New moms will often rejoice that the dietary limitations of pregnancy are over. And more than one mom has celebrated with sushi or a large latte after giving birth. But then a new worry often sets in: does breastfeeding affect what you can and cannot eat?
Fortunately, there’s some good news for moms: there aren’t any foods that you absolutely can’t eat while breastfeeding. However, there are a few recommended guidelines.
Tips for eating a well-balanced diet while breastfeeding
Just like there aren’t any specific foods that you can’t eat, there aren’t any specific foods you need to eat while breastfeeding. It’s more important to have a nutritious diet overall. Eating well is the single best thing you can do for yourself and your baby when you’re breastfeeding. If you’re eating foods that are good for you, then you’re nourishing your body. And your body is working hard to nourish your baby’s body through breastmilk.
How much should you eat while breastfeeding?
Your body needs more calories right now – about 500 more per day – and you may be able to tell as your hunger increases. But the need for additional calories doesn’t mean you should reach for your favorite pint of ice cream or bag of chips. Focus on adding nutritious calories to your diet to help improve your energy levels. For example, if you eat a lot of pre-bagged salads, add some canned chickpeas or other beans for more protein. If you love smoothies, add a spoonful of nut butter. Making small additions to what you usually eat is an easier way to add calories and fuel without taking on a new way of cooking and eating.
What are the best nutrient dense foods for breastfeeding?
Even though eating foods that contain a variety of nutrients is perfectly healthy, there are a few nutrients that provide important benefits to breastfeeding moms. These include protein, iron, calcium, vitamin D, iodine and choline. Great options for meeting your calorie and nutrient needs include:
- Lean meats, which offer long-lasting energy from protein, as well as choline, zinc, iron and B vitamins.
- Whole grains, which can sate hunger and help digestion with their fiber content, and are often fortified with a wide variety of vitamins and minerals.
- Eggs, another quality protein full of choline, vitamin D and folate.
- Dairy, for more protein, plus high iodine and calcium content.
- Legumes (beans and lentils), which are excellent sources of plant-based protein, iron and calcium, as well as choline and antioxidants.
- Leafy green vegetables, for more fiber, calcium and a variety of other vitamins.
Eating two or three servings per day from a couple of these options, and filling the rest of your plate with fruits and veggies, will make for a relatively complete breastfeeding diet.
How much water should you drink while breastfeeding?
Another important part of your diet right now is liquids. It’s important to drink plenty of water when you’re breastfeeding. Aim to get a couple more glasses of water into your diet than you normally drink. You may naturally feel thirstier, so keep a glass of water nearby when you sit down to nurse. You’ll know if you’re getting enough water if your urine stays clear to pale yellow.
Taking supplements while breastfeeding
Just like you were probably prescribed a prenatal vitamin to help get all your nutrients during pregnancy, your doctor or midwife may prescribe a multivitamin for you while you breastfeed. Other supplements may also be recommended depending on any dietary restrictions you have.
If there are other supplements you want to take while you breastfeed, talk to your care provider.
Foods that may increase milk supply
You may have heard that eating certain foods can increase how much milk you produce – this could be due to their phytoestrogen or iron content. But there isn’t a lot of research to support this theory. However, many of the foods that supposedly have this benefit – like oatmeal, lean meats and garlic – are very nutritious, so they can still have a beneficial place in your diet.
Foods to limit (or avoid) while breastfeeding
Again, there aren’t any universal rules about what you can and can’t eat while breastfeeding. However, there are some things that should be limited, and if your baby has allergies, there may be foods you need to completely avoid.
Some types of fish
If your diet usually includes a lot of fish, consult local resources like our guide to find out how much fish is safe to eat. While eating fish is one of the best ways to bring brain-boosting omega-3 fatty acids to your baby, it’s important to avoid or limit certain types due to their mercury levels.
The good news is that unlike during pregnancy, you can eat sushi while breastfeeding.
If you drink caffeinated beverages, small amounts of caffeine will enter your breast milk. Generally, this isn’t an issue unless you exceed 300 milligrams of caffeine per day (roughly 2-3 cups of coffee). But if you notice that your baby gets fussy or has trouble sleeping after you’ve had your preferred source of caffeine, you may want to decrease how much you drink.
You may have heard other moms say that they’ll “pump and dump” after drinking alcohol. But, that’s not necessary if you drink moderately and take a few proactive steps:
- Eat a good meal before drinking. This will help your body absorb the alcohol.
- According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, alcohol levels are at their highest around 30-60 minutes after a drink. So, it’s recommended to limit yourself to one drink per day and delay breastfeeding or pumping for 2-3 hours afterwards.
- If you need to feed your baby before 2-3 hours have passed and you are feeling the effects of alcohol, use milk you have previously pumped.
Though it’s still safe to have a bit of alcohol, studies show that alcohol can decrease milk production. Plus, consuming more than a moderate amount can impact your baby’s development, so it’s best to avoid or limit alcohol while breastfeeding.
Common allergens like dairy, soy, nuts or shellfish
Though rare, you may discover that your baby develops symptoms (such as fussiness, gas or a skin rash) to certain foods – common allergens include dairy, soy, nuts or shellfish. Keeping a log of what you eat can be helpful if you’re trying to identify which foods cause symptoms in your breastfed baby. Once you have a suspect, try eliminating it from your diet for a week to see if the symptoms improve. A lactation consultant can help with this process.
But if you notice more severe symptoms after feeding, like diarrhea, wheezing, rashes or eczema flare-ups, talk to your baby’s doctor.
Losing weight while breastfeeding
It’s natural for moms to worry about losing weight after pregnancy, but be assured that your body will naturally start to shed the pounds. Remember, your body needs extra calories right now, so the last thing you want to do is deprive yourself of them. If you’re worried that you’re not losing weight as fast as you’d like, talk to your doctor about an ideal weight range for you, and how to achieve your goals in a healthy manner.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Both nutrition and breastfeeding can be complicated topics. Fortunately, lactation consultants can help with both. Don’t hesitate to reach out to a lactation consultant with any questions you have, whether they’re about latching, supplements, food sensitivities, or how to know if baby is getting enough breastmilk.