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A guide to food and drink for breastfeeding moms

New moms often wonder what they can and can’t eat while breastfeeding. Here’s what our lactation consultant says.

By Chris Clark, IBCLC, RCP, RMP
August 16, 2017

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New moms will often rejoice that the dietary limitations of pregnancy are over. And I’ve seen more than one mom celebrate with a large latte or their favorite deli meat after giving birth! But then a new worry often sets in: does breastfeeding affect what I can and cannot eat?

As a lactation consultant, I get to deliver some good news to mom. That news is that there aren’t any foods that you absolutely can’t eat while breastfeeding! However, there are a few guidelines I recommend.

Eat a well-balanced diet

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 with breastmilk!

Your body needs more calories right now – about 500 more per day. So I tell moms that an easy way to build in those extra calories is to add value when preparing food. If you’re mixing up some oatmeal, toss a handful of nuts on top. If you love smoothies, try adding spinach for some extra nutrients. I find that it’s easier for moms to do this than to try to suddenly take on a new way of cooking and eating, in addition to a new baby!

It’s natural for moms to worry about losing weight after having a baby, but be assured that your body will naturally start to shed the pounds. And it’s true that breastfeeding can help with weight loss! If you’re worried that you’re not losing weight as fast as you’d like, take your baby out for a walk rather than cutting calories.

Another important part of your diet right now is liquids. It’s important to drink plenty of water when you’re breastfeeding. I encourage you to think about trying to add a bit more water to your diet than you normally drink. You’ll naturally be 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.

What about alcohol?

You may have heard other moms say that they’ll “pump and dump” after drinking. But, that’s not necessary if you drink moderately and take a few proactive steps.

If you choose to consume alcohol, consider the following:

  1. Eat a good meal before drinking. This will help your body absorb the alcohol.
  2. Limit yourself to two drinks, and delay breastfeeding or pumping for 2-3 hours.
  3. 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.

When to get some extra guidance

Of course, I always recommend that you reach out to a lactation consultant if you have questions or concerns about breastfeeding. It’s our job to be here for those questions! But there are a few situations where it may be extra important:

  • If you take medications, ask a lactation consultant if they’re safe to use while breastfeeding. We can look up your specific medication for you, and can help work with your doctor to find alternatives if necessary.
  • If your diet usually includes a lot of fish, consult local resources like to find out how much is safe. While eating fish is one of the best ways to bring brain-boosting nutrients to your baby, it’s important to avoid or limit certain types due to higher mercury levels.
  • If your baby seems fussy after you’ve eaten certain foods, or if you’ve experienced food sensitivities in the past, a lactation consultant can help you figure out what you might need to cut out of your diet.

Breastfeeding is good for your baby in so many ways, and it’s also good for you! You reduce your risk of obesity, diabetes, cancer and heart disease later in life if you breastfeed. By eating well, you thank your body for doing the hard work of producing milk.

About Chris Clark, IBCLC, RCP, RMP

Chris Clark has spent three decades helping women with breastfeeding. One of her proudest accomplishments was bringing Kangaroo Care, a method of caring for premature babies using skin-to-skin contact, to the United States when her own child was born prematurely. Chris has been involved with mother support groups, high-risk birthing centers and rural hospitals. With her help, Regions Hospital became Baby Friendly in January 2015. That’s a World Health Organization designation that recognizes hospitals offering optimal care for infant feeding and mother/baby bonding. She has a passion for developing mentoring programs to help aspiring Lactation Consultants develop their skills. Her four children and four grandchildren help keep her pretty busy, too!

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