Breastfeeding mothers generally need more calories to meet their nutrition needs during breastfeeding. An additional 330 to 400 kilocalories (kcal) per day is recommended for well-nourished breastfeeding mothers, compared with the amount they were consuming before pregnancy (approximately 2,000 to 2,800 kcal per day for breastfeeding women verses 1,600 to 2,400 kcal per day for moderately active, non-pregnant women who are not breastfeeding).
Generally, women do not need to limit or avoid specific foods while breastfeeding. Mothers should be encouraged to eat a healthy and diverse diet. However, certain types of seafood should be consumed in a limited amount and some mothers may wish to restrict caffeine while breastfeeding.
A mother’s need for iodine and choline increases during lactation. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend lactating parents consume 290 mcg of iodine and 550mg of choline daily throughout the first year postpartum. Iodine can be found in dairy products, eggs, seafood, or in iodized table salt. Choline can be found in dairy and protein food groups, such as eggs, meats, some seafood, beans, peas, and lentils.
Breastfed infants of women who do not consume any animal products may have very limited amounts of vitamin B12 in their bodies. These low amounts of vitamin B12 can put their infants at risk of vitamin B12 deficiency, which can result in neurological damage. Iron may also be of concern as plant source foods only contain non-heme iron, which is less bioavailable than heme iron.
Facts about breast-milk
With the exception of vitamin D, breast milk contains everything a baby needs for proper development during the first 6 months. However if the overall diet does not provide sufficient nutrients, it can affect both the quality of the breast milk and as well as the mother’s own health. Research shows that breast milk is made up of 87 percent water, 3.8 percent fat, 1.0 percent protein, and 7 percent carbohydrate and provides 60 to 75 kcal/100ml.
Unlike baby formula, the calorie content and composition of breast milk varies. Breast milk changes during each feeding and throughout your lactation period, in order to meet the needs of your baby. At the beginning of a feeding, the milk is more watery and usually quenches the baby’s thirst. The milk that comes later (hindmilk) is thicker, higher in fat and more nutritious.
An older, 2005 study shows that the hindmilk may contain 2 to 3 times as much fat as milk from the beginning of a feeding, and 7 to 11 more calories per ounce. Therefore, to get to the most nutritious milk, it’s important that the baby empties one breast before switching to the other.
What to eat for proper nutrition during breastfeeding
- Include protein foods 2-3 times per day such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, beans, nuts and seeds.
- Eat three servings of vegetables, including dark green and yellow vegetables per day.
- Eat two servings of fruit per day.
- Include whole grains such as whole wheat breads, pasta, cereal and oatmeal in your daily diet.
- Drink water to satisfy your thirst. Many women find they are thirsty while breastfeeding; however, forcing yourself to drink fluids does not increase your supply.
- Dietary restrictions from pregnancy do not apply to breastfeeding moms.
- Vegetarian diets can be compatible with breastfeeding. If you avoid meat, make sure you eat other sources of iron and zinc such as dried beans, dried fruit, nuts, seeds and dairy. If you avoid all animal products (vegan diet) you will need to take a B12 supplement to make sure your baby does not develop a B12 deficiency.
What foods to avoid for proper nutrition during breastfeeding
You don’t have to give up your favorite things to maintain proper nutrition during breastfeeding, but there are some foods you should limit.
- Caffeine will transfer to breastmilk and affect an infant. Stick to one or two cups a day (about 300mg of caffeine total). Pre-term infants can be more sensitive so avoiding caffeine or talk with your doctors about safe amounts.
- Alcohol – There’s no level of alcohol in breast milk that’s considered safe for a baby. If you drink, avoid breast-feeding until the alcohol has completely cleared your breast milk. This typically takes two to three hours for 12 ounces of 5% beer, 5 ounces of 11% wine or 1.5 ounces of 40% liquor, depending on your body weight. Before you drink alcohol, consider pumping milk to feed your baby later.
- Seafood – Mercury can be dangerous for you and your breastfed child. Too much mercury can cause problems with the development of the brain and nervous system leading to issues with speech, coordination, attention, memory, and learning. The American Pregnancy Association recommends Safe Catch salmon and herring.
- Deep-fried foods and processed, fatty meats are high in saturated fats and salt. They do not give you the nutrients you need while you’re breastfeeding. Limit bacon, sausage, deep fried foods, cold cuts and opt for chicken, turkey, low-mercury fish and lean meat.
- High-sugar foods like candy, cookies and desserts. These are empty calories and can lead to weigh gain, diabetes and fatigue. Snack on veggies, fresh fruit, nuts and seeds, yogurt.
Hydration during breastfeeding
In addition to being hungrier than usual while breastfeeding, you may feel thirstier as well.
When your baby latches onto your breast, your oxytocin levels increase. This causes your milk to start flowing. This also stimulates thirst and helps ensure that you stay properly hydrated while feeding your baby.
It’s important to note that your hydration needs will vary depending on factors like activity levels and dietary intake. There’s no one-size-fits-all rule when it comes to how much fluid you need during breastfeeding.
As a rule of thumb, you should always drink when you are thirsty and until you have quenched your thirst.
But if you feel very tired, faint, or as if your milk production is decreasing, you may need to drink more water. The best way to tell if you are drinking enough water is the color and smell of your urine.
If it is dark yellow and has a strong smell, that’s a sign that you’re dehydrated and need to drink more water.