Breast milk is nutritious, and it’s the best option for feeding your infant during the first six months of life. It contains all the nutrients your baby needs, and you won’t have to worry about buying baby food or formula.

Continue to eat a healthy diet of fresh, unprocessed foods while you’re breastfeeding.  You will need to consume more calories and nutrients, however. Women who don’t eat enough nutritious foods while nursing their babies produce inferior milk and may suffer from fatigue or other health problems.

You’ll need 2000 to 2500 total calories, roughly 500 calories more than the recommended calorie intake for your age if you’re breastfeeding. Don’t worry about adhering to a strict calorie count. Eat until you feel satisfied. As long as your diet consists of healthy, whole foods, you will get all the nutrients you need to provide your baby with quality breast milk.

Eat a variety of nutritious foods while breastfeeding. Here’s a rundown of some of the nutrients you’ll need, and the foods that supply those nutrients.

Breakfast

For breakfast, try the following food combinations:

A whole grain cereal (Raisin Bran, Wheat Chex, etc.) with low-fat milk. Choose high-fiber cereals to keep you full longer. Most cereals have added iron, folic acid and B vitamins, which are important when breastfeeding.

Plain yogurt with fresh fruit and nuts or toast with sugar-free jam, peanut butter or a mashed banana. A soft-boiled egg and whole wheat toast will supply calcium,  protein, B-vitamins, and fiber.

Drink water, herbal tea, fruit juice diluted with water or low-fat milk. You can also drink decaffeinated coffee or a small cup of caffeinated coffee.

Mid-Morning Snack

Choose healthy fruits or nuts for a mid-morning snack :

Have a cup of yogurt and some fruit. You can also eat a handful of homemade trail mix or a few multi-grain crackers with cheese. Drink water or low-fat milk to stay hydrated – the recommended water intake for breastfeeding women is 13 cups a day.

Lunch

There are plenty of options for a healthy lunch. Be sure to get enough calories. (It’s okay to overeat a little, as long as you’re eating nutritious foods.)

Eat a peanut butter or turkey sandwich on whole-wheat bread, a grilled cheese and tomato sandwich or a salad with a hard-boiled egg.

Make a quick lunch of vegetable soup and a sandwich or Tofu and Spinach in Garlic Sauce, which contains plenty of folate.

For dessert, eat fruit with yogurt or try Apple-Berry Brown Betty The pectin from apple peel adds Vitamin A and fiber to the dish, and berries are loaded with antioxidants.

Afternoon Snack

Try cottage cheese and fruit or peanut butter (for protein) and a banana or apple. You can also make a fruit smoothie with berries, yogurt, and bananas or add fruit, nuts or sesame seeds to a cup of yogurt.

Drink water, milk or juice to stay hydrated.

Dinner

Include lots of nutrients in your dinner to keep up your energy. The main dish should be salmon or other fatty fish, cooked chicken or turkey or lean beef. Side dishes can range from lentils, peas or pastas to brown rice or vegetable soup. Always include a salad of some kind.

For dessert, have fruit or no-bake lactation bites. The bites are made with flaxseed, honey, oats, honey and dark chocolate chips, and you can eat them any time of day.

Drink water or diluted juice with your meal. You can drink a small amount of low or no caffeine coffee or tea, but remember that coffee has dehydrating effects.

Evening Snack

Just before bed, eat a snack of fruit, a hard-boiled egg or cheese. Try a stewed apple or low-fat pudding if you’re looking for something different. Dried fruit and mixed nuts are also good choices.

Drink hot chocolate or warm milk to soothe your nerves.

For overnight snacks, keep fruit, cheese and lactation bites in your fridge.

Vitamins and Minerals

Focus on the nutrients in your food to keep your energy high and provide the best milk for your baby. Although all vitamins and nutrients are necessary to ensure your good health and your baby’s health, some nutrients are greatly reduced in breast milk if you don’t get enough of them in your diet.

A lack of specific nutrients can harm your baby’s development. Those nutrients include:

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is available in low quantities in breast milk, so be sure to get 10-15 minutes of exposure to direct sunlight each day to boost the amount of Vitamin D in your milk. Due to the low concentration of Vitamin D in mother’s milk, babies should take Vitamin D drops from the ages of two to four weeks.

Women who have a Vitamin D deficiency can experience bone loss, muscle weakness and be more susceptible to fractures. Children who don’t get enough Vitamin D may suffer from rickets, seizures, or weak muscles.

A study showed that women who have 6,000 IU intake of Vitamin D daily were better able to provide their babies with Vitamin D through their breast milk.

Omega 3’s

Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is a type of  Omega 3 fatty acid found in seafood and algae. DHA is essential for brain development. It is also vital to skin, eyes and the central nervous system.

DHA and Omega 3 deficiency during infancy and childhood is linked to ADHD and aggressive behavior.

You should get at least 2.6 grams of Omega 3 fatty acids each day, and 100-300 mg of DHA. Low breast milk production is partially caused by low DHA intake.

Vitamin B12

You can get Vitamin B12 from crab, shrimp, meat, liver, salmon, dairy, and shellfish. A lack of Vitamin B12 in a breastfeeding Mom’s diet may result in a severe B12 deficiency in her infant.

A B12 supplement is indicated for breastfeeding women, who need 2.8 micrograms daily. Vegan and vegetarian Moms should talk to their doctors about B12 supplementation since Vitamin B12 is available naturally in mostly meat, fish, and dairy.

Other Nutrients for Breastfeeding Moms

Here are a few other important nutrients for breastfeeding mothers to consider.

Calcium

Breastfeeding Moms should get 1300 milligrams of calcium a day. One cup of yogurt has 450 milligrams of calcium, and a cup of calcium-fortified cereal contains up to 1,000 milligrams.

Folate (Vitamin B9)

Folic acid (folate) is vital for pregnant women because it prevents neural birth defects. Folate is the natural vitamin found in food. Folic acid is the synthetic form of the vitamin. You should continue to make sure you get enough of it from food during breastfeeding. Get the recommended amount, 400 mcg, from beans, green leafy vegetables, and citrus fruits. Avocado, okra, peas, seeds, nuts, and carrots.

Iron

Breastfed babies don’t need extra iron, and taking iron supplements while breastfeeding won’t add extra iron to the breast milk. The iron in your breast milk is absorbed in a higher rate than the iron in the formula; therefore most breastfed babies get enough iron and may get more than formula fed babies. You should get nine milligrams of iron a day from meat, poultry, seafood, egg yolks and dried fruit.

Do I Need to Take Supplements While Breastfeeding?

Aside from a multi-vitamin (and possibly a B12 supplement if you’re a vegan) supplements aren’t necessary if you eat a balanced diet. You can continue using a prenatal vitamin, but that contains more iron than needed for breastfeeding and may cause constipation. Discontinue use of your prenatal vitamin while breastfeeding if you or your baby experience stomach problems or constipation.

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