Infant Feeding Support Center

What to Eat While Breastfeeding

Happy Mama Milk Mentors

Maintaining your healthy eating habits while breastfeeding is as important now as it was in pregnancy. Your food choices will help you improve the quality of your breastmilk, the quantity of your supply, and the resultant health of your baby for years to come.

What to Know
• Healthy eating improves the quality of your breastmilk
• Baby gets first dibs on your nutrient supply
• Adequate hydration is essential
• Learn which nutrients are especially important and how to incorporate them into your diet
• The quality and variety of what you eat while breastfeeding can influence your baby’s food preferences throughout his life

Staying well-nourished while breastfeeding is vital, because just like in pregnancy, during breastfeeding your body will prioritize the baby. This means that if you are not taking in enough nutrients, your baby will use up what he needs and you, mama, will be left depleted.

So don’t be afraid to up your calorie count. Increased caloric intake (as much as an additional mini meal of whole foods per day) is key in maintaining your health and a healthy milk supply for your little one when exclusively breastfeeding. And when reaching for your next meal, continue choosing macro- and micronutrient-rich foods to best serve your and your baby’s health. Just as in pregnancy when your body prioritized the baby, nutrients will be prioritized to your breastmilk, which can leave you depleted if you’re not taking in enough.

Here are the nutrients to focus on:

Iron
Although you need less iron now than you did before you became pregnant, iron is still an important nutrient for the breastfeeding mama. Breastmilk is not particularly rich in iron, however, your baby more easily absorbs the iron in your breastmilk than any other source. This fact plus your baby’s iron reserves from pregnancy means that most breastfed infants do not need an additional iron source for the first 4-6 months of life.

B12
Newborns have very little B12 stored away and will rely on getting plenty of this nutrient from your breastmilk. B12 is important for normal brain function and forming red blood cells.

Choline
A large amount of choline is transferred to breastmilk providing your baby with plenty of this nutrient that plays a number of roles in the body. You’ll need good sources of choline to ensure there’s enough to support your own health in addition to your baby’s.

B6
Appropriate weight gain and growth in early infancy is associated with B6. The amount of B6 in your breastmilk changes quickly in response to your diet.

Vitamin A
Newborns have low vitamin A stores and depend on breastmilk to get enough of this nutrient, which is important for healthy skin, tissues and eyes.

Vitamin D
Vitamin D concentration in breastmilk is highly dependent on your vitamin D status. Vitamin D supports bone health and also influences immune function and blood glucose. Your newborn needs adequate vitamin D to prevent rickets.

Folate
Folate plays an important role in DNA synthesis. Breastfeeding mothers need slightly more folate than before pregnancy.

Calcium
Only a low level of calcium is secreted into breastmilk, however, baby can easily absorb it and the amount is usually adequate. Calcium remains important for your own health and for your baby’s bones and teeth. Make sure you are getting enough, preferably through your diet, or else your body may take the supplies from your bones for your baby, which can put you at risk for osteoporosis.

Zinc
Zinc is essential for tissue growth, which your baby will be doing a lot of! Your baby can get plenty from your breastmilk as long as you’re well-nourished.

Iodine
Iodine is essential for the thyroid (both yours and your baby’s), which is important for neurological development. Many women don’t get enough iodine because so much of our sodium intake comes from processed foods and fast foods made with non-iodized salt.

Increasing your intake of fluids is also critical because you’ll be losing fluid through your breastmilk. Aim to drink a full glass of water each time you sit down to nurse and keep a water bottle handy throughout the day. We recommend a minimum of thirteen 8oz cups of fluids per day and even more if your diet is low in produce (which is naturally high in water content) to stay hydrated and keep your milk supply flowing.

Your mindful eating choices while breastfeeding will not only benefit your own and your baby’s health, but will also influence the composition of your breastmilk, from the fat content to the flavor.

What to Do

Eat and drink regularly throughout the day
Keep your home stocked with easy to grab meals and snacks, especially things you can eat with one hand (you may find your other hand constantly occupied with your little one). Think whole pieces of fruit, sliced veggies with hummus or guacamole, nut butter on whole grain toast or crackers, nut and dried fruit trail mix, hard boiled eggs, sliced cheese or string cheese or Happy Mama Breastfeeding Support Lactation Oat Bars.

Pack in the protein
Eat several daily servings of high-protein foods, like low mercury fish, lean meat and poultry, eggs, low-fat dairy, beans, tempeh, tofu, and nuts. To get the most bang for your protein buck, remember that a 3 ounce piece of meat or salmon contains a whopping 21 grams of protein, an 8 ounce container of yogurt has 11 grams, a half-cup of cooked beans has 8 grams and a cup of milk contains 8 grams of protein.

Choose healthier fat sources
Find healthier fats (mono and polyunsaturated) in fish, avocado, nuts and seeds, and olive and nut oils for cooking and salad dressings. Be sure to meet your recommended DHA intake requirement by eating 8-12 ounces of omega 3-rich fish per week, opting for fish lower in mercury, such as wild salmon (fresh, frozen or canned) and canned sardines. If you eat beef and dairy, you can also get some DHA by choosing pasteurized beef and dairy products but do choose the leaner, lower-fat varieties in order to limit your intake of saturated fats. Avoid trans fats if possible (found in processed foods such as baked goods.)

Take a postnatal vitamin
Consider taking a postnatal or breastfeeding supplement while nursing to help ensure you are meeting your daily nutritional requirements for vitamins, minerals and micronutrients.

Get familiar with, and eat plenty of, micronutrients
Work with one of our nutritional experts or your primary healthcare provider to learn about the recommended daily requirements for micronutrients and the many ways to satisfy your specific intake needs. Focusing on incorporating these foods into your diet while breastfeeding will improve the lifetime health of you and your baby:

Iron
Find iron in beef, white beans, eggs, spinach, lentils, and fortified grains. Your body absorbs iron best from plant sources if taken with a good source of vitamin C (for example, pair iron-rich cereal with strawberries or beans with tomatoes).

B12
Meet your recommended B12 requirement with 3 ounces of tuna or sockeye salmon. Eggs and fortified breakfast cereals are other good sources of B12.

Choline
Eggs, beef, salmon, and quinoa are all great sources of choline.

B6
Eating fish, starchy vegetables (like potatoes) and non-citrus fruits (like bananas) will help you reach your recommended B6 requirements.

Vitamin A
Focus on dark leafy greens as well as orange and yellow vegetables (like sweet potatoes, spinach, carrots and cantaloupe) to meet your recommended vitamin A requirement. Other sources include milk, eggs and the always popular liver and fish oil!

Vitamin D
It can be difficult to reach the recommended amount of vitamin D from diet alone, but the best sources are fish and fortified dairy products.

Folate
Find folate in many foods such as vegetables (especially dark leafy green veggies), fruits, nuts, beans, dairy and meat.

Calcium
Low-fat dairy, dark leafy greens, tofu, baked beans, almonds, sardines, sesame seeds and figs all contain calcium. Many cereals are now fortified with calcium too, so check the labels.

Zinc
Get your zinc from meat, beans, nuts, whole grains and dairy.

Iodine
Seafood, dairy, and iodized salt are your best sources for iodine.

Reach out to our nutritional experts or your health care provider about your specific needs for any additional supplementation
For example, if you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, you many need a B12 supplement, as this vitamin is found only in animal products.

Sources

USDA
• https://www.choosemyplate.gov/protein-foods#

NCBI
• https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK235579/

Today’s Dietitian
• http://www.todaysdietitian.com/pdf/webinars/ProteinContentofFoods.pdf

Women’s Health
• https://www.womenshealth.gov/breastfeeding/breastfeeding-and-everyday-life.html
• https://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/breastfeeding-guide/Your-Guide-to-Breastfeeding-508_final.pdf

FIND SUPPORT FOR YOUR FAMILY.

Whether you breastfeed, formula feed, or both—we offer nutritious options and helpful information for all families.

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