Nourishing your body is important while breastfeeding because your health directly impacts the quality of your breast milk. Everything you eat could end up in your milk at least in small quantities, and that will have an impact on how your baby feels and grows.
Does that stress you out? It shouldn’t.
The reality is most women can eat what they want without harming their babies in any way. Your body has the amazing ability to create milk with just the right nutrients for your baby’s current stage of growth even if you enjoy a few too many doughnuts or greasy burgers. An unhealthy diet will impact your energy level and mood, but it’s less likely to slow your baby’s growth rate.
It’s still worth taking a minute to learn about the best and worst foods for breastfeeding mothers. Your health, emotional state and energy levels are just as important as your baby. You don’t need to get super strict on your diet, but giving it some attention will help you recover from the birthing process and settle into life with your new baby in confidence.
Does Diet Affect Breast Milk?
Some babies have food sensitivities or allergies (Hein, 2013), and they may react to food that makes its way into your breast milk. You will likely notice that your baby is fussy or suffers from gas, diarrhea or other discomforts after eating. Rashes may also develop on any area of the body. Some babies will get fussy while eating, and others may take a bit of time for the offending substance to take effect and cause discomfort.
You should talk to your doctor about identifying foods in your diet that may cause this reaction in your baby. Dairy is one of the most common food sensitivities or allergies for babies, so you may try removing those foods to see if your baby’s symptoms improve.
If your baby breastfeeds successfully and seems content and satisfied after each feeding, you probably shouldn’t worry about sensitivities to the nutrients in your breast milk. That doesn’t mean you don’t have to think about your diet because what you eat impacts how you feel and your ability to comfortably breastfeed your little one.
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The Best Breastfeeding Foods
The best foods to eat while breastfeeding (Mayo Clinic, 2019) are packed with healthy fats, protein, vitamins and minerals. You need carbohydrates as well. Just try to select whole grains with minimal processing because they offer the most nutrients and will help boost your energy levels for breastfeeding.
To create a healthy breastfeeding meal plan, follow these guidelines:
- Start with lean protein sources. Chicken, turkey, eggs and fish are great, but you can also include lean hamburger, steak and other red meats.
- Add sources of healthy fat like avocado and coconut oil.
- Add fresh fruits and vegetables. Aim to buy produce in a variety of rich colors because those colors represent different vitamins and minerals that your body needs.
- Toss in some high-quality carbohydrates, but don’t go too crazy here if you’re trying to bounce back to your pre-baby weight. Oatmeal plus whole grain bread, rice and pasta will keep you energized and help you feel full.
- Make sure you’re drinking a lot of water because you’re using a lot of it to make that breast milk.
Notice that no food group is left out of this healthy breastfeeding diet plan. While protein-rich diets are considered best for most new mothers, you still need your carbs. You may also opt for a vegetarian diet, but make sure you’re getting the protein you need from plant-based sources.
Related Article> 30 Foods that Increase Your Might Supply
Should You Eat Fish While Breastfeeding?
We mentioned fish as a good source of protein in a breastfeeding diet, but you may have some concerns about mercury and other contaminants that are often found in seafoods. You should look for fish sources that are low in mercury, but it is important to consume fish at least a few times per week because babies depend on the omega-3 fatty acids for brain development. You also get vitamin D and other healthy nutrients, but those fatty acids are difficult to get in large quantities from other foods.
Some types of fish are known to have a lot of mercury and aren’t healthy for breastfeeding women, including:
- Orange roughy
- Bigeye tuna
- King mackerel
You should stay away from sushi as well because the raw fish used may contain mercury or other heavy metals. Always source your fish from high-quality manufacturers and pay attention to any recalls on the market.
If you don’t like fish or you don’t want to consume it while pregnant, you can take a fish oil supplement (National Library of Medicine (US); 2006) instead. That will deliver the fatty acids that your baby needs to grow a healthy brain while reducing the risk of heavy metal contamination from the sea. Make sure you find a high-quality fish oil supplement. Your doctor may recommend one if you ask.
Foods to Avoid While Breastfeeding
Should you eat sugar while breastfeeding? Will caffeine give your new baby the jitters? If so, does the caffeine in chocolate count? New mothers often have so many questions about foods they assume aren’t good for their babies.
On one hand, any food that’s unhealthy for your body is likely unhealthy for your baby’s body as well. While your baby is still growing and has his own nutritional needs right now, he’s still a lot like you when it comes to foods that serve a purpose for growth and energy and foods that are just empty calories.
On the other hand, most of what you eat in moderation won’t impact your breast milk or your baby. Don’t’ stress out if you eat a slice of birthday cake or go for a cup of coffee to get going in the morning. Most babies aren’t going to notice small amounts of those foods in your breast milk. In fact, they may appreciate the different flavors that you introduce to your breast milk by consuming a variety of foods each day.
That said, there are some foods that you should consider with caution while breastfeeding. Whether you eliminate these foods entirely is up to you, but we want to make you aware of the reasons you may want to steer clear until your baby becomes an independent eater.
- Alcoholic Beverages – Can’t a new mom enjoy a margarita or perhaps celebrate one night with a shot or two? You can consume alcohol while breastfeeding, but make sure you wait at least a few hours after drinking to feed your baby. The alcohol will stay in your breast milk as long as your blood alcohol level is up, so you need to come down from your buzz before pumping or breastfeeding. If you have a freezer stash, you may want to give yourself a night off and use some of that supply to ensure the alcohol has left your system before your baby takes to the nipple again.
- Caffeine – Coffee, caffeinated teas, energy drinks and even foods that contain caffeine can make an appearance in your breast milk. Your baby is less likely to respond to the energy jolt as he grows older, but infants can sometimes react to even small amounts of caffeine. If you find that your caffeine habit keeps your baby from napping soundly or causes some fussiness, you can cut it out or limit the amount you drink until your baby is older. This takes some experimentation because many babies have no reaction to caffeine at all, especially in small quantities.
- Peppermint – Peppermint is great for a breath refresher, but it’s not so great for your milk. Some women can safely consume a little peppermint without noticing an impact on supply while others seem more sensitive. It’s best to step away from the peppermint while your baby depends on your milk for nourishment.
- Sage and Parsley – These herbs are also believed to impact the amount of milk a woman produces, so put them in the do-not-ingest category with peppermint to be on the safe side. The most damage comes when you consume these herbs in high quantities or too frequently, so don’t panic if you discover it was added to a pre-packaged food or a meal prepared by someone else.
- Sugar – Your baby isn’t likely to react to sugar, especially if you’re consuming it in reasonable quantities or on an infrequent basis. The problem is more for your health. Sugary foods are empty calories that can contribute to weight gain and sluggishness in the long run. It’s best to go for healthier snacks like fresh fruit or cheese with whole-grain crackers.
Notice that most foods you enjoy on a daily basis probably aren’t on this list. That’s why we urge breastfeeding moms to relax a little when it comes to food selection. You can enjoy your favorite foods and still nourish your baby successfully, and even a little sugar or caffeine here and there won’t hurt.
Safe Dieting While Breastfeeding – Is It Possible?
Now, onto the question that many new mothers have: Can I diet while breastfeeding? You want to get out of the maternity pants and back into your everyday wardrobe. Perhaps you need to return to work soon and want to wear your business attire with confidence.
The answer to dieting while breastfeeding is only if you do it safely. You don’t want to reduce calories dramatically. In fact, you need a few extra hundred calories each day to sustain the extra energy required to make and deliver all of that milk for your baby. Severe calorie reduction can impact your health and may also impact the quality and quantity of your breast milk.
That said, there are ways to boost your ability to burn fat and lose weight while breastfeeding. Don’t cut out food groups or start eating 1,000 calories a day, but you may take some of these actions instead:
- Replace processed foods with fresh foods. Instead of heating up a frozen pizza, make a big salad loaded with fresh veggies and drizzle on a low-fat vinaigrette dressing. Fresh fruits and vegetables with a lot of lean protein and some whole carbohydrates will eliminate a lot of the empty calories that are found in processed foods while increasing the nutritional value of your food.
- Keep your snacks small and healthy. Weight gain often comes from grazing on high-calorie snacks throughout the day or night. If your snacks are sugary or empty of nutritional value, then you’re doing your body a favor by replacing them with healthier options anyway.
- Pay attention to your motivation for eating. It’s easy to grab a snack when what you really need is sleep or a long, hot shower to calm your nerves. If you eat out of boredom, frustration or exhaustion, you’re likely to do a lot of extra eating in the early months of motherhood. Pay attention to your body and try to find alternative activities if food isn’t really what you need.
- Drink a lot of water. Dehydration can feel a lot like hunger, but food won’t quench that thirst and get rid of the symptoms. You need a lot of water to produce breast milk as well, so keep a bottle of water on hand at all times.
Don’t Stress Out Over Food
You have enough to worry about as a breastfeeding mother. Don’t allow your food choices to overwhelm you or keep you awake when it’s time to get that much-needed rest. Most of the foods you enjoy eating are likely healthy for your breast milk. In most cases, those foods will have little to no impact on the quality or quantity of your breast milk anyway.
Pay attention to the foods we listed as things you might want to avoid or limit, but otherwise enjoy your meals and snacks. You need the energy to get through the long days and sleepless nights that come naturally with a newborn baby.
As your baby grows, you will have more and more freedom to eat what you want right when you want it. Even if your baby has some sensitivities to caffeine, dairy, eggs or other foods right now, you will eventually get to eat everything again. Breastfeeding only lasts for a year or two. Enjoy it.