The question is often asked, “What should I eat (or not eat) while breastfeeding? The simplest answer is….a nutritious diet. Yes, this what you’ve been told growing up, even though vegetables may not have been your top pick going through the school lunch line. Yes, it’s what you were taught in health class. And yes, just like when you were pregnant, eating for two didn’t mean eating whatever and however much you wanted. It meant eating a quality diet for you and your baby. However, just as you probably marveled at how your body developed this new baby of yours inside of you (in spite of maybe a less than perfect diet) know that while you were pregnant, your body was preparing for lactation by storing extra nutrients and fat for milk production.
So, hopefully, during your pregnancy, your overall eating habits improved. To continue those better eating practices has ongoing benefits throughout your life, including while breastfeeding. But, don’t worry if your diet during pregnancy wasn’t the best (and still isn’t), lactating women don’t have to eat a perfect diet to produce good breastmilk for their baby. Women around the world, even with limited variety of foods, make ample amounts of quality milk for their babies. A nutritious diet is recommended, though, not just because you’re breastfeeding, it’s what’s in the best interest for your health.
What needs to be different with your diet while breastfeeding? There actually is some need for increased calories and fluids. Your body is producing a liquid food with calories for your baby. Listen to your body. If you’re hungry or thirsty, eat or drink more. It’s helpful to keep some simple nutritious snacks and water by the area where you most often sit to breastfeed your baby. If family or friends ask how they can help, request they prepare a home cooked meal for you. And, if you’re a planner (especially while pregnant) – cook larger batches and freeze some healthy meals ahead of time. This will help you continue to eat healthy when you’re exhausted from those sleepless nights caring for a newborn. Looking for some new ideas to eat healthy but save time and money, check out this Extension website called, “Spend Smart, Eat Smart.” http://www.extension.iastate.edu/foodsavings/
So what is a “nutritious” diet? There’s an old standard saying to a healthy diet; eat a variety of foods in moderation. Eat lots of fruit and vegetables, enjoying a variety of colors. Choose whole grains and low fat dairy foods. Protein foods can include lean meat, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, nuts and seeds. Continue to follow the fish guidelines you had during pregnancy limiting to no more than 12 oz. per week while avoiding high mercury fish. http://www.choosemyplate.gov/moms-food-safety-fish Use healthful oils, in small amounts. Limit the “empty calorie” foods that are found in foods high in added sugars and fats such as desserts, fried foods and sodas.
Not sure how many calories to eat? This varies on your weight, height, age, activity level, if exclusively breastfeeding or supplementing. So, for more specifics use the “My Plan” food tracker offered at: http://www.choosemyplate.gov/moms-daily-food-plan
Another advantage to you eating healthy while breastfeeding is you set the stage for your baby to prefer nutritious foods. What foods you eat flavor your breastmilk. So, your baby will have the preference to the foods you eat as he or she begin eating solid foods. http://www.eatright.org/resource/health/pregnancy/breast-feeding/expanding-your-babys-flavor-horizons
So, don’t fret about needing to eat a perfect diet while breastfeeding. Your body is designed to make an amazing food for your baby to thrive on, irregardless of eating a perfect diet on your part. Do the best you can to make overall healthy choices. Respond to your body’s hunger and thirst mechanism. Then know that by breastfeeding, you’re giving you and your baby a gift of health that lasts a lifetime!