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The Ultimate Breastfeeding Diet

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Breastfeeding was relatively easy for me with both of my children, but I still questioned whether I was doing it right — and not just the latching on part, either. I was also concerned about my diet. Was I eating too much, or not enough? Should I take extra vitamins? Was I eating the right foods? For example, I’d heard that too much caffeine could be harmful so I was careful not to drink lots of coffee, but there were days when I only had enough time to grab a handful of bagel chips at lunch, which I knew wasn’t good. To get the lowdown on what nutrients breastfeeding moms need, I talked to the pros.

1. Eat a well-balanced diet. Clean, whole foods — preferably organic and local when possible — are the way to go, says Stacey Capobianco, a board certified health coach in Brooklyn, New York. “Cook proteins such as wild-caught salmon, which has beneficial omega 3 fatty acids and beans, which contain iron, folate, calcium, and zinc.” Incorporate a rainbow of fruits and veggies into your diet, and vary your cooking method as well, she adds. “Eat some vegetables raw, sautéed, steamed, or roasted.” 

2. Make sure that you’re getting these essential vitamins and nutrients:

Calcium is necessary for healthy bones, muscles, and nerves. You should get 1000 milligrams of calcium per day from foods such as cheese, yogurt, milk, beans, fish, and tofu.

Magnesium is important for muscle and nerve function, as well as for maintaining healthy blood sugar levels and blood pressure. Breastfeeding moms should get about 350 milligrams daily. Good sources of magnesium include nuts, seeds, beans, whole grains, green vegetables, scallops, and oysters.

Zinc helps your immune system function well. You should get about 12 milligrams a day from foods such as beef, lamb, pork, poultry, seafood (especially oysters), eggs, seeds, beans, and yogurt.

Folate (aka folic acid) will help you avoid anemia. Breastfeeding moms should get 500 micrograms daily by eating green leafy vegetables, beans, seeds, eggs, and fortified breakfast cereals.

Many of these nutrients are already in your prenatal vitamin, which you should continue to take, says Sharon Mass, MD, a member of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ Breastfeeding Expert Working Group. She also says you may need extra vitamin D if you don’t get enough (about 20 minutes of sunshine per day), as well as B12 if you’re a vegetarian or a vegan. Consult your doctor if you have concerns.

Related: How I’m Dealing with My Breastfeeding Baby’s Cow’s Milk Allergy

3. Eat healthy snacks. Nursing moms should consume an additional 500 calories a day, which is the equivalent of an apple and a handful of almonds as a morning snack, and a couple of tablespoons of hummus with pita and carrots in the afternoon, says Eileen Behan, RD, a member of Core Physicians in New Hampshire and author of Eat Well, Lose Weight, While Breastfeeding. To ensure you’re getting your extra nutrients from healthy foods, Capobianco suggests stocking your pantry and fridge with nuts, seeds, organic cheeses, hard-boiled, free-range eggs, and avocados.

4. Drink plenty of water.
 You should get 6 to 8 glasses of water, juice, milk, and herbal tea per day. One way to measure if you’re drinking enough, according to Dr. Mass, is by the color of your urine; pale yellow is best!

5. Follow these “Don’ts” until you’re finished breastfeeding:

Don’t drink more than a glass or two of wine. Alcohol passes into breast milk. “It takes about two hours for your body to metabolize the alcohol from a typical alcoholic beverage, so it’s important to time your feedings accordingly,” says Dr. Mass. 

Don’t consume too much caffeine. Try to stick to one cup of coffee a day — two at most, says Dr. Behar. “Drinking more than two cups of coffee a day may affect how well your baby sleeps,” she explains. Remember, chocolate has caffeine, too.

Don’t eat fish that’s high in mercury, such as swordfish, shark, and tilefish. Better choices include salmon, shrimp, and cod. High mercury levels aren’t healthy for you or your baby.

Breastfeeding moms have a lot to remember. But incorporating a healthy diet should become second nature over time (if it isn’t already). Dr. Behan reminds us that, as new moms, it is important to take stock of our eating habits. “Within a year your child will be eating as you do, so set a good example,” she says. 

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 Photo: Getty