Breastfeeding: Maternal nutrition
While you don't typically need to be on a special diet if you're breastfeeding or pumping milk to feed your baby, you should eat a well-balanced diet and drink enough liquids.
Although shedding extra pounds gained during pregnancy may be one of your biggest concerns, strict weight-loss programs are not recommended, especially during the first few months of breastfeeding. The following suggestions may help you focus on your eating patterns while breastfeeding:
- Drink enough liquids. You may find you are thirsty during the first few days after delivery as your body sheds excess fluid accumulated during the pregnancy. Most mothers do notice they are thirstier when breastfeeding. Drink plenty of liquids, such as juice, water, milk and soup to quench your thirst.
- Eat a variety of foods. The best guide as to how much to eat should be your own appetite. In general, mothers are hungrier during the first several months of breastfeeding, and you shouldn’t ignore feelings of hunger when producing milk for your baby. Grab a one-handed snack to eat while breastfeeding or keep wrapped snacks near your favorite breastfeeding spot.
Eat many different foods to get the calories, vitamins and minerals you need to remain healthy. A minimal caloric intake of at least 2,000 calories per day, with an optimal intake of 500 calories above a non-pregnant caloric intake of 1,800 to 2,200 calories is recommended. (This is the equivalent of a peanut butter sandwich and a glass of milk.) Foods from the following food categories offer the most nutritional value:
- vegetables (especially leafy green vegetables)
- fruits or 100 percent fruit juice (not fruit drinks)
- breads, cereals and grains
- milk, cheese and eggs
Foods that don’t need to be eliminated, but should be regulated, include:
- Spicy or gas-producing foods don’t bother most babies. A few babies will develop gas or act colicky when their mothers eat certain foods. However, there are no certain foods that create problems for all babies. Unless you notice that your baby reacts within six hours every time you eat a certain food, there’s no need to avoid particular foods.
- Vegetarian, or mostly vegetarian, diets have been the mainstay of many cultures for centuries, and the milk of vegetarians usually is as nutritionally appropriate as that of other mothers. You will want to be sure that your diet includes complete proteins, so eat a variety of foods. Many vegetarians may require supplementary vitamin D, iron and calcium during lactation. In addition, the milk of women eating vegan or macrobiotic diets may be deficient in vitamin B12 and these mothers often require supplements.
- You may drink caffeinated beverages, such as coffee, tea or soda. However, caffeine may make your baby jittery, irritable or have difficulty sleeping, especially if you drink too many or drink too quickly. If you enjoy caffeinated beverages, limit their intake to about two eight-ounce servings per day.
Alcohol and tobacco
It’s best to limit drinking alcoholic beverages while breastfeeding or pumping for milk. Alcohol passes into and back out of breast milk at about the same rate it enters and leaves your blood stream.
If you plan to have an alcoholic beverage, breastfeed beforehand and allow an hour or two before breastfeeding afterward.
- If you become intoxicated, pump and do not give that milk to your baby. You can resume breastfeeding once you are sober.
- Chronic, frequent consumption of alcohol may pose a problem to your baby's motor development. In addition, it can interfere with milk let-down (milk-ejection reflex), which may come as a surprise to mothers who've been told an alcoholic beverage will enhance milk let-down by helping them feel more relaxed.
- Perhaps the most important point is that alcohol use can affect your ability to properly care for your baby.
- Tobacco use often affects a woman's appetite and the taste of many foods. Although the benefits of your milk generally outweigh the risks of limited tobacco use, nicotine and its byproducts do pass into milk and tobacco use may cause your baby to have a more rapid heartbeat, restlessness, vomiting, and diarrhea.
- Respiratory illnesses are more common among babies exposed to parental smoking, regardless of feeding method.
Health conditions that may affect your diet
A few maternal health conditions may have a direct or indirect effect on lactation. These may include:
Fortunately, most conditions don’t completely rule out breastfeeding. A dietitian specializing in perinatal nutrition can help you develop a realistic diet plan if a health condition influences how much you eat or how your body uses food.
If you ever have any questions about nutrition or healthy dieting when breastfeeding, contact your physician, a certified lactation consultant (IBCLC) or a dietitian who specializes in perinatal nutrition.