Answers to Your Breastfeeding Nutrition Questions

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Breastfeeding nutrition can be confusing. How much should you eat? What should you avoid? How might your diet affect your baby? If you’re breastfeeding, you’re giving your baby nutrients through your breast milk 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. The following are a list of commonly asked questions in regards to breastfeeding and nutrition, along with answers, so you can be informed as you nourish your baby.

 Answers to Your Breastfeeding Nutrition Questions

Do I need extra calories, while breastfeeding?

Yes, you 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  yogurt.

What foods should I eat, while breastfeeding?

There’s no need to go on a special diet. Instead, focus on making healthy choices to help fuel your milk production. During breastfeeding, make an extra effort to ensure that your diet includes plenty of these nutrients. 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 breastfeeding will change the flavor of your breast milk. This will expose your baby to different tastes, which may help your baby more easily accept solid foods later.

How much fluid do I need?

It’s important for breastfeeding moms to stay hydrated. Be sure to drink frequently, preferably before you feel thirsty, and drink more if your urine appears dark yellow. Have a glass of water nearby when you breastfeed your baby. Every time you sit down to nurse, drink a glass of water to help you stay hydrated. 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 two to three 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 breastfeeding?

If you follow a vegetarian diet, you likely already know the importance of choosing foods that will give you the nutrients you need. This is especially important during breastfeeding. Choose foods rich in iron, protein and calcium. 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 healthcare provider might also 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.

Should I take supplements?

To make sure you and your baby are getting all of the vitamins you need, your healthcare provider might recommend continuing to take a daily prenatal vitamin until you wean your baby.

What foods and drinks should I limit or avoid?

Certain foods and drinks deserve caution, while you’re breastfeeding, such as alcohol and caffeine. There’s no level of alcohol in breast milk that’s considered safe for a baby. If you choose to drink alcohol, avoid breastfeeding 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.

Consume fish with caution as well. 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, 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, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy and fish.

Some breastfeeding women say that avoiding spicy or gassy foods, such as onions or cabbage, can help, but this hasn’t been proved through research. For help determining links between your diet and your baby’s behavior, keep a food diary. List everything you eat and drink, along with notes about how your baby seems to react. 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.

How quickly can I get back to my pre-baby weight?

Some new moms find the weight just seems to fall off, while others don’t lose much. It all depends on your body, your food choices, your activity level and your metabolism. Plan to take up to a year to get back to your pre-pregnancy weight.

Don’t try to lose weight by dieting until at least two months after your baby is born. A reduced-calorie diet in the first couple of months could sap your energy and diminish your milk supply. If you’re overweight or obese, you may be able to start trying to shed pounds earlier, but first ask your doctor for advice. And be sure to stay hydrated; sometimes dieters cut back on water when they eat less food. Most women can safely lose one pound each week by combining a healthy diet with moderate exercise. A sudden, large drop in your caloric intake can affect your milk supply, so don’t go on a crash diet to lose weight quickly. If you’re losing more than one pound a week after the first six weeks, that’s a sign you need to take in more calories.

Overall, try to eat a nutritious diet, while you are nursing, for your sake and your baby’s. Don’t worry if your diet isn’t perfect; your milk will still be fine. Remember, there’s no need to go on a special diet, while you’re breastfeeding. Simply focus on making healthy choices—and you and your baby will reap the rewards.

DawnLangDawn Lang is the founder and senior consultant of Healthy Moms Today. Her education background is in sports fitness and nutrition, as well as a health and wellness consultation. She started Healthy Moms Today in hopes of sharing her passion about nutrition, wellness, fitness and creating nourishing recipes from her kitchen to yours. Her mission is to help motivate, encourage, lead, guide, educate and show moms how important it is to be healthy and how easy it is, by inspiring through everyday tips on living a healthy lifestyle. She currently offers food, fitness and nutrition services.  She can be contacted at healthymomstoday.com or www.facebook.com/HealthyMomsToday.

{Photo credit @iStock.com/photosoup.}

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