Breast-feeding nutrition can be confusing. How much should you eat? What should you avoid? How might your diet affect your baby? The wonderful thing about breast-feeding is that you don’t have to do or eat anything different or special to breast-feed successfully—once your baby has learned the art of latching on, your milk will naturally deliver the best possible nutrients to her. However, since you are the primary source of nourishment for your baby while you breast-feed her, it makes sense to eat a healthy diet and drink plenty of water. Follow these important nutrition tips for a healthy breastfeeding.
Do I need extra calories while breastfeeding?
Many new mothers wonder whether they should be on a special diet while breastfeeding, but the answer is no. You can take in the same number of calories that you did before becoming pregnant, which helps with weight loss after birth.
However if your weight is already on lower side, you may increase your calorie intake by 500 calories a day for as long as you breast-feed. You may want to incorporate an extra snack during the day to make sure you consume enough calories, or have a slightly bigger portion at mealtimes.
What foods should I eat while breastfeeding?
Focus on making healthy choices to help fuel your milk production. Choose protein-rich foods, such as lean meat, eggs, dairy, beans, lentils and seafood low in mercury. Choose a variety of whole grains as well as fruits and vegetables. Wash your fruits and vegetables to reduce exposure to pesticide residue.
Eating a variety of different foods while breast-feeding will change the flavor of your breast milk. This will expose your baby to different tastes, which might help him or her more easily accept solid foods down the road.
To make sure you and your baby are getting all of the vitamins you need, your health care provider might recommend continuing to take a daily prenatal vitamin until you wean your baby.
How much fluid do I need while breast-feeding?
Drink frequently, preferably before you feel thirsty, and drink more if your urine appears dark yellow. Have a glass of water nearby when you breast-feed your baby. Be wary of juices and sugary drinks, too much sugar can contribute to weight gain and affect your efforts to lose pregnancy weight. Too much caffeine can be troublesome, too. Limit yourself to no more than 2 to 3 cups (16 to 24 ounces) of caffeinated drinks a day. Caffeine in your breast milk might agitate your baby or interfere with your baby’s sleep.
Could my diet cause my baby to be fussy or have an allergic reaction?
You may notice your baby develop a strong reaction to your breast milk. This could simply be a one-time dislike of the taste due to something you’ve consumed that day, or it could possibly be the sign of a food intolerance. Irritability after feedings, cold symptoms, and congestion are all possible symptoms of a food intolerance, although they are not all necessarily caused by diet. Other common symptoms are a rash, hives, itchy skin or eczema, digestive problems such as constipation or diarrhea, abdominal discomfort, swelling of the lips or eyes, and colic (see p.285), but again these are not always caused by food. If you think your baby is sensitive to or unsettled by certain foods you eat, talk to your pediatrician, especially if you have a family history of allergies.
It’s useful to be aware of the most common food triggers so that you can watch your diet and keep a close eye on your baby for any signs that what you’ve been eating doesn’t agree with him or her. Garlic, chili or spicy foods, cow’s milk, orange juice, soy products, wheat, corn, eggs, peanuts, tomatoes, or shellfish are all common culprits. If you can identify a specific food that you think is causing discomfort, eliminate it from your diet for several days to see if that’s the trigger, but be aware that some products, such as cow’s milk, can stay in your body for up to two weeks. It’s important that you continue to eat a balanced diet, so always consult your doctor before making significant changes to what you eat.
Food to avoid while breastfeeding
Everything you eat and drink passes through your breast milk to your baby in small amounts. Because of this, experts recommend that you take precautions with some foods, beverages, and other consumables. The advice for eating fish in pregnancy remains the same while you breast-feed: eat only two or three servings of fish a week to limit the amount of mercury you consume.
It’s a good idea to avoid some substances so that your baby isn’t affected in any way.
- Alcohol – Alcohol is not advised in more than moderate, occasional quantities (1–2 units every now and then is unlikely to harm your baby). If you want to drink one night, express milk beforehand so your baby isn’t affected.
- Nicotine – Smoking is not advised near or around babies: breathing in secondhand smoke is known to be bad for your baby’s long-term health and increases the risk of SIDS. If you smoke and breast-feed, you may slow your baby’s weight gain, since nicotine reduces the amount of milk you produce.
- Medicines – All medicines, including prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs, oral contraceptive pills, and vitamin, dietary, and herbal supplements pass through your breast milk in small amounts, and while some may not have an effect on your baby, you should talk to your doctor before you take any kind of medicine, herbal or otherwise.
- Caffeine – Caffeine is present in coffee, chocolate, tea, and some soft drinks and energy drinks, as well as some cold and flu remedies. Babies’ bodies can’t get rid of caffeine very well and may not be able to deal with you having too much caffeine in your diet.