While all of your dietary choices matter when it comes to your breastfeeding diet—and there are a variety of foods that are best eschewed entirely (we’ll get into that shortly)—focusing on these seven categories will help set you and your baby up for success.
Those who are breastfeeding require up to 750 more calories, as well as 20 extra grams of protein, per day to support their bodily needs along with those of their baby. “Newborns need protein to build things like muscle, bone and hormones, so mothers should be including protein-rich foods into their daily diet,” says Ross. Consider items like lentils, beans and legumes, dairy, fish, meat, and eggs, which are all good sources of protein.
Essential Fatty Acids
As mentioned above, fats matter—as do fatty acids. “Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are fats needed for newborn brain development, and immunity, as well as healthy skin and hair, so mothers should be including plenty in their diets,” says Ross. “Useful EFAs food sources include nuts and seeds (walnuts, flax, and sunflower seeds have high levels), cold water oily fish (think salmon), and sea vegetables like kelp or nori.”
While Vitamin D is essential for skeletal development and immunity, only small amounts can be found in breast milk. “Maternal stores of vitamin D are largely sunlight dependent, so depending on the mothers underlying vitamin D status, breast milk may not have adequate levels,” says Ross. “This becomes even more important for mothers with darker skin tones who are more commonly deficient.” Ross recommends getting guidance from a registered nutritionist around supplementing for yourself and your newborn.
“B vitamins such as folate, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12 are essential for many aspects of your baby’s growth, so include daily serving of foods like eggs, yeast extract, leafy green veggies, and whole grains to provide your body and baby what they need.”
“Calcium is involved in your baby’s bone development, and calcium requirements are very high during breastfeeding, in order to support this time of rapid skeletal growth,” says Ross. Calcium-rich options include dairy products, tinned sardines (with the soft bones), cabbage, broccoli, tahini, and other dark green vegetables. Calcium-enriched cereals, juices, yogurt, and tofu can help, too.
“The mineral iron can become depleted in mothers during pregnancy, so by the time baby is born iron deficiency may be present, and it can become easy for babies to become iron deficient, too,” says Ross. “To manage your iron levels, I advise getting your iron status checked through your healthcare provider (who may prescribe supplementation), and focus on consuming iron-rich foods like lentils, white beans, rye, dried fruit like figs, apricots, and dates and meat.”
“As 84 percent of breastmilk is made of water, it makes sense to stay adequately hydrated for both you and your baby,” says Ross, who recommends 90 to 100 ounces (or 11 to 12 glasses of water) per day.
Which Foods Should I Avoid While Breastfeeding?
“There are many foods that should be avoided during pregnancy to avoid harm to your baby’s development, beginning with caffeine and alcohol, stimulant foods that pass through breast milk and can affect your milk supply,” says Ross. “The effects of these substances can also interfere with your baby’s sleep and digestive health, so while you are breastfeeding, it’s best to avoid them.”
Ross also suggest avoiding foods high in mercury like large oily fish (swordfish, tuna, king mackerel), as heavy metals are neurotoxins and harmful to both you and your baby.
Which About Breastfeeding Supplements?
Prenatal vitamins are essentially multivitamins with an increased dose of folic acid—the better to support cell growth and processes. And while continuing to use them while breastfeeding is common, doses may exceed your necessary iron and folic acid levels.
That said, the choice is beneficial for some breastfeeding mothers. “Vitamin and mineral requirements can be up to 100 percent higher than your pre-pregnancy needs, and you may want to consider a breastfeeding supplement to help fill in any nutritional gaps or to help address deficiencies,” says Ross.
Confer with a healthcare provider and a nutritionist to determine the best plan based on your, and your baby’s, needs.