A breastfeeding mom needs to get as many nutrients as possible to support her and her baby’s health. The vitamins and minerals that come from food are crucial in producing quality breast milk. She also needs extra calories or energy to sustain a good life for herself so the breastmilk doesn’t take away from her. Mom needs to ensure that she is at optimum health by eating healthy food in a variety.
Eating a variety of food from all the food groups is necessary. Moms should also ensure she gets the proper amount of certain nutrients. She should include protein, vitamins, and minerals while focussing on healthy fats.
Maintaining a balanced diet benefits both maternal and child health. Nutrients sourced from food supports a mother’s health and her breastmilk production. In some ways, it also affects the concentration of nutrients that the baby will receive.
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The importance of a balanced diet when breastfeeding
The past generation of women, especially the middle and upper classes, relied on bottle feeding.
But with the increasing information and advocacies on mother and child health, breastfeeding is once again becoming prevalent.
According to studies, breastfed babies experienced fewer illnesses from birth until later. Thus, mothers of modern times strive to fulfill the bigger responsibility of ensuring their child’s health through breastfeeding.
I once came across an inspiring story of a fellow migrant worker who fed her babies breastmilk. She would pump at work and send the bags a thousand miles home across the pond for her little children. It proves how profound a mother’s love is through the distance.
Nutrition is indeed crucial as the baby grows and develops. And breastmilk is the top-shelf food moms can provide that is free and nutritionally tailored for the baby’s age.
The nutrients in breast milk are suitable for the baby’s age regardless of what the mom eats. It was custom-made for your baby’s stage of development.
However, not taking enough calories can affect your milk supply, and your body will use up your stored energy when it goes into starvation mode.
Key nutrients breastfeeding moms need
Protein, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals like iron and calcium are the essential nutrients moms need to load up on.
They also need a lot of calories which are burned as they produce breast milk.
Before pregnancy, a woman, on average, needs around 1,600 to 2,400 kcal per day. By the time she is breastfeeding, the CDC suggests increasing her calorie intake to around 2,000 to 2,800 kcal.
The three major food calorie sources are protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Briefly, here is a guide on the nutritional requirement for every breastfeeding mom.
Protein is essential in a mom’s diet to help maintain her muscle mass and help speed up her recovery after childbirth.
It also helps produce quality breastmilk for her little one. Protein supplies the essential amino acids needed for the baby’s growth and development.
Good healthy protein sources include lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy. You can also get it from non-meat sources like legumes, nuts, and seeds.
Read here to know when to cut dairy from your diet when breastfeeding.
Vitamins and minerals
Fruits and vegetables are a rich source of various vitamins and minerals. They can also come from fatty fish and fortified cereals.
Vitamins are essential in boosting the immune system and preventing malnutrition. It is also needed for healthy eyes and skin. Vitamins help in the proper functioning of nerves and tissues.
Minerals like iron optimize the production of red blood cells, and calcium builds strong bones.
Breastmilk is rich in vitamins and minerals that the growing baby needs. However, if a mom does not take enough of these nutrients, it may lower some of its concentrations.
Breastmilk needs to be high in fat as it is the baby’s main energy source.
A mom’s body is complexly made to produce breastmilk from fats stored during pregnancy.
However, she needs to continue getting a healthy form of it from her diet and in an allowable amount.
Omega-3 fatty acids like DHA, crucial for the baby’s brain development, are widely available in fatty fish.
Salmon, sardines, trout, and herring are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids. But avoid shark meat, swordfish, tilefish, and king mackerel, as they contain high levels of mercury.
You can also get healthy fats from low-fat dairy products like milk, cheese, yogurt, and eggs. Coconut oil, olive oil, avocado, and nuts also contain fats.
Read the food labels and opt for food with unsaturated fats. Stay away from saturated fats and trans fat that is often found in butter and margarine.
If you should use these products, use them sparingly and occasionally.
Practical tips for maintaining a balanced diet while breastfeeding
Now that you are literally eating for two, it is natural to feel hungry most of the time.
While you need to fulfill your calorie requirement, you must get it from healthy sources.
Processed foods and snacks may fill you up, but they are unhealthy and can cause a spike in sugar levels.
Hunger and thirst can be easily remedied by drinking fluids and eating healthy snacks.
Pick snacks like fruit, nuts, and yogurt, and keep a water bottle handy. Staying hydrated can do so much in helping you churn an adequate milk supply for your baby.
Here is a recommended daily (per day) serving to ensure a balanced diet in every meal while breastfeeding.
- Eat 2 to 3 servings (3-4 ounces per serving) of protein from lean meat, poultry, and non-plant sources.
- Take three to five servings of vegetables like leafy greens and yellow veggies.
- Have two servings of fruit.
- Include fiber and carbohydrates from whole grains like pasta, fortified cereal, rice, quinoa, and oatmeal.
- Increase water and fluid intake by taking fortified juices and milk.
- Include healthy fats in the diet.
- Try to get low-mercury seafood at least once a week.
- Snack on low-fat dairy, fruits, and yogurt.
Healthy eating routine for breastfeeding mothers
Variety is the way when building a healthy plate while breastfeeding. Once you know the nutrients you need, building a meal plan becomes easy.
Right after birth, you need to eat as much as possible to get your body to recover and to establish your milk production.
By around 6 weeks, you probably already have a well-established breast milk supply. You can slightly reduce your food intake but keep eating a variety of food groups.
Keep this in mind when breastfeeding:
- Stop counting calories but watch your portion sizes. Be sensible and eat when you are hungry but don’t overdo it.
- Eat to sustain your appetite and curb your hunger. Keep things in moderation since overeating can tip the scale in your postpartum weight journey.
- Don’t skip a meal or go for an extended period without eating.
- Small and frequent meals per day are more favorable. It will help keep your energy level and meet your nutritional needs without overwhelming your body at once.
- Set an alarm for drinking your water to ensure you are well-hydrated.
Is it necessary to take prenatal vitamins even after the pregnancy?
Prenatal vitamins are food supplements to replace nutrient deficiencies. They are as crucial after pregnancy for the same reason.
But even when taking vitamins, you need to ensure that you also maintain the balanced diet guidelines.
Should I hit the exact calorie needs every day?
You don’t have to on a daily basis. But you should aim to average that amount over a week. One day you can eat more negligible calories or higher the next, depending on your hunger and fullness.
Should I avoid certain foods to prevent my baby from getting allergies?
The general notion of eating a complete and balanced diet applies to all breastfeeding mothers. Restriction to a particular food is only ruled out when medically necessary, depending on the baby’s reaction.
Is it true that breastmilk changes taste?
Breastmilk changes its taste, smell, and color according to the mom’s diet. Babies have their preferences too. So, expose them to different flavors. This is also one of the tricks that may help prevent a fussy and picky eater once the baby starts eating solid foods.
If you need specific help in meal planning and breastmilk production, don’t hesitate to contact a nutritionist or lactation consultant.
They know what you need best based on factors like your age, body mass index (BMI), activity level, and lactation status.
For more breastfeeding information, check out the articles below:
- The Benefits Of Breastfeeding Beyond One Year (Extended Breastfeeding)
- Breastfeeding And Diabetes (Is It Okay To Breastfeed With Diabetes?)
- Lactose-Intolerant Pregnant Women And Breastfeeding: Understanding The Impact And Managing The Condition
- Foods To Eat While Breastfeeding To Avoid Colic (What Helps & What Worsens It)