was pregnant according to the National Institute of Health, and one easy way to incorporate more iodine is to choose salt that has been fortified with this nutrient. Seafood, eggs, dairy, and seaweed are other good choices if trying to increase your iodine intake.
6. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is essential to baby to prevent a condition called rickets, as well as other health concerns. Many doctors recommend breastfed babies receive Vitamin D supplementation of 400 IU/day, but that does not mean that mom is off the hook with getting enough of this nutrient too. Enough Vitamin D intake will support mom’s bone health and overall well-being. Some studies suggest that baby would not need to be supplemented if mom takes in 6,400 IU of Vitamin D per day through supplementation, but this option should not be explored without a health care provider’s guidance.
It can be challenging to eat enough Vitamin D-rich food to meet the required needs. Mom can make a point to get exposed to daily direct sunlight and consider Vitamin D3 supplements if it is not already included in her prenatal multivitamin.
7. Vitamin A
Many moms are in the habit of fearing Vitamin A during pregnancy. That fear needs to end NOW, since Vitamin A is critical to a new baby’s development during lactation. Vitamin A is one key nutrient and its levels are influenced by mom’s intake. Among other roles, Vitamin A supports baby’s immune system. Colostrum is especially high in this vitamin and is the reason why it has that yellow-ish tinge to it.
Examples of foods rich in the natural beta-carotene form of Vitamin A are often choices that are naturally orange in color like sweet potatoes and cantaloupe. Foods rich in beta-carotene are a safe-bet when lactating. However a little bit of pre-formed Vitamin A (found mostly in animal and dairy product fats) is needed too.
Very low amounts of caffeine that mom takes in is transferred to breast milk. Moderate caffeine intake does not appear to be as large of a concern as it was when you were pregnant. No need to skip the Starbucks; just hold off on multiple trips or ordering the quadruple-grande latte with extra espresso shots
Mom’s alcoholic drink can be transferred via breast milk. You may have a high tolerance to tequila, but your baby’s new body does not break down alcohol as quickly as yours does. In babies’ bodies, alcohol metabolizes at around half of the rate that adults do.
On average, it takes an adult’s body about 1–2 hours to clear each serving of alcohol. Therefore, mom will want to wait a few hours after she drinks a cocktail before she breastfeeds her baby. She can always pump-and-dump as an option.
10. Healthy Carbs
To get the extra calories we recommend opting for nutrient-rich choices, such as a slice of whole-grain bread or oatmeal. Whole grains are an essential part to healthy eating as they are not only good for you but also make you more full.
Water and Breastfeeding Diet
Contrary to Dr. Google, drinking more water will not increase your milk supply. However, staying hydrated is very important when breastfeeding. The act of producing breastmilk uses a lot of water, and replenishing will keep mom feeling energized and healthy. Drinking constantly throughout the day and keeping full water glasses handy are great ways to make sure mom is getting in enough essential fluid.
The postpartum and breastfeeding diet is a beautiful time, but it can be exhausting and difficult to prioritize mom’s nutrition and balanced diet. Mom’s self-care should be emphasized to make sure she is able to satisfy baby needs emotionally and nutritionally. Using these tips and leaning on your own “village” is key to a successful breastfeeding experience and a healthy diet in general.