The Best Breastfeeding Diet: What Should You Eat?
Nutrients You Need
Now that you’re no longer pregnant, are you wondering why you should keep up with a diet filled with fresh fruits and vegetables, plenty of fluids, and a prenatal vitamin? Will it really make a difference to your child’s well-being?
“As long as you’re the sole source of nutrition for your baby, what you eat now is as critical as it ever was,” says Elizabeth Somer, RD, and author of several books including Nutrition for a Healthy Pregnancy and Nutrition for Women. A woman “needs to be restocking her body at the same time she’s breastfeeding, since many of the vitamins and minerals in her body have been depleted during the pregnancy,” Somer explains.
As during pregnancy, you’re giving nutrients to your baby first, and you get what’s left over. You need to be extra mindful of your nutrition so that you keep up your own energy levels; you’re caring for a newborn now!
Some of the important nutrients you were taking in during pregnancy are still essential for you now, especially calcium, folic acid, and omega-3 fatty acids (particularly DHA).
This fatty acid is a necessary component for optimal eye, brain, and heart development in babies. It is also the most abundantly found omega-3 fatty acid in breast milk. So, how can nursing mothers get more DHA in their diets? Somer notes that fatty fish such as salmon and herring are chock full of this fatty acid. Moms can also look for foods fortified with DHA, such as certain brands of eggs, cereals, and breads, and supplements that provide the necessary amounts of DHA for nursing mothers.
While it is recommended to take in 300 mg of DHA daily, a 2006 study done by the Society for Women’s Health Research showed that on average, breastfeeding women in America are only taking in 60 to 80 mg a day—less than one-third of what they need.
Calcium with Vitamin D
During pregnancy you may have been mindful of drinking enough milk and eating the recommended servings of cheese and yogurt throughout the day. Now that you’re a mom, there is no need to decrease your calcium intake. The March of Dimes website states, “the amount of calcium you need each day remains the same before, during, and after pregnancy.”
Again, most women are not getting the recommended daily servings of calcium, which according to Somer is 1,000 mg for a woman 20 years or older. A serving could be three glasses of milk, three cups of yogurt, or three glasses of vitamin-D fortified soy milk or orange juice.
Vitamin is fat soluable and is found in certain foods, historically though, it has been obtained by adequate sun exposure. Today, vitamin D deficiency is much more common than it once was. Decreasing exposure to sunlight due to all the risks of too much sun exposure, in addition to more people living in urban areas, has led to the recommendation of fortifying certain foods with vitamin D to ensure adequate intake. (Vitamin D is an important partner to calcium; it helps calcium to be absorbed properly and efficiently.)
Interesting to note: Vitamin D is actually considered a hormone. “It got its name as a vitamin in the early 1900′s by researchers and it has stuck since then,” points out Beth M. Iovinelli, RN, BSN, IBCLC.
Mention folic acid and most women think of prenatal vitamins, having learned of folate’s importance in the diet during pregnancy. When breastfeeding, folic acid is still as important as ever, Somer says. “Your baby depends on every bite of asparagus you take for her folic acid.” Other sources of folate include leafy green vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts.
Staying adequately hydrated is crucial to breastfeeding mothers. “Nursing moms should aim to drink a glass of water before breastfeeding,” says pediatrician Dr. James Sears, MD. According to Dr. Sears, water is a nursing mom’s best friend. Since you’ve already grown accustomed to drinking more water than usual and avoiding caffeine during pregnancy, it’s good to maintain that regimen. The National Institute of Health reports, “Eight 8-ounce servings (64 ounces) of fluid such as water, milk, juice, or soup is a good goal.”
“Caffeine-containing beverages can have a diuretic effect, causing you to lose valuable minerals and fluids,” Dr. Sears says, and the caffeine you drink goes directly through your milk and into your baby’s system. Having a baby up all night because she’s jacked up on caffeine is not a pretty sight.
If you get bored with the taste of plain water and don’t want to load up on calorie-laden juices, why not try flavored water? Make sure it is not high in calories or sugar and that it doesn’t contain chemicals.
While you know that it’s best to maintain a proper diet during breastfeeding, you may not have the time to prepare healthy meals now that your baby is here. Somer offers these tips for busy nursing moms on getting the valuable nutrition that they—and their babies—need. Try the following four food tips:
Keep the Kitchen Stocked
Not sure what to have on hand for when you’re hungry but don’t have time or energy to spend on elaborate snacks? Try stocking up on the following:
“With these items you can easily put together a healthy snack. You don’t even need to cook to eat healthy—you can nibble on peanut butter, baby carrots, and a glass of milk,” says Somer.
While you may have heard that nursing mothers should not ingest peanuts due to the allergen factor, keep this in mind: Canadian researcher, Dr. Peter Vadas, who in 2001 found that the peanut protein can be passed through breast milk, says that women should only be on the alert if they are already at risk for peanut allergies. Those would be women who have a family member with the allergy already—such as a parent or sibling, or a strong family background of other allergic diseases such as eczema, asthma, or hay fever.
Take Food With You
“You wouldn’t dream of leaving the house without your diaper bag, so don’t leave home without your stock of little yogurts, baby carrots, string cheese, and a water bottle,” Somer says. She advises that nursing mothers get hungrier than other moms, so it’s wise to be prepared with healthy snacks instead of pigging out at the food court or local convenience store. Remember that you need approximately 500 more calories per day than a non-nursing mom, but those calories still need to come from healthy sources.
“The key is to plan ahead,” adds Dr. Sears, who also recommends making your own trail mix with raw nuts and dried fruits, or grabbing some pre-sliced apple wedges. “Keep a case of bottled water in your garage and grab a bottle when you go on errands.”
Understand the Food-Colic Connection
Is your baby excessively fussy after nursing? Dr. Sears says that some foods can be upsetting to babies as soon as two hours after you eat them. He cites cow milk products, spicy foods, and gassy foods such as broccoli, onions, cabbage, and green peppers as some foods to watch out for. He suggests nursing moms “eliminate foods that are suspect for 10 to 14 days to see if baby’s symptoms disappear or diminish and challenge the results after the troublesome symptoms subside by reintroducing the suspicious food. If symptoms reappear within 24 hours, eliminate this food while breastfeeding.”
Some substitutions for dairy milk could be soy, rice, oat, almond, hazelnut, or walnut milk.
Know What’s Safe and What’s Not
Nursing women should avoid undercooked foods or those that may contain bacteria, such as Listeria, due to poor cooking standards—but otherwise there are really no big no-nos once you’re breastfeeding. Even sushi is OK if it’s prepared up to healthy standards. (Watch for high mercury levels found in the raw tuna sashimi.)
Alcohol should be avoided as it can affect the milk-ejection reflex. According to a study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, alcohol disrupts the release of both lactation hormones, so infants ingest less milk from the breast following the mother’s intake of alcohol. If you’re going to have a drink, make sure that it is not right before a feeding or you may end up with an unhappy baby.
Breastfeeding has challenges of its own for every mother, but if you eat a properly balanced nursing diet and stay well hydrated, you should be well on your way to a successful nursing experience.
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