What To Eat While Breastfeeding

What To Eat While Breastfeeding

It can become very confusing for moms who are breastfeeding and wondering are they eating the right foods. There is a lot of conflicting advice whether certain foods can upset your baby’s tummy or whether they could cause allergies. Many mothers might also wonder whether its really necessary to take supplememts when you are breastfeeding your baby. I will discuss in this article some foods that are of particular benefit and also those that you need to limit during this time.

Foods that are beneficial while breastfeeding include: Oatmeal, Eggs, Yogurt, Avocado, Legumes, Salmon, Brown Rice, Nut and Fruits and Vegetables. Foods or ingredients that should be limited include: Caffeine, Alcohol, Fish (those high in mercury), Parsley and Chocolate. Supplements are not necessary unless if you are eating a well balanced diet.

Below I have discussed in more detail how these foods are of benefit and how others can be harmful in larger quantities.

Oatmeal

This inexpensive and easy to prepare food should be on the top of the list for new mommies. Oats are filled with whole grain fiber and protein that keeps you feeling full for longer. It takes longer to digest and can also help keep your blood sugar levels stable. Although there is no direct evidence many moms believe oatmeal helps increase their milk supply.

Eggs

Eggs are a protein-rich food that contains all 20 amino acids that you and your baby need. They are also a good source of vitamin D and B12. They are also an important source of choline which is an important nutrient for your newborn baby. According to Oxford Medicine choline is critical during fetal and neonatal life to ensure optimal brain and cognitive development.

Yogurt

A bowl of greek yogurt is a great food to add to your diet while you are breastfeeding. It can be taken any time during the day including breakfast. Greek yogurt is filled with probiotics which is a gut-friendly bacteria and strengthens the baby’s and your immune system. It also contains calcium, potassium, zinc, and vitamins B6 and B12 which are essential for your baby’s growth and development. Greek yogurt contains twice the amount of protein compared to regular yogurt.

Avocado

This fruit is nutrient dense including heart-healthy monounsaturated fats which makes it an ideal food to consume while breastfeeding. It is healthy as it contains folate, fiber, and protein.

According to a study from of NCBI, avocados contain higher amounts of fiber, monounsaturated fats, and lipid-soluble antioxidants which have been linked to improvements in maternal health, birth outcomes, and breast milk quality. Avocados are nutrient boosters and help by increasing the absorption of fat-soluble nutrients such as vitamins A, K, D, and E.

Why not add them to your salad or they are a great addition to a delicious smoothie!

Legumes

different varieties of legumes

Legumes are a rich source of fiber and B vitamins. If you are vegan or vegetarian they are a great replacement for meat as a source of protein and vitamins. Adding them in your diet will help increase your levels of plant-based protein.

The iron present in beans will help deliver oxygen to each cell in your body and help keep your energy levels stable. Adequate iron levels help prevent anemia.

Legumes have been used for centuries to help with nursing mothers maintain their milk supply.  Fenugreek is a member of the legume family and is well known to have lactogenic properties. These can be taken in the form of capsules.

Salmon

As well as being an excellent source of protein, vitamins, and minerals (including potassium, selenium and vitamin B12), salmon is an important source of Omega-3 fatty acids.  DHA is one of the Omega-3 fatty acids that are particularly beneficial for your baby.

There is  increasing evidence to show that infants fed breast milk with a higher DHA content have better vision and neurodevelopmental outcomes. Studies have also shown that adequate DHA levels also improve memory, attention, immunological status along with long lasting effects on learning and is associated with less atopic disease.

Brown Rice

Brown rice is not only full of fiber but it also helps stabilize blood sugar levels in your body and increase levels of serotonin. Serotonin is a feel-good hormone and helps in controlling stress. Adequate serotonin levels ensure that the required amount of prolactin is produced in the body which is essential for the supply of breast milk for a nursing mom.

Nuts

Packed and rich in good fats, nuts can help your milk supply immensely. These foods contain tryptophan that gets converted into serotonin and is known to elevate mood. It helps in relieving insomnia, manages stress and even boosts prolactin levels.

The good fats present in nuts are transferred to your baby through your milk and provide them with important nutritions every time they breastfeed.

Fruits and Vegetables

Fruits and Vegetables including pineapple, apple, melon, carrots, onions, cucumber and courgette

Fruit and vegetables are nutrient dense and consuming these frequently will ensure you receive the recommended vitamins and minerals in your diet. They are whole food sources of fiber, vitamin C and magnesium as well as containing antioxidants.

Maternal consumption of fruit and vegetables is associated with specific flavor preferences in breastfed infants from the variety of food flavors received through the milk. This can help explain why some infants who are breastfed tend to be more willing to try new foods. It may also increase the chances of your baby eating more fruit and vegetables as they get older and into adulthood. So this is a win-win situation for everyone!

What Food Products Should I Limit While Breastfeeding?

As a general rule, there are no foods that you need to totally avoid while breastfeeding unless you are aware that you are allergic to certain foods. It’s important to introduce a wide range of of foods as each food group contributes its own health benefits. However, there are certain foods or ingredients in food that would be best limited to avoid any unwanted effects.

These include the following:

Caffeine

a mug of coffee with the writing coffee on the mug with a teaspoon and decanter nearby

Caffeine is able to reach your baby through your breastmilk. Having your daily cup of coffee is not going to harm you or your baby but consuming large amounts of caffeine can have negative effects. Fussiness, jitteriness and poor sleep patterns have been observed in some babies whose mothers have consumed large amounts. Extra care should be taken in reducing caffeine levels for moms who are breastfeeding preterm and newborn infants. A young baby’s liver is still immature and they metabolize caffeine more slowly than an older baby.

According to an article from NCBI, some experts feel that a maternal intake limit of 300mg daily is safe to take in term babies. The NHS in the UK recommends that breastfeeding women restrict their caffeine intake to less than 200mg per day.

It’s important to remember that a wide variety of drinks contain caffeine, for example, soft drinks and energy drinks. In coffee alone, there is a huge variation in the amount of caffeine that each drink contains. The serving size and source of the coffee impact the caffeine content. The Center for Science in the Public Interest gives a comprehensive list of the caffeine content for each drink. Below is a list of the caffeine content of some of the popular varieties:

  • Starbucks coffee, Blonde Roast 20oz 475mg caffeine
  • Panera coffee, Light Roast 16oz 300mg caffeine
  • Dunkin’ Donuts, Cappuccino 20oz 233mg caffeine
  • Starbucks Iced Black Coffee, bottle 110z 160mg caffeine

Fish containing high levels of mercury

Most types of fish can be eaten and in fact, contain important nutrients that contribute to good overall health and in particular brain health. However, there are some varieties in particular sea fish that contain high mercury levels can be harmful to your baby. According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), these fish include King Mackerel, Marlin, Orange Roughy, Shark, Swordfish, Tilefish, and Bigeye Tuna.

Parsley

Parsley can look and taste delicious as an addition to many meals. If they are used in a limited quantity there is no need for concern and should be enjoyed as normal. However, there have been some reports that have claimed that parsley capsules decrease the flow of milk in breastfeeding mothers. That being said there have been no scientifically valid clinical trials carried out to support these claims.

Alcohol

a glass with red wine being poured in

There is nothing wrong with having an occasional drink every now and again but taking too much is not good for mom or baby.

The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that alcoholic beverages should be limited to an occasional intake but no more than 0.5g alcohol per kg of body weight. For example a breastfeeding mother weighing 60kg should limit her intake to 2oz liquor, 8oz wine or 2 beers. See my article on the Side Effects of Alcohol in Breast Milk.

If you do decide to take alcohol while breastfeeding the main precautions to take include:

  • wait 2 hours after drinking one standard drink
  • plan ahead and express milk for your baby if you are going out or drinking more than one standard drink
  • try to spread your drinks out over the week instead of a large amount in one session
  • Do not bed-share with your baby if you have been drinking

Chocolate

Chocolate also contains a stimulant similar to caffeine called theobromine. Theobromine is found in cocoa solids so the darker the chocolate the higher the amount of theobromine. However, mom would need to eat a large amount of chocolate for any negative effects on her baby. According to La Leche League theobromine is generally not an issue for breastfed babies unless mom is eating chocolate in very large quantities. They recommend eliminating caffeine and theobromine sources for a week or two to help clarify whether they are affecting your baby. So good news to all mothers! Go ahead and enjoy your bar or two of chocolate!.

How Much Should I Eat While Breastfeeding?

When it comes to the intake of foodstuff for breastfeeding moms, it is important that they listen to their body and eat according to their appetite. This provides them with the calories they need. When nursing a small baby, you are bound to feel more hungry, and so you must listen to your body.

Counting calories during this time are not necessary until unless you have a problem maintaining your weight. However, keep in mind that consuming less than 1800 calories in a day can put your milk supply at risk.

The amount of calories and food a new mom needs depends entirely on their nutritional level, weight and the level of activity. A mother who is less active and is healthy may need fewer calories than a more active mother. So stop counting your calories during your nursing period and listen to the need of your body and your baby.

How Much Water Should A Breastfeeding Mother Drink?

Breastfeeding moms should drink at least six to eight glasses of water or non-caffeine beverages a day. Thirst is your body’s way of indicating you that you need more water; so pay attention to your body. During hot weather or when you are more physically active, you will be more thirst and will need to drink more.

But overall, as long as you are drinking enough to quench your thirst, your water intake is just fine.

How To Get Enough Water Every Day?

As a busy new mom, it can be difficult to keep track of the amount of fluids you are drinking. A good way to keep track of your intake is to drink a glass of water each time you breastfeed your baby. Your newborn will breastfeed around eight to twelve times a day.

So make it a habit of drinking one glass of water before and one glass of water after every feed. You can also keep a jug or another container of water with you to sip on while you are nursing. You can also drink milk, fruit juice, and vegetable juice when you do not want to drink water.

While it is very important that you drink enough water, there is no need to drink too much. Drinking more than six to eight glasses of water will not result in more milk being produced.  

How Can I Improve The Quality Of My Breast Milk?

As a general rule nature will ensure your baby will receive the required nutrients for her growth and development. The quality of your breastmilk will stay the same regardless of what you have been eating.

However, in recent years research has been carried out in relation to the importance of the types of fats in breast milk.  The importance of one of the fatty acids called DHA is considered an important component of breast milk. A newborn baby’s brain will continue to grow until it reaches three years of age and this healthy growth is directly depended on a sufficient supply of DHA. Consumption of oily fish, nuts, seeds, whole grains, egg, dairy and dark, leafy greens are important to maintain adequate levels of fatty acids in breast milk.

Can I Take Supplements While Breastfeeding?

If you are eating a well balanced diet with a wide variety of foods there is no need to take a vitamin supplement in addition to your diet.

Supplements containing DHA have become more common in recent years aimed at pregnant and lactating women. The Omega 3 fatty acid DHA is an important component of breast milk. DHA enhances the development of the brain’s neurotransmitter systems. It is found mostly in oily fish such as salmon and mackerel. According to Hale’s Medications & Mothers’ Milk (2019) research in humans has so far failed to provide strong evidence for or against the efficacy of DHA supplementation in pregnancy and lactation. The AAP and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans encourage dietary sources such as the consumption of 1 – 2 portions or 8 – 12 ounces of fish per week.

There are a few exceptions in some circumstances. For example, vegans may be at risk of B12 deficiencies. Vitamin B12 is naturally found in animal products such as meat, poultry, eggs, milk, and milk products. It is not generally present in plant-based foods. A B12 supplement is therefore generally required in a vegan diet.

Do I Need To Take Calcium Supplements While Breastfeeding

There can be a lot of conflicting advice about whether to take a calcium supplement or not while you are breastfeeding your baby. A lot of moms may feel that they may need to consume extra calcium for their growing baby’s needs as well as for their own intake. The National Academy of Science recommends that women who are pregnant or breastfeeding consume 1000 mg of calcium each day.

Good sources of calcium include:

  • dairy products such as milk, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream
  • canned  fish such as mackerel and sardines
  • seeds, for example, chia, poppy, and sesame
  • beans and lentils
  • dark, leafy greens such as collard greens,spinach and kale
  • fortified foods for example cereals and orange juice

However, nature ensures that mom and baby will get the required amounts once her diet is adequate. Studies have shown that women lose around 3 to 5 percent of their bone mass during breastfeeding. This is due to calcium being drawn towards the baby’s calcium requirements and the fact that women produce less estrogen while breastfeeding. The good news is that bone mass lost during breastfeeding will usually be recovered within 6 months after breastfeeding ends.

So rest assured that as long as you are eating a nutritious diet with the recommended calcium intake there is no need to supplement.

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