Nutrition while breastfeeding: top tips - Ruth Health

Nutrition while breastfeeding: top tips

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Fast facts:

  • It’s important to prioritize your nutrition while breastfeeding, as milk production requires additional calories.
  • Eating a healthy, nutrient-rich diet will support your baby’s growth and development.
  • Focus on foods that are high in protein, iron, iodine, choline, and calcium.
  • The exact number of additional calories you need while breastfeeding depends on a variety of factors like age, body mass index, and whether you’re exclusively breastfeeding.
  • For some breastfeeding individuals, particularly those who are vegan or vegetarian, diet alone may not ensure adequate nutrition and should be supplemented with a multivitamin. For others, continued use of a prenatal vitamin may exceed daily iron and folic acid needs.
  • Consult a trusted health professional about your dietary needs during breastfeeding.

If you’ve chosen to breastfeed, breast milk is a vital source of nourishment for your baby. Your own nutrition is an important consideration during this time. 

Not only is breastfeeding an energy-consuming activity that requires additional calories, but eating a healthy, nutrient-rich diet will support your baby’s growth and development.

Here’s an overview of nutrition while breastfeeding, including which nutrients to load up on, which foods to avoid, and how your calorie needs will change.

What should I eat and drink while breastfeeding?

A balanced, nutrient-rich diet supports milk production and nourishes your baby. There are several nutrients to prioritize when breastfeeding:

  • Protein: lean meat, eggs, dairy products, beans, lentils, and low-mercury seafood
  • Iron: lentils, enriched cereals, leafy green vegetables, and dried fruit
  • Iodine: dairy products, eggs, seafood, and iodized table salt
  • Choline: eggs, lean meat, beans, peas, and lentils
  • Calcium: dairy products and leafy green vegetables

If possible, incorporate a variety of foods into your diet. This changes the flavor of your breast milk, introducing your baby to different tastes and preparing them for solids.

Staying hydrated is also important for milk production. Aim for 8-10 cups of healthy fluids like water, juice, milk, or broth every day.

What shouldn’t I eat or drink while breastfeeding?

There are certain foods and beverages to limit or avoid when breastfeeding.

Caffeine

Too much caffeine can irritate your baby or interfere with their sleep. Limit your daily intake to two to three cups (16 to 24 ounces).

Alcohol

Any amount of alcohol in breast milk is unsafe for a baby to consume. If drinking while breastfeeding, avoid nursing your baby until your body has completely processed the alcohol. 

This typically takes about two to three hours for 12 ounces of 5% ABV beer, 5 ounces of 11% ABV wine, or 1.5 ounces of 40% ABV liquor.

Keep in mind that this varies depending on your weight, whether the alcohol was consumed with food, and other factors. You can also pump beforehand to safely feed your baby breast milk while drinking.

Pumping or expressing milk after consuming alcohol and then discarding it — aka “pumping and dumping” — will not reduce the amount of alcohol in your milk. The levels of alcohol in your breast milk will only decrease as your alcohol blood level drops over time.

Seafood

While a great source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids, some seafood also contains mercury, which can hurt a baby’s developing nervous system in high amounts. Avoid eating fish with high levels of mercury including:

  • Swordfish
  • King mackerel
  • Tilefish
  • Marlin

How many extra calories should I consume while breastfeeding?

Lactation and breastfeeding are energy-consuming activities, and most breastfeeding individuals need additional calories and nutrients to produce milk.

For many people, that means eating 250 to 500 extra daily calories when breastfeeding. The exact number of additional calories you need depends on a variety of factors like age, body mass index (BMI), and whether you’re exclusively breastfeeding or supplementing breast milk with formula. Consult with a trusted health professional about your dietary needs.

In supplementing your diet with added calories, prioritize nutrient-rich choices rather than sources of empty calories.

Should I take vitamins or supplements while breastfeeding?

It depends. Your recommended dietary allowances — the average amount of a vitamin or mineral needed to fulfill your daily nutrition needs — for nutrients such as iodine and choline increase during breastfeeding.

For some breastfeeding individuals, particularly those who are vegan or vegetarian, diet alone may not ensure adequate nutrition and should be supplemented with a multivitamin. However, for others, continued use of a prenatal vitamin may exceed daily iron and folic acid needs. 

Consult a healthcare professional to determine your individual dietary needs while breastfeeding.

Are there special dietary considerations for vegans and vegetarians?

If you do not consume any animal products while breastfeeding, your baby may be at higher risk of vitamin B12 deficiency, which can affect their neurological development. An exclusively plant-based diet can also lead to iron deficiency.

Many breastfeeding women who follow a vegan or vegetarian diet take vitamin B12 supplements. In some cases, a healthcare provider may also recommend supplementing iron, choline, zinc, iodine, and/or omega-3 fatty acids.

If you are a vegan or vegetarian, a healthcare professional can provide tailored dietary recommendations.

Could my breastfeeding diet give my baby an allergic reaction?

Some babies may become irritable or have an allergic reaction as a result of certain foods or beverages in your diet. Consult your pediatrician or another healthcare professional if your baby develops a rash, diarrhea, or wheezing after nursing.

If you’re concerned that a specific food or beverage is affecting your baby, try avoiding it for a week to see if it affects your baby’s behavior.

Lactation support from Ruth Health

Ruth Health offers nearly 24/7 virtual lactation support from Certified Lactation Counselors (CLCs) to provide individualized care throughout your breastfeeding journey.

Learn how we can support you, and sign up below to join our community.

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