If you're breast-feeding, you're giving your baby nutrients that will promote his or her growth and health. You might have questions, however, about what foods and drinks are best for you — and how your diet might affect your breast milk and your baby.
Understand the basics of breast-feeding nutrition.
Do I need extra calories while breast-feeding?
Yes, you might need to eat a little more — about an additional 400 to 500 calories a day — to keep up your energy.
To get these extra calories, opt for nutrient-rich choices, such as a slice of whole-grain bread with a tablespoon (about 16 grams) of peanut butter, a banana or apple, and 8 ounces (about 227 grams) of fat-free yogurt.
What foods should I eat while breast-feeding?
There's no need to go on a special diet while breast-feeding your baby. Instead, focus on making healthy choices to help fuel your milk production.
Opt for a variety of whole grains as well as fruits and vegetables. Wash your fruits and vegetables to reduce exposure to pesticide residue.
Eating a variety of different foods while breast-feeding will change the flavor of your breast milk. This will expose your baby to different tastes, which might help him or her more easily accept solid foods down the road.
To make sure you and your baby are getting all of the vitamins you need, your health care provider might recommend continuing to take a daily prenatal vitamin until you wean your baby.
How much fluid do I need while breast-feeding?
It's important for breast-feeding moms to stay hydrated. Be sure to drink frequently, preferably before you feel thirsty, and to drink more if your urine appears dark yellow.
Have a glass of water nearby when you breast-feed your baby — or aim to drink at least eight glasses of water or other liquids a day.
Be wary of juices and sugary drinks, however. Too much sugar can contribute to weight gain — or sabotage your efforts to lose pregnancy weight.
Too much caffeine can be troublesome, too. Limit yourself to no more than 2 to 3 cups (16 to 24 ounces) of caffeinated drinks a day. Caffeine in your breast milk might agitate your baby or interfere with your baby's sleep.
What about a vegetarian diet and breast-feeding?
If you follow a vegetarian diet, you likely already know the importance of choosing foods that'll give you the nutrients you need. This is especially important during breast-feeding.
Choose foods rich in iron, protein and calcium
During breast-feeding, make an extra effort to ensure that your diet includes plenty of these nutrients.
Good sources of iron include dried beans and peas, lentils, enriched cereals, whole-grain products, dark leafy green vegetables, and dried fruit. To help your body absorb iron, eat iron-rich foods in combination with foods high in vitamin C, such as strawberries, citrus fruits, sweet bell peppers or tomatoes.
For protein, consider eggs and dairy products or plant sources, such as soy products and meat substitutes, legumes, lentils, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.
Good sources of calcium include dairy products and dark green vegetables. Other options include calcium-enriched and -fortified products, such as juices, cereals, soy milk, soy yogurt and tofu.
Your health care provider will likely recommend that you take a daily vitamin B-12 supplement and, in some cases, a vitamin D supplement.
Vitamin B-12 is found almost exclusively in animal products, so it can be difficult to get enough in some vegetarian diets. Vitamin B-12 is essential for your baby's brain development.
If you don't eat enough vitamin D-fortified foods — such as cow's milk and some cereals — and you have limited sun exposure, you might need vitamin D supplements. Your baby needs vitamin D to absorb calcium and phosphorus. Too little vitamin D can cause rickets, a softening and weakening of bones.
Be sure to tell your doctor and your baby's doctor if you're also giving your baby a vitamin D supplement.
What foods and drinks should I limit or avoid while breast-feeding?
Certain foods and drinks deserve caution while you're breast-feeding. For example:
There's no level of alcohol in breast milk that's considered safe for a baby.
If you choose to drink alcohol, avoid breast-feeding until the alcohol has completely cleared your breast milk. This typically takes two to three hours for 12 ounces (340 grams) of 5 percent beer, 5 ounces (142 grams) of 11 percent wine or 1.5 ounces (43 grams) of 40 percent liquor, depending on your body weight.
If you skip a feeding, pumping and dumping breast milk can help you maintain your milk supply. However, pumping and dumping doesn't speed the elimination of alcohol from your body.
Avoid drinking more than 2 to 3 cups (16 to 24 ounces) of caffeinated drinks a day. Remember, caffeine in your breast milk might agitate your baby or interfere with your baby's sleep.
Seafood can be a great source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Most seafood contains mercury, however. Exposure to excessive amounts of mercury through breast milk can pose a risk to a baby's developing nervous system.
To limit your baby's exposure to mercury while breast-feeding, choose seafood that's low in mercury, such as shrimp, salmon, canned light tuna and catfish. Avoid seafood that's high in mercury, including shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish.
If you eat fish from local waters, pay attention to local fish advisories. If advice isn't available, limit fish from local waters to 6 ounces (170 grams) a week and don't eat other fish that week.
Could my diet cause my baby to be fussy or have an allergic reaction?
Certain foods or drinks in your diet could cause your baby to become irritable or have an allergic reaction.
If your baby becomes fussy or develops a rash, diarrhea or congestion soon after nursing, consult your baby's doctor. These signs could indicate a food allergy.
If you suspect that something in your diet might be making your baby a little fussier than usual, avoid the food or drink for up to a week to see if it makes a difference in your baby's behavior. Consider eliminating dairy products or other allergenic foods or ingredients, such as:
- Cow's milk
- Tree nuts
Some breast-feeding women say that avoiding spicy or gassy foods, such as onions or cabbage, can help — but this hasn't been proved through research. Also, you might try eliminating or reducing the amount of caffeine in your diet.
For help determining links between your diet and your baby's behavior, you might keep a food diary. List everything you eat and drink, along with notes about how your baby seems to react — if at all.
If removing a certain food or drink from your diet has no impact on your baby's fussiness, add it back to your diet and consider other possible culprits instead. If you're concerned about your baby's behavior, consult your baby's doctor.
Remember, there's no need to go on a special diet while you're breast-feeding. Simply focus on making healthy choices — and you and your baby will reap the rewards.