Best Breastfeeding Nutrition Guide

by Della H. Harris

breastfeeding nutritionYour favorite foods might lean toward items like chocolate and jalapeño chips, but your body while you're nursing might need a more varied, balanced and natural menu.

Do you need to restrict your diet when you're breastfeeding? Chances are you won't have to change what you're eating. Most babies don't have any problems with what moms eat. The only way to know if what you're eating is affecting your wee one is how they react.

The key is to fill your refrigerator with your favorite healthy foods and eat whenever you're hungry. You can continue this pleasant routine unless you notice an obvious food reaction in your baby or an unhealthy weight gain in your own weight.

How about adding these yummy suggestions to your weekly menu? Try our Thai pork tenderloin with cucumber salad or the spicy southwest stir fry.

You Need to Eat More Calories

Good news! You get to eat more! As a nursing mom, you need an extra 300 to 400 calories than you did before pregnancy to help your body produce milk. Two healthy snacks a day can meet this need. The more active you are and the more milk you produce, the more calories you need to consume.

Many nursing moms have mentioned they lose one to four pounds a month without changing their diets. If you're not among these lucky women, you can still take off those pregnancy pounds while breastfeeding. Tara Gidus, MS, RD suggests that if you're trying to lose weight while nursing that you still eat at least 1800 calories a day. She says that any less and your milk supply could suffer.

Your Healthy Nursing Diet

Your optimal breastfeeding diet looks a lot like your optimal every day diet. It should be full of variety, balanced and opting for as much natural food choices as you're comfortable buying.

These main food groups SHOULD be included in your breastfeeding menu:

  • Fresh vegetables and fruits of all types, either raw or cooked
  • A variety of whole grain products in different forms -- whole, broken kernels and flours
  • Protein foods from animal sources or plant sources
  • Healthy fats, preferably uncooked, cold-pressed vegetable oils.

Your body uses carbohydrates for energy. While you're nursing load up on whole grains, bean, fruits and vegetables. These complex carbs help you get the recommended amount of fiber. You'll really want the fiber if you get our meaning.

Suggested amounts of protein while breastfeeding range from 70 to 110 g per day. A rule of thumb: Get about 20 percent of your calories from protein.4 Good sources of protein include dairy products, eggs, meat, fish, lentils, beans and soybeans. If you're not tolerant of one or more of these sources, it's always smart to consult your healthcare provider or a nutritionist and stay on track.

An optimal breastfeeding diet includes fats. The healthier fats come from vegetable sources. Especially beneficial fats such as olive, avocado, walnuts and flax seed oil provide brain-building Omega 3's.

Other Important Nutrients for the Breastfeeding Mom

DHA and EPA: These omega-3 fatty acids help with heart health, brain development and vision.

Vitamin D: Vitamin D promotes bone health and overall disease resistance. You can supplement your diet with vitamin D3 or you can give your baby drops of vitamin D.

Vitamin A: Vitamin A helps with vision, immunity and cell growth. Get your daily allotment by eating dark orange or green fruits and vegetables or organ meats like liver. Since liver isn't for everyone, we suggest the green fruits and veggies.

Choline assists with hippocampus development, the memory center of the brain. Egg yolks, fish, beef, poultry, pork and wheat germ contain choline.

Vitamin C: Best sources include citrus, strawberries, kiwi, bell peppers, potatoes and other fruits and vegetables.

Breast Milk's All About Flavor

Do you want your baby to develop a taste for healthier and possibly more adventurous foods? It doesn't require magic. You can make it happen by eating them yourself! Begin with a varied prenatal diet. Enforce familiarity with a variety of flavor sensations when breastfeeding. Foods in your diet flavor the breast milk. Introduce the foods that you'd like your toddler and preschooler to enjoy now.

Three Sneaky Nutrition Boosts

Make a power salad. Start with a mix of greens, fresh herbs and vegetables. Add protein boosts like sunflower seeds, feta or soy cheese and black beans. Top off with a source of Omega 3's like avocado slices, walnuts, flax oil or ground flax seed.

Supplement that smoothie. Use Greek yogurt to add protein nutrients right into your smoothies. Additives like baby spinach leaves or blueberries pack in vitamins and minerals without compromising favors. Try it if you don't believe us!

Use nutrition-wise sprinkle toppings. Sprinkle nutrient-dense ground flax, sesame seeds and nuts on cereal, salads and pastas to add flavor and texture. Salads can get boring after awhile. These items can perk up any dish!

Caffeine and Alcohol Smarts

Bad news! Your baby might not appreciate your morning cup of coffee. Caffeine has been linked with an increase in colic. It could also be keeping your baby up at night.

What's the dig on boobs, booze and babies? While the APA recommends abstaining from drinking alcohol while breastfeeding, La Leche League points to research indicating that the amount of alcohol a baby receives when the breastfeeding mother drinks occasionally or limits her consumption to one drink or less per day hasn't been proven to be harmful.1 Do your research and decide wisely.

Vegetarian Mom's Breastfeeding Tips

Vegetarian diets during breastfeeding can be beneficial. Research has shown that milk produced by vegetarian women has lower levels of environmental contaminants (such as PCBs) than that of other women.1

A vegetarian diet containing milk, milk derivatives, or eggs can meet all you and your baby's needs. If your diet doesn't contain any of these foods (such as in the case of vegan and some macrobiotic diets), supplement your diet with vitamin B12. If you're vegetarian or vegan, you'll have to get the manufactured kind of B12.

If Baby Reacts Poorly to Food in Your Diet

A baby who fusses a few hours after feedings, cries inconsolably for long periods, or wakes up in discomfort might be sensitive to a particular food. Other signs of a food sensitivity include rashes, eczema, a diaper rash, congestion, itchy eyes, recurrent ear infections, colic, constipation or diarrhea, or even green bloody stools. Yuck, right? You can narrow down the culprits, however.

Cow Dairy Protein

Your source of calcium could be the culprit. Milk and dairy products contain high amount of calcium. If your baby reacts to cow milk's large protein, you might need to look for other way to include this bone-building nutrient in your diet.

Other sources of calcium include:

  • Sheep or goat's milk and cheese
  • Canned fish which contains bones that become soft during processing and are easier to eat
  • Anchovy paste (made from whole anchovies) also has a high calcium content
  • Whole grains and whole grain flours
  • Green, leafy vegetables
  • Almonds or other types of nuts
  • Sesame seeds

Wheat and Soy Products

Does your baby's colic disappear when you eliminate wheat or soy products from your diet? Eric Hassall, M.D., a pediatric gastroenterologist, says that some breastfeeding babies don't tolerate cow dairy products, wheat or soy in a mom's diet. He suggests the breastfeeding mother eliminate likely offenders from her diet and gradually experiment with adding them back later as her baby's gastrointestinal system matures.

If you have more items to add to our lists, feel free to mention them in the comments! Being informed is being well-prepared. Being well-informed means you won't feel as overwhelmed on your breastfeeding journey!

1. Dagnelie P. et al. Nutrients and contaminants in human milk from mothers on macrobiotic and ominivorous diets. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1992; 46:355-66.
2. Hassall, E. MBChB, FRCPC, FACG. "Over-Prescription of Acid-Suppressing Medications in Infants: How It Came About, Why It’s Wrong, and What to Do About It." The Journal of Pediatrics, DOI 10.1016/j.jpeds.2011.08.067.
3. Sheri Lyn Parpia Khan. (2004, March-April) "Maternal Nutrition during Breastfeeding" retrieved February 27, 2012) from
4. Gidus, T. (2012) "Pregnancy Cooking & Nutrition for Dummies." New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons. Inc.

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