Eat Well While Breastfeeding

Women who are breastfeeding or pumping breast milk frequently ask if there are special dietary considerations during this time. In most cases, the answer is “no.” Although shedding those 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:

  • If breastfeeding makes you thirstier than usual, drink enough liquids to quench your thirst. Juice, water, milk, and soup are good choices. Either cut caffeinated beverages out of your diet completely or only have about two 8-ounce servings per day. They may make your baby jittery, irritable, or have difficulty sleeping.

  • If you are hungrier than usual during the first several months of breastfeeding, eat more of a variety of foods to get the calories, vitamins, and minerals you need to remain healthy. The best guide as to how much to eat should be your own appetite, but eating 500 calories more than you would with your normal diet is recommended. That means eating 2,000 to 2,200 calories per day, but it can range from 1,800 to 2,700 calories, depending on your height and size. Foods from the following food categories offer the most nutritional value:

  • Meats

  • Beans

  • Vegetables (especially leafy green vegetables)

  • Fruits or 100 percent fruit juice (not fruit drinks)

  • Breads, cereals, and grains

  • Milk, cheese, and eggs

Other diet considerations while breastfeeding or pumping include:

Spicy or “gassy” foods
Unless you notice that your baby reacts within six hours every time you eat a certain food, you don’t need to avoid them. Although there are situations when something a mother eats may affect the baby, this is unusual.
Vegetarian diets
If you are a vegetarian or vegan, you don’t need to take any special dietary precautions as long as you’re maintaining a diet with adequate amounts of protein, vitamins B12 and D, iron, and calcium. If you’re not getting these nutrients in your diet, you can get them in supplements.
It is best to limit drinking alcoholic beverages. Alcohol passes into and back out of breast milk at about the same rate it enters and leaves your bloodstream.
Smoking/tobacco use
It is best to avoid tobacco use. It can affect your appetite and the taste of many foods, and nicotine and its byproducts can pass into your milk. In addition, tobacco may cause a baby to have a more rapid heartbeat, restlessness, vomiting, and diarrhea. Babies should not be exposed to secondhand smoke. (Respiratory illnesses are more common among babies exposed to parental smoking, regardless of the infant’s feeding method.)
Prenatal vitamins

If you’re still taking prenatal vitamins, ask your doctor about the right vitamins for you. High doses of iron in prenatal vitamins can interfere with the body’s absorption of zinc. And zinc is essential for milk production and immune system health during breastfeeding.

Online Medical Reviewer: McDonough, Brian MD

Date Last Reviewed: 4/6/2010

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