Breastfeeding women should eat a varied, balanced diet that is rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins. In general, there is no need for a special diet, though there are topics to consider.
How Much Do I Need to Eat While Breastfeeding?
If you are exclusively breastfeeding, you will need an extra 400-500 calories per day above what was needed to maintain your pre-pregnancy weight. During the first few months, your body will be able to use the fat you stored during pregnancy to meet part of this requirement. Rather than focusing on how many calories you are eating, let your body be your guide, and eat when you are hungry.
What Should I Eat While Breastfeeding?
What you eat is as important as how much you eat. You may be able to get away with an extra cookie or two while breastfeeding, but be sure to fill up on nutrient-dense foods first. Your baby will get all the nutrients she needs from your breast milk, but you want to make sure there are enough nutrients left for you to use too. If you do not consume enough calcium, for instance, your body will take it from your bones, increasing your risk of osteoporosis.
Key Nutrients for Breastfeeding Women
Red, orange, and green vegetables; dairy products
Broccoli, bell peppers, potatoes, citrus fruit, berries
Fortified foods (such as milk); sunlight
Dairy products, sardines, canned salmon, tofu, green leafy vegetables
Meat, poultry, fish, legumes, green leafy vegetables, dried fruit
Fortified cereal, wheat bread, citrus fruit, green leafy vegetables
Balanced Diet Eating Guide
The following guide is based on the United States food guide, MyPlate. To make sure you get all the nutrients you need, eat a variety of foods from all of the different food groups.
|Food Group||Daily Amount*||Key Suggestions|
7 ounces (1 ounce = 1 slice bread, ¼ bakery-style bagel, ½ cup cooked pasta or rice, or 3 cups popcorn)
Consume at least ½ of your grains as whole grains. Whole grains include:
3 cups (1 cup = 1 cup raw or cooked vegetables, 2 cups raw leafy vegetables)
Eat a variety of different vegetables every day. Eat more of the following types of vegetables:
2 cups (1 cup = 1 cup fresh fruit, 1 cup fruit juice, ½ cup dried fruit)
Eat a variety of fruit. Choose fresh fruit over fruit juices.
3 cups (1 cup = 1 cup milk or yogurt, 1½ ounces natural cheese)
Choose low-fat or fat-free dairy products. Milk alternatives include calcium-rich or -fortified foods and beverages.
Meats and Beans
6 ounces (1 ounce = 1 ounce meat, fish, or poultry; ¼ cup cooked, dry beans; 1 egg; 1 tablespoon peanut butter; ½ ounce nuts)
Choose lean meats and poultry. Eat more fish and vegetarian sources of protein, such as beans, peas, nuts and seeds.
Fats and Sweets
Limit or avoid solid fats such butter, stick margarine, lard, and shortening. Limit foods high in added sugar or solid fats.
*Based on a 2,200 calorie diet
Because of the extra calories that it requires, breastfeeding will help you to return to your pre-pregnancy weight sooner. However, your focus should be on healthful eating, not dieting. If you diet during breastfeeding, you are putting yourself and your baby at risk. If you find that you are having a hard time losing the weight you put on while pregnant, talk to a registered dietitian. He can create a personalized eating plan.
While breastfeeding, it is important to drink enough fluids to make enough milk. Many women find that they are thirstier than usual, especially when they first start breastfeeding. Have at least eight glasses of water a day, as well as drinking healthful drinks such as low-fat milk and 100% juice.
You may choose to supplement your diet with a multivitamin, although this is not a substitute for eating a balanced diet. Check with your doctor before taking any supplements.
Most experts recommend that you should avoid alcoholic beverages during breastfeeding. Alcohol passes into your milk in the same concentrations as it is in your bloodstream. If you do choose to have an occasional drink, try to time it so that it’s right after a feeding.
For most women, having one or two cups of coffee or tea per day is fine. If you find that your baby is irritable or having difficulty sleeping, try eliminating caffeine for a couple of days and see if it makes a difference.
Fish and shellfish are an important source of lean protein and omega-3 fatty acids. However, seafood also contains mercury, which in high amounts, can be detrimental to your developing baby. While breastfeeding you should consume up to 12 ounces of fish per week, but avoid fish that contain high levels of mercury, specifically: tilefish, king mackerel, swordfish, albacore tuna, and shark. Good choices include salmon, sardines, canned light tuna, and shrimp. These are both high in omega-3 fatty acids and low in mercury.
Spicy or “Gassy” Foods
You may have heard that you should avoid spicy or “gassy” foods; however, this is only true if they are a problem. If your baby is unusually fussy, try eliminating potential trigger foods from your diet for a 24-hour period and see if it makes a difference.
Canada’s Food Guide
La Leche League Canada
Breastfeeding and your diet. American Academy of Pediatrics website. Available at: http://www.aap.org/healthtopics/breastfeeding.cfm. Accessed March 14, 2007.
ChooseMyPlate.gov. United States Department of Agriculture, ChooseMyPlate.gov website. Available at: http://www.choosemyplate.gov/. Updated June 14, 2011. Accessed June 20, 2011.
Maternal nutrition during breastfeeding. La Leche League website. Available at: http://www.lalecheleague.org/NB/NBMarApr04p44.html. Accessed December 21, 2009.
OCDPNS nutrition standard breastfeeding. Arizona Department of Health Services website. Available at: http://www.azdhs.gov/phs/oncdps/ns_pdf/nutrition_standards_breastfeeding.pdf. Accessed March 14, 2007.
Steps to a healthier you. United States Department of Agriculture website. Available at: http://www.mypyramid.gov/. Accessed December 21, 2009.
What you need to know about mercury and shellfish. United States Department of Health and Human Services website. Available at: http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/admehg3.html. Accessed December 21, 2009.
Last reviewed March 2011 by Maria Adams, MS, MPH, RD
Last updated Updated: 6/20/2011
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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