5 Breastfeeding Nutrition Tips

Tot Lactation Expert Rebecca Agi MS, IBCLC shares five nutrition tips every mother should keep in mind on her breastfeeding journey.

a woman sitting on the ground breastfeeding her baby

You don’t need to eat a perfect diet to make high-quality breast milk but there are a few nutritional guidelines you should follow to optimize the quality of your milk and your milk supply. Whether you’re actively trying to lose baby weight and/or just trying to keep up with the demands of your newborn, these five nutrition tips can help you on your breastfeeding journey.

The key points we will discuss in this article include:

  • Staying hydrated
  • Choosing good fats in your diet
  • Nutritional supplements
  • Which foods to avoid when breastfeeding
  • Making time for self care
  1. Stay hydrated

Once breastfeeding is fully established, the average woman produces 25-35 ounces of breastmilk per day. Replacing these fluids is essential for staying hydrated, maintaining milk production and feeling good. According to the Institute of Medicine, breastfeeding mothers typically consume about 13 cups of fluid per day compared to 9 cups for non-pregnant, non-breastfeeding women. While this isn’t the exact amount required for every nursing mother, drinking enough to satisfy your thirst is generally the best rule to follow. Oxytocin released during breastfeeding also makes you thirsty; this is your body’s way of reminding you to stay hydrated. Get into the habit of drinking at least one glass of water each time you nurse your baby and keep a water bottle within arm’s reach the rest of the time. Water is the best form of hydration but soups, broths and herbal teas also counts toward fluid intake and are especially warming and nourishing.

  1. Choose good fats

You can’t change the amount of fat or calories in breastmilk, but you can change the type of fat that’s present. So add good, healthy fats to your diet whenever possible. Avocado, ground flax seeds, olive oil, salmon, tofu, walnuts, chia seeds and hemp seeds are all rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which help promote your newborn’s brain and eye development. Studies show that maternal levels of DHA, one of the most important types of omega-3s, directly influence the levels of DHA in breast milk. Taking a high-quality DHA fish oil supplement can ensure you and your breastfed baby are getting enough of these important fats.

  1. Take a nutritional supplement

While a well-balanced diet can meet all the nutrient requirements for breastfeeding, it’s not always easy to do. Taking a multivitamin or continuing your prenatal supplements can help fill in any nutritional gaps since some increased amounts of vitamins and minerals are required while you are breastfeeding. Some of the other vitamins to pay extra attention to are:

  • Vitamin D: Breast milk provides all the nutrition your baby needs for the first six months of life with one exception: vitamin D. Vitamin D helps build strong bones and teeth and is essential for proper growth and development. Since maternal levels of vitamin D have a direct influence on vitamin D levels in breast milk, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends supplementing exclusively breastfed infants with 400 IUs of vitamin D every day starting shortly after birth. Women who are deficient in vitamin D should also consider taking a supplement themselves.
  • Vitamin B12: Breastfeeding mothers who follow a strict vegan or vegetarian diet should consult their doctor about taking a B12 supplement. Infants need B12 for supporting brain development and if a mother is deficient in B12, her infant can become deficient too.

Women with specific food allergies, sensitivities or health conditions are encouraged to work with a registered dietitian to determine the exact nutrient requirements based on their individual needs.

  1. Foods to limit or avoid when breastfeeding

Luckily there aren’t any foods that need to be completely avoided during breastfeeding, but there are a few foods that should be limited.

  • Alcohol: The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages regular alcohol consumption but states that, “an occasional celebratory single, small alcoholic drink is acceptable, but breastfeeding should be avoided for 2 hours after the drink,” to minimize the alcohol concentration in the milk. Breastfeed right before enjoying your celebratory drink to maximize the time to the next feed.
  • Caffeine: Just like during pregnancy, caffeine intake should be limited to 300 mg per day, which is equivalent to about two to three cups of coffee. Very small amounts of caffeine are transferred through breast milk and usually do not harm the baby. However, women who completely avoided caffeine during pregnancy may have babies who are more sensitive to caffeine. If your baby seems to get fussy or cranky every time you have caffeine, try cutting back and reintroducing it when your baby is a little older.
  • Fish: According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), women who are pregnant and breastfeeding should avoid high-mercury fish–specifically king mackerel, shark, marlin, tilefish and bigeye tuna–and also limit fish that is lower in mercury (like salmon, tilapia, trout) to eight to 12 ounces per week. Fish is an excellent source of omega-3s, protein and vitamin B12, but consumption needs to be limited.
  • Certain herbs: Large amounts of parsley, sage, and peppermint should be limited during breastfeeding; these are herbs that can reduce your milk supply.
  1. Make time for self-care

This may not be 100% nutrition related, but making time for self-care in the postpartum period is essential for maintaining physical and mental well-being. Self-care comes in so many different forms, so try to make time for at least one thing that makes you feel good each day. You’d be amazed what some fresh air and a walk around the block can do for your mood.

 

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