A Great Breastfeeding Diet is Closer than You Think
You don’t need to follow a special diet for breastfeeding success, but eating a balanced diet can help you meet your nutrition needs along the way. Read on to hear our tips for nourishing yourself, so you can nourish your growing baby.
Eat enough food
Your body will need extra energy to make breast milk for your baby. Did you know that you will need even more energy to make breastmilk than the energy you needed in the final months of pregnancy? Though many breastfeeding parents may be eager to get back to their pre-pregnancy shape, it is best to give yourself time to recover and adjust to new parenthood before trying to lose weight. Once you are in a solid nursing routine, make an appointment with a nutrition specialist at Bastyr to come up with an eating plan that is right for your health and wellness goals.
Eat a variety of foods
Did you know that the flavors of the food you eat will also be in your breast milk (1)? Eating your favorite healthy foods now helps your baby recognize and enjoy these flavors later on. A healthy diet starts with a lot of color. Filling half of your plate with as many colors of fruits and vegetables as you can will help you to eat enough vitamins A and C, as well as B vitamins and calcium. These nutrients help your baby grow strong bones and healthy eyes (2).
Fill the rest of your plate with lean protein foods and starches. Good examples of lean protein foods include lean meat, fish, poultry, pork, tofu, dairy, eggs, and beans. These foods support strong muscles and the immune system. When you eat walnuts, ground flax or chia seeds, and fish, you will get protein, as well as omega-3 fatty acids and zinc, to support your baby’s growing brain (2). Whole grains, brown rice, or starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes provide many vitamins and minerals for a healthy immune system.
Vitamin D supports growing bones, and many of us do not get enough. If you drink milk or milk substitutes, make sure they contain added vitamin D and calcium, which are essential for healthy bones (2). In northern climates such as Washington, vitamin D supplementation may be a good idea (2). Talk with your pediatrician or a naturopathic doctor to find out whether a supplement would be right for your baby.
Drink fluids, but no need to chug
Breastfeeding is thirsty work, but there is no reliable evidence that drinking more water leads to more breast milk production (3). Keep a water bottle nearby when you nurse and drink until your thirst is gone. This is usually enough to meet your needs. Drinking caffeinated beverages such as coffee and tea is generally okay while nursing most babies. Try to stay under 300 mg of caffeine per day, the amount in about three 8 oz cups of coffee or six 8 oz cups of green tea (2). If you plan to drink alcoholic beverages while nursing, talk with your doctor or midwife about the amount and timing. Keep in mind that even small amounts of alcohol may interfere with your body’s ability to produce and release milk to your baby (4).
If you have spent time in circles with new parents, you have likely heard recommendations for lactation cookies, “Mother’s Milk” tea, and herbal supplements. While these home remedies are popular, there is no reliable evidence that they help people make more breastmilk(4,5). If the milk booster is a healthy food that you already enjoy, such as oats, flax, or a dash of fenugreek, these are safe to eat. If a caring friend has made you lactation cookies, double-check that they don’t contain any supplements with harmful contaminants, such as heavy metals or pesticides, before digging in. The best way to increase milk supply is to nurse or pump more often (4,5). If you run into problems along the way or are not sure if you are producing enough milk, then support from a Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) could give you peace of mind.
Help is Out There
Lactation consultants can provide advice and feedback that saves you anxiety, frustration, and difficulties. They can ensure breastfeeding gets off to a strong start. Use this website to find a lactation consultant near you (https://uslca.org/resources/find-an-ibclc). Other sources of support include your local WIC office (http://parenthelp123.org/resources/wic-family-planning), as well as La Leche League (http://lllwa.org/).
If you feel that an herbal supplement is right for you, talk to your doctor or midwife, or make an appointment with a naturopathic doctor at BCNH. These professionals can provide guidance about whether supplements would be safe for you and your baby.
Margaret Wilson is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Certified Nutritionist and is a dietetic intern at Bastyr University.
Spahn JM, Callahan EH, Spill MK, et. al. Influence of maternal diet on flavor transfer to amniotic fluid and breast milk and children's responses: a systematic review. Am J Clin Nutr. 2019 Mar 1;109(Suppl_7):1003S-1026S. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/nqy240. PMID: 30982867.
Mahan LK, Raymond JL, Cox JT, Carney VH. Nutrition for reproductive health and lactation. In: Krause's Food & the Nutrition Care Process. Amman: Elsevier; 2017:239-295.
Ndikom CM, Fawole B, Ilesanmi RE. Extra fluids for breastfeeding mothers for increasing milk production. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2014. doi:10.1002/14651858.cd008758.pub2
Foong SC, Tan ML, Foong WC, Marasco LA, Ho JJ, Ong JH. Oral galactagogues (natural therapies or drugs) for increasing breast milk production in mothers of non-hospitalised term infants. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2020, Issue 5. Art. No.: CD011505. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD011505.pub2.