Most expectant moms recognize that pregnancy is a time for additional calories and a healthy diet. However, they may spend less attention on the need for a nourishing postpartum diet.
If you’re breastfeeding, the importance of a nutritious diet cannot be emphasized enough. Your body still requires enough calories and nutrients to support the well-being of two individuals—you and your growing infant.
Breast milk is the optimal food for your baby, providing all the calories, vitamins and minerals needed for his or her developing body. To have healthy breast milk, though, you need a healthy diet. It’s estimated that a lactating mother should be consuming 500 extra calories a day.
Similar to pregnancy, a healthy diet means a balanced and diverse diet: protein in the form of chicken, lean meats, beans, eggs, tofu or fish; dairy products or other sources of calcium; a range of fresh fruits and vegetables, and whole grains and cereals to round out your diet. Water and other fluids are especially important to replenish your body: at least eight to day full glasses of liquids a day is recommended.
Some studies have shown that mothers deficient in important vitamins and minerals produce breast milk that has similar deficiencies. Since your baby initially relies on your breast milk for all of his dietary needs, it’s especially important that you do what you can to make the healthiest milk. Here are a few more recommendations:
- Continue to take your prenatal vitamins while breastfeeding
- Eat foods rich in DHA, an essential fatty acid important for your baby’s neural development and cognitive function. Adequate levels of DHA may also reduce the risk of postpartum depression. DHA can be found in eggs, liver, fish and dietary supplements.
- Despite many nutritious benefits of fish, restrict the quantity consumed each week to limit your exposure to mercury. Eat no more than 4 to 6 ounces of canned tuna per week and no more than 8 to 12 ounces of cooked fish per week. Avoid eating any fish that contain the highest levels of mercury: shark, swordfish, king mackerel, tile fish (also known as golden or white snapper), orange roughy, tuna steak and grouper. Healthier varieties of fish include salmon, rainbow trout and canned mackerel.
- If you are prone to allergies, discuss with your doctor whether to restrict specific foods during lactation. Some doctors recommend avoiding peanut and peanut-containing foods during this period.
- Some moms report that their babies react to certain foods they eat, such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower or spicy foods. If your baby displays a pattern of fussiness or crying after you eat particular spicy or “gassy” foods, try eliminating that food for a week and see if it makes a difference. You can then reintroduce the food into your diet and see how your baby reacts.
- Be careful about indulging in coffee, other caffeinated beverages and chocolate. Caffeine passes into your breast milk and may cause poor sleeping, nervousness or irritability in your infant.
Our parenting advice is given as suggestions only. We recommend you also consult your healthcare provider, and urge you to contact them immediately if your question is urgent or about a medical condition.