During the days and months after their children are born, many new moms are left with unanswered questions and concerns related to breastfeeding. That is totally understandable: After all, breast milk is often the sole source of their new baby’s nutrition, and it’s a practice that they are likely not very familiar with.
Luckily, there is one aspect of breastfeeding that mothers can have good control over, even before their baby is born, and that’s nutrition. The notion that what you eat produces the nutrients that are passed along to your baby is true, so focusing on a healthy and nutritious diet during the months when you are breastfeeding is critical.
How Much to Eat?
The main question that mothers often have, of course, is how much they should be eating. This amount can vary widely, but according to the American Pregnancy Association, a good rule of thumb is somewhere between 250 to 500 calories more each day than your typical diet.
Beyond the sheer calorie amount, it’s also a good idea to make those extra calories count. Nutrient-rich foods such as yogurt, a banana, an apple or peanut butter are all good choices. Of course, the rest of your food intake should also be high-quality and “purpose-driven.” Nursing mothers should strive for a balance of rich sources of protein like low-fat dairy foods, eggs, lean meats and more. Plentiful fruits and vegetables and healthy whole grains should round out your daily diet.
Do You Need a Supplement?
It’s probably best to speak with your health care provider before taking supplements on your own. But in the case of nursing mothers, oftentimes it’s a good idea to give your overall nutrient profile a boost during this important time. In fact, there are several high-quality multivitamins designed specifically for nursing mothers.
Some of the specific nutrients that nursing mothers need to focus on include iron, vitamin D, folic acid, calcium and omega-3 fatty acids. These are all essential to your baby’s growth and development. While you’re breastfeeding, a little boost to your regular diet through supplementation may be warranted.
Foods to Avoid
The Mayo Clinic notes that there are certain foods and substances you’ll want to avoid while breastfeeding, as well. It’s best to steer clear of alcohol while breastfeeding, for example. It typically takes 2 to 3 hours after drinking a beer, a glass of wine, or a shot of liquor for breast milk to be alcohol-free, so abstaining may be your best bet, or pumping breast milk beforehand if you plan to drink on a certain evening.
Caffeine is another item that should be limited while breastfeeding. The typical recommendation is no more than 2 or 3 (16 to 24 ounces) caffeinated beverages per day. You should also limit seafood consumption and specifically avoid fish that’s high in mercury such as tilefish, king mackerel or swordfish.
Of course, some unhealthy foods should always be avoided, but limiting their consumption is particularly important while breastfeeding. The American Pregnancy Association says deep fried foods, sugary candy and treats, and highly processed foods all fall into this category. Really, the key to getting your baby off to a great start with breastfeeding is eating the way that you should anyway — plus a little extra for your growing baby’s needs.