Your bundle of joy has finally arrived and the transition from pregnancy to motherhood is all-consuming in the best way possible. If your next chapter includes breastfeeding, you’re probably wondering what you should eat to make the journey a success for you and your infant.
Importance of a healthy diet
Getting enough nutrient-rich foods during this season of survival is key for both your recovery and baby’s start in life. Alexandra Paetow, registered dietitian nutritionist and owner of Thrive and Bloom Nutrition LLC, explains, “A healthy diet helps to ensure that the breast milk is rich in important nutrients that support optimal infant growth and development.”
For moms, healthy eating directly affects postpartum recovery, energy levels, and hormone balance, Paetow says. “If a mom is not consuming enough [of certain nutrients] in the diet, her body will sacrifice its stores to preferentially provide it in the breast milk at expense to the mom. So having a nutrient-rich diet is extremely important to mom’s health. It prevents deficiencies and supports all of the energy intensive processes that she is experiencing after childbirth including wound healing, tissue repair, and milk production.”
Broad strokes of nursing nutrition
Paetow urges new moms not to stress about particular ingredients. Rather, they should focus on eating enough nutrient-dense foods with a balance of carbohydrates, protein, fat, and micronutrients. Nursing moms should also stick with their prenatal vitamin while potentially adding other supplements like vitamin D depending on individual needs.
It’s important to hydrate while breastfeeding since you lose fluid through your breast milk. In addition to quenching your thirst with water, Paetow recommends eating water-rich foods like broth, watermelon, citrus, cucumbers, and bell peppers to help increase your fluid intake.
What’s On the Menu
- Protein and veggie-rich soup in bone broth
- Greek yogurt parfait with nuts and berries
- Avocado toast topped with eggs
Did you know?
Babies can experience strong flavors like garlic and carrots through breast milk. Breastfeeding is a great way to introduce your newborn to new tastes, hopefully helping them accept a variety of foods once it’s time to move to solids.
The enticing world of galactagogues
Many moms know that milk production can be very fickle. That’s why it’s tempting to dive headfirst into the world of galactagogues the minute your latest pumping session produces less than what your baby needs. There is no solid scientific (but plenty of anecdotal) evidence to show the effectiveness of galactagogues like fenugreek, oats, milk thistle, etc, on increasing your supply.
Instead, Paetow suggests, “The best way to increase milk supply is to continue to remove milk from the breast through nursing or pumping to prompt the body to produce more.” For those seriously concerned about their supply, reaching out to an IBCLC is crucial to identifying any issues.
a substance, often an herb or food, that stimulates milk production.
What to limit or avoid
While a nursing diet is not as restrictive as a pregnancy one, there are still some areas worthy of extra consideration. Two things often under the microscope are caffeine and alcohol. Mom and baby share a bloodstream during pregnancy, but there is a more limited transfer through breast milk, Paetow explains. “In terms of alcohol, a popular recommendation is that if you are safe to drive then you are safe to breastfeed. For caffeine, it can depend on your baby—some may be sensitive to caffeine content in breast milk and may need stricter limits. Generally, not exceeding 300–500 mg of caffeine should be okay.”
With still developing digestive systems, some babies can be more sensitive to certain foods, causing them to experience gas pain and fussiness. If you think this may be the case with your newborn, creating a food diary will help to pinpoint which ingredients may be bothering them. Common irritants and gassy foods include dairy, chocolate, and cruciferous veggies (though not all babies have issues with these items). You can also practice an elimination diet to determine if food allergies are at play.
Breastfeeding myth: busted
If you’ve ever heard that breastfeeding will help you drop the pregnancy weight or that nursing is the best form of cardio, Paetow (sadly) bursts that bubble. “Since it’s true that breastfeeding requires extra calories to produce breast milk, many mistakenly perceive that the weight will melt off. Some women lose their pregnancy weight in a matter of weeks and for others it may take 9+ months or they may find a new normal weight that is slightly higher than before. There are so many factors that affect weight, and hormones are a big one that can be significantly affected by breastfeeding.”
Instead of focusing on scale numbers, she recommends trying to emphasize high quality nutritious foods and incorporate gentle and enjoyable physical activity when medically cleared to do so. Above all else, be kind to yourself during your recovery, slow down, and focus on nourishment.
Meet the expert: Alexandra Paetow is a registered dietitian nutritionist with a master’s degree in nutrition education and bachelor’s degree in health and exercise science. She founded her private practice, Thrive and Bloom Nutrition LLC, to support and nourish women throughout their maternal journeys from preconception to pregnancy and postpartum.