Healthy Mom, Healthy Baby

Breastfeeding diet: Your breast milk will reflect your healthy nutrition choices

Just as your baby needs certain nutrients to develop properly, you can develop a healthy breastfeeding diet that benefits both you and your baby. In general, breastfeeding women should eat a well-balanced, varied diet. Taking vitamin and mineral supplements is not a substitute for proper nutrition.

Maintain your healthy nutrition choices; just add a few more calories

A woman who breastfeeds will burn around 500 to 700 more calories a day than a woman who does not. Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole-grain breads and cereals, calcium-rich dairy products, and lean protein (meats, fish, and legumes) will ensure that you get a balanced amount of essential nutrients.

The following nutrient- and energy-dense foods can deliver the calories, vitamins, and minerals you need to support your baby’s nutrition needs and to help you breastfeed consistently and effectively:

What to eat when breastfeeding:

  • Grains (preferably whole grains) — 8 ounces a day
  • Vegetables — 3 cups a day
  • Fruits — 2 cups a day (Limit your consumption of fruit juices.)
  • Dairy — 3 cups a day (Opt for low-fat or fat-free choices.)
  • Protein — 6 1/2 ounces a day (Choose lean meats and beans.)
You might need to eat more or less based on your size and activity level. Check with your health care professional for specific guidance.

In general, breastfeeding mothers can eat the foods they enjoy. Some foods might flavor the breast milk, but babies rarely react to this. If your baby is fussy after you eat a certain food or spice, try avoiding that food for a while, and then try it again later to see if the same reaction occurs. Limit empty-calorie foods with solid fat and added sugars.

Get your DHA if you are breastfeeding

Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is a fat found in fish oils. It is classified as an Omega-3 fatty acid, and has been found to be beneficial to your baby's brain and eye development. DHA can be directly passed to your baby through your breast milk by adding just two servings of fish, such as salmon or tuna, to your weekly diet. Continue to avoid certain fish, such as shark, swordfish, tilefish, and king mackerel, due to their high mercury content.

Drink plenty of fluids when you are breastfeeding

Nursing mothers need enough fluids to stay hydrated. Most experts recommend drinking approximately 13 cups of water and other beverages per day. A general rule to follow is to drink twice as much water as it takes to quench your thirst. Also note that it doesn’t always have to be water. Liquids such as milk, juices, and soups also can provide the vital fluids you need.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, drinking a moderate amount (2 to 3 cups a day) of coffee or other caffeinated beverages is fine. Most breastfeeding babies can tolerate that amount. More than that amount can cause your baby to fuss or to not sleep well.

Medications in breast milk

Check with your health care provider before taking any medications. Also, do not stop taking any prescribed medication without first speaking to your doctor. The guidelines for what medications you can safely take while pregnant or breastfeeding are similar, but not identical.

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