The Best Foods for Breastfeeding

The Best Foods for Breastfeeding

“If it wasn’t fastened to the wall, I was eating it!” Never in my life have I been hungrier than when I was breastfeeding my babies. New mom’s are sleep-deprived and time-strapped which makes it hard to eat well. We can end up reaching for easy, convenient foods in the pantry which aren’t always ‘healthy’ and certainly not the best foods for breastfeeding.

What Should You Eat? Everything! Eat, eat and eat some more. Your body is burning an extra 500 calories as it produces the needed 1 to 2 kilograms of milk each day while you're breastfeeding. Plus, you’re still healing from having a baby. So, eat up! But, be sure to reach for foods that are packed with nutrients such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, and seeds. Skip the pantry full of empty calories (cookies, crackers, white pasta, candy). And, drink lots of water – thirst can almost be unquenchable when you’re nursing.

Focus on Protein Breastfeeding women are advised to consume more protein than normal (about 12 to 15 grams more per day). The extra protein is thought to cover the required protein needed for milk production. You can meet this increased need for protein, as well as your energy needs, by drinking 3 cups of milk each day. But, that will not help you get the needed vitamin C, vitamin E, iron, zinc and folic acid you need while breastfeeding. So, instead of drinking milk all day, reach for a variety of good-for-you foods like berries, vegetable oils, leafy green vegetables, nuts and seeds.

Don’t Forget About Fish

Your breast milk is your baby’s only source of the essential fats DHA, GLA, and arachodonic acid. These essential fats help your baby’s brain and eyes develop, and keep his/her immune system strong. If you aren’t eating enough of these fats in your diet – neither is your baby. Eat more fish and seek out plant oils – the fats you consume in your diet show up in your breast milk within 6 hours. And, skip the trans fats hiding in fried and packaged foods – these bad fats can be harmful to your baby.

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What to Avoid

Luckily, most of the foods you’re advised to avoid during pregnancy (alcohol, raw fish, hot dogs, deli meat, etc), are less of a concern now. However, most of what you eat ends up in your breast milk – so eat wisely. Avoiding alcohol and caffeine are still great ideas. You may also want to watch for symptoms of unhappiness in your baby after you eat foods that cause your digestive system distress (spicy foods, cabbage, beans, onions, dairy, gluten). If your baby is showing digestive discomfort, or just crankiness for no apparent reason, write down what you ate for the last six hours, look for links between certain foods in your diet and your baby’s behavior.

Eat Enough but Lose the Weight

Many moms say that breast feeding helped them lose weight. Well, that may not be a proven fact; however, breastfeeding does burn around 500 calories a day. If you’re concerned about your so-called ‘baby-weight’ remind yourself that it took 9 months to create your baby-body, so you should give it 9 months to transform back before you really worry about your weight. Doing regular exercise such as walking once your body has healed, eating a healthy diet and, getting enough rest are the best ways to help your body get back into shape.

Most importantly – do not diet! You must eat enough food, and drink plenty of water in order for your body to produce sufficient milk for your baby.

Your body stores up enough fat to help you get through the first 3 months but, after that you may find that you need to find extra calories in your diet to keep up with your body’s needs. If your weight falls below the ideal weight be sure to increase your calorie intake appropriately to ensure your low body weight does not affect your ability to produce sufficient breast milk for your baby.

Breast is Best

The World Health Organization and UNICEF advise that breastfeeding occurs for at least 6 months of age and up to two years of age (and beyond) to help a child stay healthy. But, remember to eat, eat, and eat right while breastfeeding. The process of producing breast milk is almost as tasking on your body as producing a baby. Your body needs more nutrients now than you can imagine and your baby needs lots of iron, protein, DHA, calcium, folate, and other nutrients to continue to grow and flourish. If you’re creating a recipe for a healthy breastfeeding diet, then focus on leafy greens, meat, fish, whole grains, nuts, seeds, dairy, and berries.

Fact: The nutritional value of breast milk is superior to that found in infant formulas, plus it is economical, sanitary and convenient. Breast milk also offers your baby additional immunity.

Read more about the benefits of breastfeeding

Helpful Hints for Quick Munchies

  • When your partner is home, have them cut up some veggies and leave them in and easy-to-open-with-one-hand in the fridge so you can grab them quickly when you’re hungry but your baby is too fussy to let you prepare some food.
  • Buy hummus or other protein-containing dips to enjoy with your veggies sticks.
  • Keep bottles of water and a container of mixed nuts, seeds and dried fruit close to where you sit to breastfeed to ensure you eat and drink while you can.
  • Cut up cheese into bite size pieces and store in the fridge, and buy small, individual servings of yogurt.
  • To curb your nagging-appetite reach for foods full of fibre, protein and nutrients (seeds, nuts, dairy, whole grains, fish, vegetables)

More Fish Leads to Healthier Babies Experts are finding that babies that don’t get enough of these fats from their mom may be at a disadvantage. The long-term consequences of inadequate levels of omega-3 fatty acids are not completely understood, though research knows that infants who do not receive enough omega-3 fatty acids in their diet have lower visual acuity and a great risk for developing attention deficit disorders (ADD and ADHD) and depression later in life. In addition, breastfed infants perform better on cognitive functions tests later in life than those fed standard formula.

Read more about how to get Omega-3s during pregnancy

Skip the BBQ Based on research from the University of Guelph in Canada, breastfeeding mothers who consume charred meat are passing potentially cancer-causing compounds onto their babies. As fat drips onto the coals or hot surface, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), a known carcinogen, is formed and is carried back up and onto the meat by smoke. Barbecued meat also contains another known carcinogen, heterocyclic amines (HCAs). Both carcinogens make their way into breast milk.

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As a Nutritional Expert, author and mom, Allison knows just how important healthy eating is…and, how challenging that can be in real-life. You can bet your next latte that Allison believes healthy eating can include eating your cake too. Her goal is to make the science of nutrition easy for everyone to swallow. Find how nutrition fits into real life at