Pediatricians’ Top Tips For a Healthy Breastfeeding Diet

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Baby feeds on MOM's breasts

“What should I eat while breastfeeding?” “Should I be taking vitamins?” “How many calories per day should I be eating?” At Westchester Health Pediatrics, these are questions we hear a lot from our expecting moms.

To help put their minds at ease (when they’ve got so many other things to think about with a baby on the way), we’ve put together these guidelines to help a breastfeeding mother maintain her milk supply and sustain both her baby’s and her own health.

Calcium

Lauren Adler_02R WEB72

Lauren Adler, MD, FAAP

Calcium is one of the most important minerals in your diet. Your body’s stores of calcium (primarily from your bones) supply much of the calcium in your breast milk to meet your baby’s calcium needs. Studies show that women lose 3-5% of their bone mass when they are breastfeeding, meaning that after you finish nursing, your body must replenish the calcium that was used to produce your milk.

Making sure you consume the recommended amount of calcium—1,000 milligrams a day for women aged 18-50 and 1,300 milligrams for teenagers—helps ensure that your bones will remain strong after you have weaned your baby. Good news: you recover the bone lost during breastfeeding within 6 months of weaning your baby.

Good sources of calcium:

  • milk
  • cheese
  • yogurt
  • calcium-fortified juice
  • tofu
  • dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale, broccoli or dried beans
  • fortified foods such as breakfast cereal
  • canned salmon
  • almonds

If you can’t get your 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day, talk to your doctor or nutritionist about a dietary supplement of calcium. Remember: consuming 1,000 milligrams of calcium daily—not only while breastfeeding but throughout life until you reach menopause—will decrease your risk of osteoporosis later in life.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D—often known as the “sunshine vitamin”—is just as important as calcium when it comes to maintaining bone strength. Vitamin D is essential for absorbing dietary calcium from your intestinal tract. Most experts currently recommend getting at least 400 IU of daily vitamin D, but some suggest getting as much as 1,000 IU.

Exposure to sunlight is one of the best ways to get your vitamin D, but it’s not the safest, given concerns about skin cancer. It’s also unreliable and depends a great deal on where you live. Instead, get vitamin D from salmon, mackerel, fortified milk or orange juice and yogurt. In addition, some ready-to-eat breakfast cereals are fortified with vitamin D. And as is the case with calcium, you can get vitamin D from supplements, too.

Protein

Protein is another crucial component of a healthy diet while you are breastfeeding. Protein builds, repairs and maintains body tissues and you need 6-6½ ounces a day when you’re nursing. You can get this by eating 2-3 servings of lean meat, poultry or fish, 1 egg, 1 tablespoon of peanut butter, nuts (12 almonds or 24 pistachios, for instance) or dried beans (¼ cup cooked). Include fish in your weekly diet too, especially fatty fish such as salmon, tuna and mackerel. These types of fish are rich sources of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), an omega-3 fatty acid that is found in breast milk and contributes to growth and development of an infant’s brain and eyes.

Iron

Iron helps breastfeeding mothers maintain their energy level, so be sure to get enough of this important mineral in your diet. Lean meats and dark leafy green vegetables are good sources of iron. Other sources include fish, iron-fortified cereals and the dark meat in poultry.

Tea and dairy may interfere with iron absorption, so you may want to avoid drinking tea or eating/drinking dairy products when you eat iron-rich foods or take iron supplements. On the other hand, foods that are rich in vitamin C can enhance iron absorption. So consider pairing ground beef with spinach, or take your multivitamin/mineral supplement with a glass of orange juice.

Folic Acid

Nursing mothers should get at least 400 micrograms of folate, or folic acid, daily to prevent birth defects in future children and ensure their babies’ continued normal development. Spinach and other green vegetables are excellent sources of folic acid, as are citrus fruits or juices, many kinds of beans, and meat or poultry liver. You can also get folic acid from breads, cereal and grains, which are enriched with folate in the U.S.

Fluids

Drink lots of water, frequently, preferably before you feel thirsty, and drink more if your urine appears dark yellow. In fact, we recommend having a glass of water nearby when you breastfeed your baby. Avoid juices and sugary drinks; too much sugar can contribute to weight gain and too much caffeine in your breast milk can interfere with your baby’s sleep.

Supplements: yes or no?

To make sure you are getting all of the important vitamins and minerals you need to make healthy, nutritious breast milk for your newborn, you may want to take a daily multivitamin (or continue taking your daily prenatal vitamin, if you were taking them while pregnant). Keep in mind, though, that supplements are an addition to a healthy diet, not a replacement. The best, healthiest diet while breastfeeding is still fresh vitamin- and mineral-rich foods.

Avoid alcohol and unnecessary medications

Remember, everything you eat and drink goes into your breastmilk, and therefore into your baby. At Westchester Health Pediatrics, we feel it’s very important for the health of your baby to avoid alcohol while breastfeeding, and to also avoid any medications that are not absolutely necessary.

More information on breastfeeding

To learn more about the important benefits of breastfeeding, visit these pages on our Westchester Health Pediatrics website:

Questions about breastfeeding? Want to learn more? Come see us.

At Westchester Health Pediatrics, we have years of experience with newborns, expectant moms and breastfeeding and we’re here for you with tips, advice and support. Also, we know that for a lot of moms, breastfeeding can be tough. We have two certified lactation specialists who can personally work with you and your baby so that breastfeeding becomes a positive, successful experience for both of you. We can also tell you about breastfeeding classes offered at the hospital where you plan to deliver, which can make the whole process easier. We look forward to joining you on this wonderful journey!

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By Lauren Adler, MD, FAAP, pediatrician with Westchester Health Pediatrics.

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About the Author: ML Ball