A mother breastfeeding her baby.
Healthy Living

The Best Foods to Eat While Breastfeeding

Aug 3 2021

Eating a nutritious diet is important when you’re pregnant. But if you plan to breastfeed, you’ll need to continue eating healthy after you have your baby. After all, your body is producing your baby’s meals, so they need to be packed with vitamins and minerals.

Learn about some of the best breastfeeding foods, as well as the foods to try and avoid.

Increase your calories

First, no matter what you eat, you’ll likely need to increase your calorie count as breastfeeding burns lots of calories. This is especially true if you’re underweight.

Most women should aim for eating about 450 to 500 extra calories of healthy foods each day. However, your age, activity level and body mass index can change those numbers. If you’re not sure you’re eating enough or you think you’re eating too much, talk to your primary care provider.

Choose foods high in protein

Three daily servings of foods high in protein are a must. This could include foods such as:

  • Beans
  • Dairy products
  • Eggs
  • Lean meats like chicken
  • Lentils

Your body uses the protein to produce milk and pass it on to your baby so that their little body can produce healthy tissue, muscles and organs. These are also the foods to eat while breastfeeding to help baby gain weight.

Eat a variety of foods

Whatever you eat, make sure you mix it up. You can do this by choosing daily meals and snacks from all of these food groups:

  • Dairy
  • Fruits
  • Grains
  • Protein
  • Vegetables

Not only does eating a variety of food help you consume lots of different vitamins and minerals, but it can introduce your baby to new flavors. This may help them become a less picky eater later in life.

Whole grains in particular are an excellent choice for breastfeeding mothers. They can help you eat more calories if you’re struggling in that area. They may also help increase your milk production.

Stay hydrated 

What you drink is just as important as what you eat. Staying hydrated is a must, but you may also want to drink an extra glass of water every time you feed your baby.

Your hormones will actually stimulate your sense of thirst while you’re nursing to remind you of this.  If you feel thirsty or your milk production decreases, you may need to drink more water.

Look for foods with folic acid

Pregnant mothers know that folic acid is important for a baby’s growth in the womb. Breastfeeding moms should know it’s just as important for a baby’s growth after birth.

The best vegetables for breastfeeding and other foods that get more folic acid in your diet are:

  • Asparagus
  • Avocados
  • Bananas
  • Broccoli
  • Citrus
  • Eggs
  • Fortified cereal
  • Kale
  • Legumes
  • Liver (beef)
  • Nuts
  • Spinach

Foods high in calcium are important too

If you don’t eat enough calcium, your body will use your own supply to make milk. In other words, it’ll steal it from your bones.

Aim for 1,000 milligrams a day of calcium-rich foods and drinks. Great choices are:

  • Broccoli
  • Cheese
  • Milk
  • Orange juice
  • Yogurt

Breastfeeding foods to avoid: Caffeine, alcohol and sugar

There aren’t really too many breastfeeding foods to avoid. Too many sugary drinks can cause weight gain. Too much caffeine can prevent your baby from sleeping.

It’s best to avoid alcohol, too. If you do drink, don’t breastfeed for at least three hours for every 12 ounces you drink.

Practice caution with seafood

If you’ve ever read anything about what to eat when breastfeeding a newborn, you’ve probably learned that you should be cautious when eating fish and seafood. This is true. It’s a good source of protein and healthy fats. And seafood dishes are also some of the best foods for baby brain development while breastfeeding.

But seafood can also contain mercury. Mercury can affect your baby’s nervous system. Try limiting how much seafood you eat and choose options that are typically lower in mercury. These might include:

  • Cod
  • Crab
  • Flounder
  • Oysters
  • Sardines
  • Salmon
  • Scallops
  • Shrimp
  • Tilapia

Learn more about the nutrition services as well as lactation services and breastfeeding education we offer at Mercy Health.

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