Just as when you were pregnant, your nutrition during lactation has an important impact on your health and the health of your baby.
There is no special diet you should follow while breastfeeding. Research has shown that unless they are extremely malnourished, mothers make enough milk for their babies — and if they eat a healthy, varied diet, the milk will have all the nutrients their babies need.
The US Department of Health and Human Services released recommendations in 2005 that everyone should follow; you can find them at www.mypyramid.gov. They include:
- At least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day (choose from a variety of different ones — when it comes to nutrition, the more color the better)
- Choose whole grains, such as in whole-wheat bread, brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, instead of refined carbohydrates like white bread
- Keep dietary fats to less than 35% of total calories, and limit saturated fats and trans fats
- Keep sugary foods to a minimum
- Choose low-fat protein sources, such as low-fat cuts of meat and vegetable sources of protein, such as legumes.
Breastfeeding mothers generally need about 500 calories more per day than they would normally eat, but that may be too much for some mothers and not enough for others, based on their activity level and baseline weight — and on whether they are exclusively breastfeeding or giving some formula as well. The mypyramid.gov website has a special section for breastfeeding moms that can help you make the best dietary choices possible based on your particular needs and situation.
- Iron — from meat, iron-fortified foods such as cereals, and iron-containing vegetables such as spinach (make sure you get enough vitamin C as well, from fruits and vegetables, to help in iron absorption)
- Folic acid — available in meat, legumes, dark leafy vegetables, and fortified foods (folate is added to many cereals, for example)
- Calcium — found in dairy products, green leafy vegetables, and fortified juices
- Vitamin D — found in fortified milk, eggs, and fish
In general, if you eat a varied diet with lots of different fruits, vegetables and sources of protein, you will get the nutrients you need. Most practitioners, however, recommend that nursing mothers take a multivitamin to be on the safe side; talk to your health care practitioner to see if that would be a good idea for you.
While fish has lots of great nutrients, it often contains mercury, which can be dangerous for growing babies. Breastfeeding moms should avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish, as they contain high levels of mercury, and should limit their consumption of other kinds of fish. For more information on mercury in fish, and how to eat it safely, visit: www.mypyramid.gov/mypyramidmoms/food_safety_fish.html
It's important to get enough fluid. Water is your best bet, as sodas and juices contain extra calories you don't need. You should drink enough fluids that your urine is light-colored. Get in the habit of drinking every time you nurse; carrying a water bottle in the diaper bag can help.
Most mothers who are breastfeeding usually can eat and enjoy whatever foods they love. The flavor of the mother's milk allows the infant to taste the flavors of your family's cuisine. A few mothers notice reactions to foods in their diets. If an infant has a problem with something the mother eats, the baby usually will show symptoms within a few hours of feeding, such as crying, vomiting, fussiness, irritability, rash, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, or red rash around the baby's rectum. Such reactions are rare. If you suspect a reaction, talk to your baby's health care provider.
It's also important to talk to your doctor or your baby's doctor before taking any medications, including homeopathic or alternative medications, while breastfeeding.