Even though society has put emphasis on eating healthy for losing those extra pounds, maintaining a healthy, balanced diet isn’t just for weight loss.
Whether you’re a soon-to-be-mom or an experienced mother who’s about to have her next child, your health is going to affect not only you, but your baby as well, especially if you plan to breastfeed.
If you’re considering breastfeeding or already decided to breastfeed, the food you eat now will affect your breast milk and your baby’s health overall.
In this post, you’ll discover the foods that will help you boost the amount of nutrients in your breast milk and build your breast milk supply.
Breastfeeding Diet Food 101
Don’t freak out yet! This isn’t one of those fad diets where you have to count calories to a T, eat like a rabbit or drink only fluids. In fact, as a general guideline, if you have a mostly healthy diet – a whole healthy diet is preferred, of course – your breast milk will be loaded with nutrients for your baby.
If you’re already eating an overall nutritious diet, there’s always room for improvement; you can switch out unhealthy foods in your daily diet with healthier options and enhance your health. If your diet is lacking in essential nutrients or consists of junk food and fast food, it’s time for a diet makeover.
In this section, we’ll reveal the various, nutrient-dense foods you need for your breastfeeding diet to help you keep your breast milk healthy and increase the amount.
What You Should Be Eating for Breast Milk Health
Whether you’re already breastfeeding or still in the pregnancy stage, eating the right foods is beneficial for your breast milk and your health and well-being. The food guide in this section will help you figure out what you need to eat to keep up with healthy breast milk meal plans.
Here’s the list of foods you should be eating when you’re eating to help improve your breast milk health:
Calcium is necessary for bone growth and strength, so it's a must-have for your diet. If you're not increasing your calcium intake, your body will go to your own bones for calcium, causing your bones to weaken and put you at higher risk for osteoporosis.
Milk is usually the number one go-to source for calcium, but plenty of foods offer this great nutrient, including:
- Leafy, dark green vegetables e.g., kale, spinach, collard greens
- Brazil nuts
During your pregnancy, iron stores in your body go to your baby; but this can cause you to have iron deficiency. Iron is necessary not only for you, but also for your baby. Iron is used in the body to help with oxygen transportation, keeping red blood cells healthy. Iron also promotes the growth of healthy hair and nails.
Since your infant is still growing and needs nutrients for successful physical development, iron is essential, and that's why eating more iron-rich foods will provide your child with this nutrient. Also, many iron-rich foods are great protein sources, which moms need to maintain their breast milk health. Several foods that contain a good amount of iron (and protein for some!) include:
- Red meat
- Leafy, green vegetables
- Egg yolks
- Dried apricots
From bread to cereal, whole grain food items provide you with vital nutrients, such as fiber, to help your body function properly. Whole grain foods – also known as complex carbohydrates – are also a fantastic source of energy, which you'll need as a mom! Whole grain foods include:
- Pita breads
- Brown rice
These are the main nutrients that you need in your diet to produce quality breast milk for your infant. Make sure that you add tons of vegetables in your meals as well, and eat fruits as a snack throughout the day.
Eating a variety of healthy foods not only boosts the health of your breast milk, but also change the flavor of your breast milk, which may help your baby be more accepting toward solid foods when it’s time to introduce them to your infant’s diet.
What You Should Avoid or Limit Eating and Drinking when Breastfeeding
When there are foods that you should eat more of while you’re breastfeeding, there are also foods and beverages that you should limit or avoid adding to your daily diet.
The nutrients and substances found in foods and beverages that you eat will have at least a small affect on your breast milk. It’s the timeless rule – you are what you eat. Or, in this case, it’s your breast milk is what you eat!
1 - Caffeinated Beverages
Coffee and energy drinks are well-known to have a load of caffeine in them, but tea and soda also have caffeine in them. The caffeine does mix in with your breast milk, so your baby can be affected by the caffeine and have difficulty sleeping as well as other complications. It's best to avoid caffeine since it can remain in your body for hours.
If you're a caffeine addict, find other ways to get your energy, such as from natural foods and light exercise if your doctor permits it. However, caffeine can be hidden in various sources, such as chocolate, ice cream, sports drink or energy water, and breath mints. Limit your intake of such foods and drinks or avoid them altogether since they do contain some caffeine.
2 - Fish/Seafood
Although fish is a fantastic, nutrient-rich food source, they can contain high levels of mercury and cause mercury poisoning. The mercury can seep through your breast milk, so be careful of the amount of fish or seafood you consume.
You can still enjoy fish and seafood, but reducing the amount you eat is the best bet. Here's a simple chart of fish and other seafood that have low, moderate or high mercury levels:
3 - Mint and Parsley
These herbs can reduce your breast milk supply, so avoid eating them in large amounts. If it's just for a simple, light garnish for a dish, you can use it, but beware of foods that use a lot of these herbs, such as sauces, dips, and soups.
4 - Alcohol
If you consume alcohol, it will taint your breast milk and affect your baby negatively. You can consume alcohol, but beware of the time. Drink alcohol at least two hours ahead of the next feeding; use special breast milk testing strips to ensure that your milk is safe for consumption. If you want to drink, you can pump breast milk before drinking to be on the safe side.
5 - Citrus Fruits
Since your baby's digestive system is still developing, some elements from citrus fruits can irritate and even cause damage to it. You can get your vitamin C from other foods, such as mangoes, pineapples, and leafy greens.
Although these foods and beverages are considered to be ones to avoid or limit in your breastfeeding diet, you should always keep an eye on your baby; he or she will tell you if something about your breast milk is irritating him or her. Watch out for fussiness, crying, irritation, diaper rashes, and other signs of discomfort.
You should also check your baby’s diapers for any signs of unhealthy digestion, such as runny poop. Keep a food log to track all that you eat so you can figure out what may be causing your baby’s irritation or indigestion; you can also bring it to your doctor to see if he or she can help you come up with a better diet for your breast milk health.
Breastfeeding Diet Tip:
When you're eating for breastfeeding, go with organic products whenever possible. Toxins and chemicals found in foods can taint your breast milk and transfer to your baby. It's crucial that you go with high-quality products because it can make a world of difference in your breast milk.
What You Should Eat to Increase Breast Milk
One of the biggest concerns that breastfeeding moms have is not having enough milk for their little ones. But eating the right foods and managing your diet can help you produce more milk for your baby. Check out the foods below that can assist you in doing so:
1 - Oatmeal
Oatmeal is known for its healthy properties that help reduce blood pressure and high cholesterol levels. But oatmeal can help moms increase their breast milk supply as well! Oatmeal helps release a hormone called oxytocin, which helps you relax.
Being relaxed is one of the key factors things moms need to do in order to produce more milk, so having oatmeal for breakfast or as a snack is a great way to jumpstart milk production.
2 - Asparagus
Rich with nutrients such as vitamin A and folate, asparagus is a great lactogenic food to add to your meals. Asparagus also contains tryptophan, which helps boost the production of prolactin. Prolactin is one of the key hormones that help with breast milk production. Not only does asparagus assist with increasing your breast milk supply, but it also helps keep it nutritious for your baby.
3 - Herbs
Many herbs are used to promote breast milk supply, and here are several herbs that you can include to your dishes:
- Caraway seed
- Marshmallow root
- Dill seed
4 - Apricots
Just like asparagus, apricots contain the amino acid, tryptophan, and aids in breast milk production. Dried apricots, especially, have a necessary ingredient called phytoestrogens that keeps the hormones involved in breast milk production balanced, increasing the quality and quantity of milk.
5 - Spinach
These famous dark, leafy greens are packed with minerals and vitamins that keep your body healthy and increase your breast milk supply. Iron, calcium, and vitamin K are just a few of the necessary nutrients that spinach offers; phytoestrogens are also components of spinach.
Even though it’s great for you and your baby to stay in good health, it doesn’t always guarantee that you’ll experience an increase in your breast milk production.
Sometimes, breastfeeding difficulties, hormonal imbalance, and other conditions can affect your breast milk supply. Talk with your physician if you’re concerned about it.
Breastfeeding Diet Tip:
You know the foods that you should and shouldn't eat while breastfeeding. And, to help you further, these breastfeeding diets tips can be used as a guide for you to refine your breastfeeding diet and improve your breast milk health and production.
- Add 500 calories to your daily calorie intake.
Breastfeeding burns a ton of calories and energy (hello, weight loss!). It's critical that your energy level stays up throughout the day. If you don't want to eat an extra meal during the day, simply divide up the extra 500 calories among your meals and snacks throughout the day.
It's highly recommended that you eat six small meals and 2-3 snacks each day instead, but if you want to do the traditional three main meals and two snacks routine, then just add more healthy foods to your dishes to reach the extra 500 calories you need.
- Don't aim for weight loss.
At least for the first couple of months! Breastfeeding is enough of a workout for you since you're burning tons of calories, so just focus on eating healthy.
- Treat yourself.
Eating a candy bar every day is overdoing it, but there's nothing wrong with treating yourself to favorite indulgences. You don't have to be super strict with your breastfeeding diet, so take your cake and eat it, too – sometimes.
- Vary your meals.
Not only will you get more nutrients, but you'll also have more fun with your meals when you eat different types of foods. Keep a variety of fruits, veggies, proteins, complex carbs, etc., on hand so you'll always have something new to eat. You should aim to eat three different food groups for each meal.
- Always have healthy snacks on hand.
You never know when cravings and munchies can attack, so it's important to keep the on hand so you'll never cave into unhealthy foods. Plan ahead, and make your own homemade healthy snacks for the week.
Don't let yourself skip out on making snacks ahead of time; that's only going to weaken your resolve to eat healthier and may cause you to cave in to unhealthy cravings.