How to stay healthy while breastfeeding

By on June 12, 2013

How to stay healthy while breastfeeding

Neonatal health experts agree that breast milk is the best meal for babies, and Hispanic women lead the way when it comes to breastfeeding.

A 2010 Centers for Disease Control report said that more than 80 percent of Hispanic moms breastfeed their babies during the first six months of life, compared to 74 percent of Caucasians and 54 percent of black women. But as great as those numbers are, new moms need to know how to eat healthy while breastfeeding – for their sake and for baby’s.


You want your baby to be healthy and happy, and part of how you can accomplish that is by taking care of yourself while breastfeeding.
New moms get plenty of advice – maybe too much – about what to eat and what not to eat for their baby’s sake.

Peppers or broccoli will give baby gas… Fennel and anise will help produce more milk… But where is the advice on how and what to eat to keep Mom in top form, so she can replenish the vitamins and nutrients that her baby is gobbling down every day?

Eat smart
According to La Leche League International, a leader in breastfeeding advocacy and support, maternal nutrition during breastfeeding need not be a complicated or expensive process. In fact, a breastfeeding diet looks a lot like any other sensible diet: balanced with a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and protein and a small amount of “good” fats, like those found in cold-pressed vegetable oils, nuts and seeds.

So an optimal diet for a breastfeeding mom should include the following daily portions:

  • 5-8 cups of fruit and vegetables, including dark leafy greens, orange vegetables like carrots and sweet potatoes, and vitamin C-rich fruits like citrus, strawberries and cantaloupe.
  • 3 cups of dairy, in the form of low-fat milk, yogurt or cheese.
  • 6-9 ounces of grains, at least half of which are whole grains like whole wheat bread and pasta, quinoa and brown rice.
  • 5-7 ounces of protein, from lean meats and fish, beans and nuts. (A vegetarian diet with plenty of milk, eggs and cheese provides enough protein, but vegan moms should take a B12 supplement.)
  • 6-8 teaspoons of oils and fats, with the majority in the form of liquid vegetable oils, like olive and canola, and a minimum of trans fats like those found in mayonnaise, margarine and butter.
  • Consult with your physician if you think you may be allergic to any of these or if you are taking any type of medication.

Eat according to hunger
When breastfeeding, the cleaner your diet is, the cleaner your baby will also eat, and this represents several health benefits for you both.
When women are pregnant, they are advised to consume 300 extra calories per day (and not to “eat for two!”) in order to nourish themselves and their growing baby. But for breastfeeding women, there’s no hard and fast rule for how many extra calories are needed to make up for those calories that escape in breast milk.

Variables include the woman’s weight, build and metabolism. Instead, medical consultants to urge women to eat according to their hunger, and consume healthy snacks – like yogurt, carrot sticks or handful (not a bowlful) of nuts – when hunger pangs strike between meals.

Go natural
For nursing moms who might never consider spending a little more for those organic apples, now is the time to rethink that thriftiness. All the pesticides, preservatives and unintended contaminants a nursing mother consumes transfer right to their babies when they breastfeed. So during lactation, it’s more important than ever to eat not just a healthy diet, but a clean one, too.

To keep a breastfeeding diet as clean and natural as possible, shop with the following pointers in mind:

  • Buy fresh and buy local. Seasonal fruits and vegetables, and even meat and grains grown or raised locally will be fresher when they arrive at the store or market and have minimal preservatives and potentially harmful bacteria.
  • Read the label. The list of ingredients in prepared or processed foods should be short. A good rule of thumb: if you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it.
  • Look for whole foods. That means bread and pasta made from the whole grain, not white flour, and brown rice instead of white and fresh fruit instead of cooked, sugar-added applesauce or juice drinks.
  • Buy organic. An organic label certifies that food is grown and processed without synthetic pesticides and other chemicals.

Since few busy moms can follow an ideal diet all the time, breastfeeding women should also take a multivitamin, and complement that with 1,000 mg of calcium, 6,000 IU vitamin D and 200 mg of DHA daily.

A breastfeeding diet doesn’t contain too many surprises, and mostly comes down to common sense: a clean healthy diet for mom means a clean healthy diet for baby. So even on the days when we’d rather reach for a bag of cookies than a bowl of brown rice, one look at a happy, healthy baby should make that decision a no-brainer.



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