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As a breastfeeding mom, what you eat can affect your growing baby and your own body and energy levels. It is true that you don’t need to eat the perfect diet to produce good quality breast milk. But what you eat as a nursing mom does matter.
When it comes to a healthy eating plan for breastfeeding mothers, I believe in the keep it simple philosophy. My goal is to provide you with the information you need so that you can make healthy eating for breastfeeding effortless.
Following a simple eating plan for breastfeeding mothers will ensure that both you and your baby get the nutrients and calories you need.
WHY YOU NEED A HEALTHY EATING PLAN FOR BREASTFEEDING MOTHERS
Making breast milk requires both calories and nutrients. You need to make conscientious food and drink choices so that you are regularly replacing the nutrients that breastfeeding requires.
Choosing the right foods will ensure that your baby will grow and you will not deplete your body of the nutrients it needs to function optimally.
WHAT TYPE OF FOOD SHOULD A BREASTFEEDING MOTHER EAT?
Busy moms want to know what foods to eat while breastfeeding. Making sure you get all the necessary nutrients can feel overwhelming and seem time consuming.
Creating healthy meals for breastfeeding women does not have to be complicated.
Because some of you will want all the nitty gritty details, I will share specific nutrient recommendations for those who like to geek out on that kind of information.
But don’t get bogged down by all the numbers. I will also give you tips so that you can easily have a healthy eating plan while breastfeeding.
HOW MANY CALORIES DOES A NURSING MOM NEED?
New moms who are nursing often have two concerns when it comes to calories. Your first priority is to ensure you take in enough calories to produce an abundant milk supply.
Many moms may also want to restrict calories to the extent they are able so that they can lose that baby weight without decreasing their production of breast milk.
Most women can have good milk production while also losing weight by slightly restricting calories.
The recommended caloric needs for an exclusively breastfeeding mom are 500 calories above what you needed before pregnancy. For a well-nourished woman, this is around 2300 to 2500 calories per day (Source).
You probably can safely reduce that number if you are interested in losing weight. Consuming less than 1800 calories a day may put your milk supply at risk.
You can experiment with that number. However, a nursing mom should not eat less than 1500 calories a day.
For the mom who is not exclusively breastfeeding, she won’t need as many extra calories. Exactly how many calories are required depends on how much milk she is producing.
It is not recommended to restrict calories before your milk supply is well established. Wait until you are two months postpartum before cutting back on calories.
EATING PLAN FOR BREASTFEEDING – THE ESSENTIALS
Moms who are looking for advice on how to eat the healthiest diet when breastfeeding often fall into two categories.
There is the woman who wants general guidelines. Then there is the mama who wants as much specific information available. I call this group the nutrition nerds. I’ve got you both covered.
Whether you are wondering how much protein a breastfeeding mother should eat or exactly how many mg of Calcium you need, the next two sections will provide the answers to your questions.
This information is hot of the press from the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines For Americans.
GENERAL GUIDELINES FOR A HEALTHY EATING PLAN FOR BREASTFEEDING MOTHERS
Eating a well balanced diet will go a long way to help nursing moms have a healthy eating plan.
- Try to eat whole foods. A whole food is close to its natural state and has not been processed.
- Fruits and vegetables are your friends. Be generous with them. They provide vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber.
- Try to eat 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 servings of veggies daily. A cup is considered one serving.
- 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 servings of fruit will provide you with something that is both sweet, delicious, and nutritious.
- Choose colorful fruits and vegetables.
- Include healthy fats in your food choices every day.
- Protein should be on the menu two to three times a day to ensure that you get the five to seven ounces recommended each day.
- Opt for lean protein most of the time.
- Choose a variety of protein sources.
- When eating grains, try to choose whole grains.
SPECIFIC NUTRIENT REQUIREMENTS IN A HEALTHY DIET PLAN FOR BREASTFEEDING MOMS
This is for all you nutrition nerds out there.
- Protein – approximately 5-7 ounces/71 g
- Calcium – 1300 mg
- Iron – 9 mg
- Vitamin A – 1300 µ
- Vitamin C – 120 mg
- Vitamin D – 15 µ
- Vitamin E – 19 mg
- Vitamin K – 90 µ
- Folate – 500 µ
- Niacin – 17 mg
- Riboflavin – 1.6 mg
- Thiamin – 1.4 mg
- Vitamin B6 – 2 mg
- Vitamin B12 – 2.8 µ
- Phosphorus – 700 mg
- Selenium – 70 µ
- Zing – 12 mg
- Iodine – 290 mcg
- Magnesium – 310-320 mg
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids – 1.3 g
HOW A HEALTHY BREASTFEEDING DIET PLAN AFFECTS YOUR MILK SUPPLY
We are frequently reassured that even women who have inadequate nutrition can still produce enough milk for their babies. We also hear stories about a mom who started a severely restricted diet and ended up with a low milk supply. So, what gives?
I have a theory that if a woman has been living with insufficient calories, then her body is used to that. It has adapted to a certain extent.
I think a woman who has been getting adequate calories and then suddenly restricts her caloric intake sends a message to her body that things are not right. Her body may prioritize her well-being at that point, which may be why her milk production suffers.
It is best for a breastfeeding mother with weight loss goals to gradually decrease calories to help protect her milk supply during her weight loss efforts.
SHOULD BREASTFEEDING MOMS TAKE SUPPLEMENTAL VITAMINS?
It can be challenging for a busy mom to get all the nutrients that she needs as a breastfeeding mom in the foods that she eats.
For that reason, it is a good idea to either continue taking your prenatal vitamins or a vitamin formulated with the nursing mom in mind like New Chapter’s Perfect Postnatal Whole-Food Vitamin. These vitamins are made with organic non-GMO ingredients. They also contain probiotics.
HOW MUCH WATER SHOULD A BREASTFEEDING MOM DRINK A DAY?
Staying well hydrated is extra important for nursing moms. If you are not drinking enough water while breastfeeding, that can not only result in a decrease in your milk supply. It can cause a number of other unpleasant symptoms for you as well.
- Dehydration can also make you feel extra tired. No new mama needs that.
To easily calculate how much water the average person who is not breastfeeding should drink, take half of your body weight and drink that many ounces. So, if you weigh 130 pounds, you should try to drink 65 ounces of water each day.
As a nursing mom, you should drink a bit more than that.
Instead of counting ounces, keeping an eye on your urine output can help you know that you are getting enough fluids.
- Adequate hydration is associated with urinating every two to four hours.
- Your urine should be pale yellow or colorless.
Tips To Help You Drink More Water
- Make it super easy to drink water. One of my favorite tips for nursing moms is to fill up several water bottles every morning and put them in the places in your home where you will be. Put one in your car if you are out driving on a regular basis.
- Flavored waters can be more enticing.
- Add some lemon or cucumber to your water.
- Use a water infuser like the Prodyne Fruit Infusion Flavor Pitcher so you will have plenty of naturally flavored water.
- I add a packet of Liquid I.V. Hydration Multiplier to 16 ounces of water. The pleasant flavor encourages me to drink more and I like the electrolytes it provides. Full strength is too strong a taste for me so I dilute a couple of ounces of that mixture with six ounces of plain water. I have tried both the Lemon-Lime and the Passion Fruit flavors. I like them both but the Passion Fruit Liquid I.V. Hydration Multiplier is my favorite flavor.
- Make some iced herbal tea with Traditional Medicinals Organic Mother’s Milk Tea blend to keep hydrated and support your milk supply.
- Sparkling water will add some variety.
- Using a timed water bottle that has time markers can help keep you on track.
- The Hydracy Fruit Infuser Water Bottle With Fruit Infuser With Time Marker will help you keep track of how well you are doing with your water intake goals combined with the taste of infused water.
SHOULD BREASTFEEDING MOMS DRINK MILK?
Women do not need to drink milk to make milk. Any vegan nursing mom can reassure you about this.
When I use the word milk, I am referring to cow’s milk.
If you enjoy drinking cow’s milk, it is an excellent source of protein and Calcium. However, if you don’t enjoy cow’s milk or don’t tolerate it you can get those nutrients from a variety of other sources.
FOODS THAT BREASTFEEDING MOMS SHOULD AVOID
Every mom wants to do what is best for her baby. You also may be missing some of your favorite foods that were forbidden during pregnancy, like sushi and certain cheeses.
There are no foods that every breastfeeding mother needs to avoid.
Another common question I get is, are there foods that can make a breastfed baby fussy. The answer is a resounding yes.
But again, there is no one food that will make every baby fussy.
My recommendation to new moms is to eat the foods that you like. If your baby is fussy regularly, you will have to do some detective work.
Figuring out what foods you need to avoid takes patience.
Is It Okay To Have Caffeine While Breastfeeding?
Caffeine lovers want to know if their morning cup of coffee can be part of a healthy eating plan while breastfeeding.
Caffeine does transfer into your breast milk. It usually does not cause a problem for babies if mom keeps caffeine consumption to no more than 300 mg a day.
It is important to know the different potential sources of caffeine. These amounts are approximate.
- 8-oz coffee – 95 mg
- 8-oz black tea – 45 mg
- 12-oz cola – 40-45 mg
- 12-oz Mountain Dew – 54 mg
- 8-oz green tea – 35-60
- 8.4-oz Red Bull Energy Drink – 80 mg
- 8-oz Redline Energy Drink – 316 mg
Caffeine can also be found in some prescription and OTC medications.
EATING FISH WHILE BREASTFEEDING
The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines For Americans recommend a nursing mom eat eight to twelve ounces of seafood each week.
Fish, including shellfish, is an excellent option for protein requirements. It is also an excellent source of Omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for optimum brain growth and vision.
It can also provide a good source of iodine. As more people use sea salt in their cooking instead of iodized salt, concern has been expressed that people are not consuming adequate amounts of iodine.
Some fish contains high levels of methylmercury, which can be harmful. Try to choose fish with low levels of this substance.
Is It Safe To Eat Sushi While Breastfeeding?
Sushi lovers can rest assured that it is okay to eat during the time that you are breastfeeding your baby.
SIMPLE TIPS TO CREATE A HEALTHY EATING PLAN FOR BREASTFEEDING MOTHERS EASY
The simplest tip I have for creating a healthy eating plan for breastfeeding moms is to eat whole foods and avoid processed foods.
I know a nutrition coach who has his clients focus on adding good foods to their diet. He says this will help push out the bad foods.
- Choose foods that require minimal preparation.
- Use herbs and spices for flavor and variety.
- Plan a few hours once a week to do meal prep. Chop up a bunch of vegetables to make salad making and snacking on veggies simpler. Make a big fruit salad.
- If your budget allows, choose fruits and veggies that are pre-chopped or don’t need to be cut up like baby carrots.
- Keep meals simple. A grilled chicken breast with a slice of whole grain bread and a salad with a piece of fruit for dessert is easy to put together and is a healthy, well balanced meal. Save complicated recipes for when you are not as sleep deprived.
- While variety is said to be the spice of life, streamlining cooking will make life easier and help you create healthy meals for nursing moms. Double up on your recipes and eat the same meal twice in the week. Or, you can freeze the second meal for the inevitable crazy busy day when you might be tempted to get take out.
- Find a friend with whom you can exchange healthy dinners. You each double your recipe, and you exchange the second meal. If you get several friends to do this with, you can rotate who trades with who each week so everyone gets a variety of recipes.
COOKBOOK TO HELP YOU MAKE HEALTHY MEALS FOR NURSING MOMS
Eat To Feed – 80 Nourishing Recipes For Nursing Mothers will take the stress out of what to make. It has recipes for breakfast, lunch dinner and snacks.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON A HEALTHY EATING PLAN FOR BREASTFEEDING MOTHERS
While it is important to pay attention to your diet when you are breastfeeding it doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming.
Following these guidelines will help ensure that your healthy diet for nursing mothers will meet your baby’s needs as well as your own.
Andrea Tran RN, MA, IBCLC
Andrea has been working with new families as an RN for over 35 years and a Lactation Consultant for over 25 years.
She has her MA in Health and Wellness with a focus in Lactation.