What To Eat While Breastfeeding: A Nutritional Guide For Baby And Mom


Many breastfeeding mothers are wondering about what sort of food they can have or what they should avoid. Is there any food that helps with breastfeeding? Or are there any food that should be avoided? If you are asking yourself the same questions, don’t worry you are not alone. Generally speaking, breastfeeding doesn’t typically require a strict diet to make healthy milk, but certain foods should be included in your overall diet. Along with choosing to eat healthy foods, certain foods should be avoided. Take a look below at our guide to learn more.



A mother eating an apple with her baby
Having a good diet is important while breastfeeding!


Good To Eat/Drink


A balanced diet is what you should aim for. What this means can vary, but generally eating colourful raw whole produce, unprocessed foods, grains, legumes, and pulses, high nutrient- high-calorie food ratios will pay off. On average, a breastfeeding mother needs 2300 – 2500 calories a day. Obviously, the calorie intake varies mostly according to the general lifestyle (if active or more sedentary), but this is a ballpark figure which can help weighing how much food you need while breastfeeding.


Getting enough sunlight and sleep also shouldn't be overlooked; these play a factor in our preservation and production of nutrients and hormones.



Good fats


Good fats like avocados, coconuts, nuts, and fish are important.


Fish are a great source of Omega fatty acids, which are essential, however, it is recommended to eat minimal fish - only around once a week - due to mercury contaminants.


Safer fish include salmon, mackerel, and sardines. As an alternative, Omega can be gained from algae/seaweed (also a great source of iodine), soybean oil, walnuts, chia, hemp, and flax seeds instead of fish.



Calcium


Calcium is best achieved by consuming foods like dairy, broccoli, spinach, turnip greens, kale, almonds, brazil nuts (also a great source of selenium), tamari, soy, and wakame.



Proteins


Lean proteins can be incorporated with fish or chicken, or ideally, with beans and legumes like lentils or chickpeas, nuts, tofu, seeds, oats, broccoli, or eggs.


These will keep the parent's energy levels up while feeding.



Vitamins


Most vitamins are adequately produced with a basic diet, however, some may need a boost when breastfeeding.


Vitamin D is sourced from sunlight. Some daily exposure is recommended before supplements, but supplements are useful in the winter months.


B12 is often lower in vegans and vegetarians but it's easily gained back by consuming some plant milk, seaweed, mushrooms, or supplements.



Water


Adequate hydration is vital in keeping the feeding parent healthy and energized.


Thirst is a common side effect of breastfeeding and it's important to replace those lost fluids often with water or low-sugar fluids.



High Energy


Energy maintenance becomes more difficult with a newborn. Not only because parents are lacking sleep and self-care, but because feeding physically depletes one's body.


Higher calorie intake and larger servings will likely be an instinct, but the kinds of food ingested can play a big part in energy-boosting.


Starches are nutrient-rich and give consistent energy for long periods. Foods like chia seeds and bananas can give you a pick-me-up similar to caffeine even.



Not Good To Eat/Drink


Some substances pose higher risks than rewards if they do manage to seep into the milk. Some of these are standard rules and some things will depend on the baby.



Allergens


Nothing a parent does can avoid these reactions, only detect them.


If a reaction occurs consistently after eating one thing in particular, it's advised to stop ingesting that food and to monitor allergy patterns onward until the culprit is found.


Common allergens include egg whites, peanuts, cod, soybean protein, milk protein.



Caffeine


Caffeine is a stimulant drug found in many foods and drinks such as chocolate (sorry), tea, coffee, energy drinks, and colas. Some studies have found that coffee might inhibit iron absorption and storage which could be a problem in mothers who need a good iron uptake. It seems that this happens only when the coffee is drunk right before or after having the meal, which means if you drink coffee not very close to a meal, the absorption of iron will not be disrupted. It’s also interesting to note that the coffee has this effect, not the caffeine in itself so that if caffeine is absorbed from other sources will not affect the iron intake.


Caffeine might cause problems if associated with breastfeeding because it can be passed on to the baby through the milk. This can cause overstimulation, crankiness, fussiness, irritability and difficulty falling asleep… you don’t need any of those!


Up to 300mg of caffeine are generally considered safe for breastfeeding mothers and shouldn’t be normally exceeded. To give you an idea, 1 mug of coffee has an average of 120mg of caffeine, 1 mug of tea 75mg, 50g of chocolate have 50mg of caffeine.


It’s always a good idea to check the caffeine content of food and drinks you have throughout the day to keep track and avoid going over the safe daily dose.



Fish


As mentioned above, some fish sometimes is okay. It is both beneficial and problematic. Beyond the omega-3 fats which are good fat for our body, fish is a good source of proteins and vitamins, iron and important minerals. So, it can be part of a good diet.


Sadly, because of the pollution of the sea, the fish we normally eat contains mercury, which is extremely poisonous particularly on the brain. Generally speaking, the bigger is the fish and the higher is its position in the food chain and more the mercury present in its meat. So you can have fishes with higher content of mercury which should definitely be avoided and fishes that have less of the contaminant and can be eaten safely.


Most mercury is found in predatory fish like sharks, swordfish, and marlin, tuna. They should be avoided and safer types like salmon, squid, anchovies shouldn't be eaten more than one to three servings a week (with a serving being approximately 100g or 4 ounces). You can find more info here and you can also download a useful pdf which can summarise what you should and shouldn’t eat in terms of fish.



Dairy


Dairy foods are a great source of protein, calcium and vitamins and it's generally safe to have them during breastfeeding. It is also widely available and very quick to eat because generally, these products do not need much processing or cooking. The problem is that sometimes babies can become allergic to cow’s milk protein. Some of these proteins can be absorbed by the mother and then passed into the breastmilk to the baby.


The same thing applies to soya milk which contains also proteins that can cause similar allergic reactions in the baby. One common misbelief is that babies can be intolerant to lactose like adults. That’s not possible because human milk contains lactose (which is a sugar) and babies normally digest lactose very well.


The bottom line is that dairy should be avoided only if you suspect an allergy in the baby. In that case, you should ask for medical advice and possibly start an elimination diet to make sure that the problem the baby is showing disappears when you discontinue the dairy food. If your baby is perfectly fine, it’s safe to consume dairy food.

Some Tea/Herbs


Herbs and herbal teas like peppermint, sage, and parsley have been linked with slower milk production.



Saturated/Trans Fats


As we discussed early some good fats will help you during breastfeeding. There are however some bad fats that you should avoid. Some bad fats are called saturated fats which are present in preserved meat, bacon sausages, hot dogs and deep-fried food. If you notice, most of these things also contain a lot of salt which contributes to the health hazard they can cause if they are not consumed in very limited amounts. Another kind of bad fat you can have is called trans fat and it can be either natural or artificial.


Natural source of trans fat comes from animals like cows, goats and sheep. If this fat is consumed in a moderate amount, it doesn’t pose any harm to the health of the mother or the baby. Artificial trans fats are contained in processed vegetable oil (a process called hydrogenation) which is contained in most highly processed food like industrial sweets and cakes. All the bad fats are generally dangerous for your health regardless of breastfeeding because they will increase the risk of heart diseases, obesity, diabetes and cancer. So, you should consume very little of this fat throughout your entire life. Some studies have also found that if you consume a lot of saturated or trans fats during breastfeeding you can cause damage to the baby, like increasing the risk of allergic disease or a predisposition to obesity and overweight.


Certain Drugs and Medications


Always consult a physician when considering new drugs. These substances can transfer easily to milk and can be harmful to the baby.



Alcohol And Breastfeeding


The amount of alcohol in the milk is the same amount that is in the mother's blood. This means that alcohol can freely pass from the bloodstream to the milk and the other way round.


For an average person of 140 pounds (or 62Kg), it takes about 2.5 hours for one serving of alcohol to clear out of the milk, and time increases with the number of drinks. The more you drink and the longer the alcohol will be present inside your body.


There is absolutely nothing that will speed up the rate of elimination, and 'pumping and dumping doesn't work. Because the alcohol can freely pass from the blood to the milk and it doesn’t get trapped into breastmilk, it’s pointless to throw away milk as the alcohol will be passed into new milk as it’s produced.


Because babies’ liver is very immature, alcohol can be extremely toxic even in smaller amounts.


Risks of higher usage include:

  • Lethargy and weakness in both parties

  • Decreased milk ejection or letdown

  • Motor development delay in baby

  • Growth fluctuations as milk supply may be affected

  • Failure to thrive


Reasonable judgement should be exercised when drinking. Moderation is vital, as well as a responsible precaution. Remember that the safest option is not to drink at all.


If one is drinking excessively, pumping beforehand can provide the baby with the clean milk to drink until the new milk is clean again.


Co-sleeping is also highly dangerous, as well as caring for a baby under the influence without sober supervision.


Finally, alcohol is also a suppressor of the hormone which causes the let-down reflex (the oxytocin), so it will slow down the production of milk and destroy the effort you are putting into stimulating milk production as much as you can.


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