Pregnancy and motherhood bring a lot of changes to your life. If this is your second or third child, you might know what to expect. If this is your first child, though, the changes can be overwhelming.
Your body and your habits change when you get pregnant, and they change again after you give birth. There is, however, one thing that doesn’t change after you give birth: the importance of eating a healthy diet.
Especially if you’re breastfeeding your new baby, you probably have several questions about your diet — what needs to change, what you should and shouldn’t eat, and how much to eat. The nice thing about reshaping your diet is that it’s never too late to start.
There are, however, some parts of your diet that you’ll want to keep an eye on while your baby is nursing. Most importantly among them is the amount of micronutrients that you consume every day. Don’t worry if you’re a little confused at this point.
We’re here to help. We’ve put together a list of ten tips to help you create the healthiest breastfeeding diet for you and your baby.
Ten Tips For A Healthy Breastfeeding Diet
1. Eat Lots Of Fruits And Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are the cornerstone of any healthy diet — pregnancy, breastfeeding, or otherwise. Fruits provide vitamins like B1, B2, B6, and C, which help to keep you healthy and are necessary for milk production.
In addition, fruits like apples, bananas, oranges, and grapes contain antioxidants that rid your body of the free radicals that can build up and cause long-term damage. Oh, and let’s not forget about the fiber. Fiber helps your body absorb the vitamins and minerals while also assisting in the digestive process.
As you can see, fruits are chocked full of almost everything your body needs to stay healthy.
Vegetables also provide nutrients that are vital for a healthy breastfeeding diet. Green leafy vegetables like spinach, broccoli, kale, and asparagus often provide nutrients that other foods simply cannot.
For example, vegetables are the primary source of potassium, folate, and vitamin A, which all contribute to healthy cell function and division.
We recommend eating at least three servings of fruits and vegetables every day to get the proper balance of nutrients. All of these vitamins and minerals help produce the healthiest breast milk possible, while at the same time, giving you the energy you need to keep up with all your newborn’s needs.
2. A Little Bit Of Lean Protein Goes A Long Way
Lean protein provides the nine essential amino acids that your body can’t manufacture on its own and which aren’t available in most foods. Lean protein sources include foods like chicken, fish, eggs, milk, yogurt, cheese, quinoa, and soy.
For a healthy breastfeeding diet, include three servings of lean protein every day. That breaks down to about a cup of yogurt at breakfast, a few ounces of chicken on your salad at lunch, and a few ounces of steak or fish at dinner.
Keep in mind that your body will store excess protein as body fat, so there’s really no advantage to exceeding the recommended daily allowances.
Speaking of storing fat, you’ve probably given some thought to how you’re going to lose your pregnancy weight and decrease stretch marks. Remember: be patient and aim to lose your pregnancy weight gradually.
Breastfeeding requires a lot from your body, and you’ll need to eat around 500 calories more than you did on your pre-pregnancy diet. If your goal is to lose weight, talk to your doctor about how to strike a balance between losing weight and eating enough to provide your nursing baby with what they need.
3. Add A Whole Grain To Every Meal
While you can meet your daily carbohydrate needs with fruits and vegetables, whole grains are a great supplement to any healthy breastfeeding diet. Whole grains like brown rice and oatmeal are much denser in calorie and carbohydrate count than most fruits and vegetables.
In fact, it would take you five cups of broccoli to equal the carbohydrate count in a half cup of brown rice. That’s a lot of broccoli! Because of their density, we suggest keeping your whole grain consumption to three servings a day.
Focus on fruits and vegetables but include a small amount of pasta, pita, or fresh-baked bread with every meal.
If you’re struggling to produce enough milk to keep up with baby, whole grains may help. Adding whole grains like the ones we mentioned above into your diet can increase milk production.
Plus, it’s easy to slip a couple of servings of oats into your day — you can eat oatmeal for breakfast or have a healthy, oat-filled granola bar for a snack. If you’re doing some baking, you can also try substituting oat flour for white flour.
And finally, you can buy special lactation cookies that are full of oats and other grains that help boost milk production.
4. Include Healthy Fats
Healthy fats like walnuts, almonds, and avocados provide beneficial nutrients such as vitamin E, omega-3, omega-6, and antioxidants. Include these healthy fats in your breastfeeding diet but don’t go overboard. Eating too much fat can cause gas, bloating, and stomach discomfort.
Additionally, while it’s healthy in small amounts, too much omega-6 can raise your blood pressure and cause your body to retain water. A few slices of avocado on your lunch-time salad or a handful of nuts as a snack is enough to get all the healthy fats you need.
5. Drink 8 Cups Of Water Every Day
While your milk supply won’t be affected right away if you don’t drink enough water every day, it will eventually lead to dehydration. Dehydration can set you up for other problems including urinary tract infections, constipation, and fatigue.
In addition, to make up for the lack of water in your diet, your body will draw on the water in your joints, muscles, digestive system, and blood. This can lead to even further complications that can have an effect on your breast milk production.
6. Don’t Skimp On Calcium To Ensure A Healthy Breastfeeding Diet
Breastfeeding draws from your body’s calcium reserves, so it’s important to get plenty of this micronutrient in your diet.
Calcium is important because it supports your skeletal structure and function by keeping your bones and teeth strong. It also plays a role in blood clotting, muscle contraction, nerve function, and cell communication.
We recommend consuming between 1000 and 1500 milligrams of calcium every day while your baby is breastfeeding. One way you can include this calcium in your diet is by taking a nutritional supplement or a multivitamin.
Another way is to eat natural sources of calcium like milk, yogurt, broccoli, bok choy, and collard greens.
7. Be Sure To Get Enough Iron
During pregnancy and breastfeeding, the iron content in your blood becomes diluted by an increase in red blood cell volume. This is a natural part of pregnancy, so there’s nothing to worry about. It just means that you’ll need to monitor, and likely increase, your intake of iron while you’re breastfeeding.
The reason you need to be aware of your iron intake is that it assists in transporting and storing oxygen in your body. It also contributes to energy production, cell respiration, and the production of white blood cells that fight bacteria.
The suggested daily intake of iron for breastfeeding women is nine milligrams. Good sources of iron include beef, poultry, seafood, and egg yolks. You can also ensure that you get enough of this micronutrient by including an iron-infused multivitamin in your diet.
8. Plan Your Alcohol And Caffeine Intake
While alcohol and caffeine are acceptable in small quantities while you’re breastfeeding, you should plan your consumption around breastfeeding time.
We suggest that you consume that glass of wine, mug of tea, or cup of coffee right after your baby has finished nursing rather than right before. This will give your body time to process the alcohol and caffeine and keep it out of your breast milk.
In addition, try to restrict yourself to one or two cups of caffeinated beverages per day. We know you’ll probably need the pick-me-up, but more than one or two cups can make you and your baby jittery, irritable, and even sleepless.
9. Keep Healthy Snacks Handy
Caring for a new baby and nursing around the clock keeps you busy — and hungry! But sometimes you simply have no time or energy to think about pulling a healthy snack together.
To keep your body healthy and your tummy full, make sure that you have healthy, low-prep snacks on hand and ready to go. Hardboiled eggs are a great option packed with protein. You can also order lactation cookies online for a treat that will boost milk production.
Other healthy snacks include Greek yogurt, carrots and hummus, snack bars, or a piece of fruit with a spoonful of nut butter.
10. Listen To Your Body And Your Baby
Just as you should listen to your own body if it reacts to a certain food, you should also pay attention to your baby’s body. When you’re breastfeeding, what you eat is what your baby eats because the food you consume affects your breast milk.
If you notice your little one is ill, fussy, gassy, or has changes in their stool after feeding, they may be sensitive to something you’ve eaten. If you suspect that something you’re eating is upsetting your baby, talk to your doctor before making significant changes to your diet.
Breastfeeding will bring many challenges and changes to your life, so be patient and take care of yourself while you take care of baby. And when it comes to a breastfeeding diet, keep our ten tips in mind and you can feel confident that you and your little one are off to a great start.