What To Eat When Breastfeeding: Breastfeeding Diet 101
Like every new mother, you have the choice to either breastfeed your baby or go with formula
. While both methods have their pros and cons, it’s important to note that breast milk is considered to be the ideal nutrition source for babies
. It contains the right amount of every vitamin, mineral, protein, and fat the baby needs in order to grow and develop properly.
But breast milk can be affected by the things mommy eats. Now hold on mama, you don’t need to go ahead and throw out all the chips and sweets and avoid the occasional glass of wine. You can still munch every now and then, but adding and removing some foods from your diet can make your breast milk more nutritious, and your baby healthier.
So for all ladies who’ve decided to breastfeed their newborn, we’ve got you covered. You can read all about how your diet affects breast milk, and what foods are recommended to eat while breastfeeding.
How Does My Diet Affect My Breast Milk?
Having a balanced diet is important for your general health, yes, but it can also help keep your breast milk as nutritious as possible.
So no, despite all the claims you can find circulating on the internet, you don’t need to be on a special diet while breastfeeding.
Should I Avoid Any Foods Or Drinks?
Not really. There is no need to avoid something completely, but there are foods and beverages that you might want to consider cutting back on. If you are interested in all the foods you should avoid, check our article on Are there any Foods to Avoid While Breastfeeding. Here, we’d like to point out just one very important thing: overdoing it with any type of food can be bad for you and your baby. Or, there are foods that might be all good for you, but they will affect your baby. A baby’s digestive tract is much more sensitive than an adult’s. So it’s better to keep an eye on what you eat and see how your baby reacts.
Which Nutrients Are Important For Breastfeeding?
In order to better understand how your diet affects breast milk, you would need to know how and in what amounts can nutrients and foods affect breast milk.
This can be easily explained by dividing the nutrients into two categories, A and B. In Category A we have the nutrients whose level in breast milk depends on the amount we’ve consumed them in. These can be important for both you and your baby, and it can be beneficial to know the optimal amount you need. If you lower the intake of these nutrients, it’ll not just affect your breast milk composition and your baby’s health, but your personal health as well.
In Category B, you have nutrients whose level in breast milk is not dependent on the amount you take them in, so as long as you take them, they are part of your breast milk. If you lower your intake of these nutrients, your body will compensate by drawing them out from the organs, muscle, and bone tissue where they are usually stored.
- Vitamin A - good for proper growth and protection from infections
- Vitamin B1 - helps develop motor functions
- Vitamin B2 - assists in energy production and healthy development of the nervous system
- Vitamin B6 - important for proper protein production
- Vitamin B12 - helps maintain healthy cell production
- Vitamin D - increases bone and teeth density and strength
- Selenium - important for the development of the immune system
- Iodine - ensures proper thyroid gland development and function
- Choline - good for proper brain development and activity, improves the structure of cell membranes
- Calcium - helps in the development of the bones and teeth
- Copper - enables red blood cell formation and production
- Zinc - plays a role in regeneration, immune system development, and synthesis of carbohydrates
- Iron - crucial for red blood cell function and oxygen delivery
- Folate - important for proper cell function
What To Eat When Breastfeeding
A good diet is a balanced diet. While breastfeeding, you might just want to focus more on the following to ensure both you and your baby gets all the needed nutrients.
Foods Packed With Calories
They say that while breastfeeding, you should be eating for two people. And there’s definitely some truth in that statement.
We all know that getting back in shape after having a baby is not easy, but keep in mind that the process of producing milk is something that requires a lot of energy from your body. While breastfeeding, your body will need 20-30% more calories than you usually put into it. Breastfeeding will make you crave more food, so don’t hold back. Losing weight while breastfeeding might affect breast milk composition, as when you lack particular nutrients in your body your breast milk can be deficient in them as well.
So, although you might be tempted to start cutting down on some foods to reduce the number of calories you put in your body, keep in mind that it’s normal not to lose any weight in the first few months after giving birth. Even if you gain a few pounds, don’t worry, it’s totally normal.
But hey, if you really want to shed a few pounds, you can start exercising. Now, with all the calories you take that might be a bit harder and take longer than usual, but with some exercise and a balanced diet, you can kill two birds with one stone. Your baby will get all the nutrients it needs AND you will lose up to a pound a week. A win-win really.
Eat Food That Is Rich In Nutrients
Your ideal portion size will increase, and so will the need for some nutrients. So, to keep things balanced, focus more on the following foods:
We already mentioned that too much seafood might be bad for your baby, but that doesn’t mean you should remove it from your diet. Eat with moderation.
Meats like beef, pork, and lamb are packed with proteins and essential amino acids. Look to add more muscle and organ meat (liver, for example). Ground meat is tasty, but it’s not always made with meat from the “good” parts of the animal.
Fruits & Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are associated with health, and for a reason. They contain a vast amount of vitamins and minerals that are essential for your body to function properly. Oh, and they contain a low amount of calories, so plenty of fruits & veggies can help you keep your weight in check.
Nuts & Seeds
Nuts and seeds can help you get all the minerals and fibers your body needs. And the best thing about them? A handful of mixed nuts and seeds is more than enough. They are also packed with calories, so they provide a good amount of energy too.
Foods like eggs, dark chocolate, oats, and quinoa are all good for you. Diversify your menu!
What About Supplements?
Supplements are always an option you can consider for both you and your baby. Of course, we would all like to take all the nutrients we need from our food, but that might be harder for some. Another matter is that you might be allergic to some ingredients or foods that contain important nutrients, or simply not have the time to prepare or cook food.
It’s normal, mama can’t just take care of the baby and cook and whatnot, mama needs to rest too. And supplements may help you get all the nutrients you need. But there are two problems regarding supplements.
Supplements May Be “Unreliable”
The research regarding the efficiency of supplements is...well, almost nonexistent. In most countries, including the USA, supplements are not the subject of rigorous research and testing, meaning it’s hard to know if they are as efficient (or if they do anything at all) as the companies who make them like to claim.
Supplements May Increase/Decrease The Absorption Of Other Nutrients
Calcium and iron are important for your health, but did you know that they can “compete” for absorption? For example, if you take calcium and iron at the same time, there’s no way to tell if you have enough of them. The calcium can suppress iron absorption and vice versa.
In fact, many macro and micronutrients interact with each other. From around 40 micronutrients that your body requires to function properly, at least 30 of them interact with the absorption rate of at least 1 other micronutrient. We gave you the example of iron. Iron alone competes with the absorption of 10 micronutrients.
So with that said, some supplements may be unsuitable for you.
Which Supplements Should I Give A Try?
With all said, here are some of the supplements that have at least some scientific backbone and won’t increase or decrease the absorption of other nutrients.
Vitamin D is a nutrient that is normally found in breast milk in low amounts. It plays an important role in the development of the brain, skin, bone density, and the immune system of the baby. You might stumble on one of those articles where they say that vitamin D super-dosing is all okay, but there’s no need to bombard your body with it. Too much of anything can’t be good for you, now can it?
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
These long-chain fatty acids are mostly found in seafood, but we said we can’t overdo it with those, right? Well, omega-3 supplements are readily available, and they can do a world of good for the baby. They are important for the proper development of the brain, skin, immune system, and CNS (central nervous system).
We talked on and on about the importance of food, but what about drinks? It turns out the only liquid that you should be drinking every day is - water. Keeping yourself hydrated is important for you to have optimal levels of milk in your breasts.
Some sodas, juices, coffee & tea, might contain too much sugar and caffeine, and while there’s no need to remove them completely, remember to drink them with moderation.
Cow's milk is also another drink that you might want to test to see how your baby will react to it. Cow milk can be too strong for the baby’s digestive tract, since the proteins in it are too complex for the baby’s stomach to process. In some cases, it might cause an allergic reaction, nausea, and other symptoms. If your baby starts showing up these symptoms, it’s best you contact a pediatrician.
Drink as much water as you want or feel you need.
See? There’s no need to kick out your guilty pleasure food and drinks, but just to lower their intake. And of course, this will help not just with your baby’s health, but with yours too.
So, mama, you can relax. It’s just a few tweaks you might need to do, it’s not all the doom and gloom some may have told you it would be.
At the end of the day, it’s important for you to be happy and healthy, and if you are doing OK and are feeling healthy, there’s a good chance your baby is feeling the same too.