Nutrition for a Breastfeeding Mom

10/28/2014: This blog post was edited to include certain references and updated content. Updated content is in bolded text.

Breastfeeding has a host of nutritional benefits that will promote your child’s health and growth. It also takes a toll on the mother’s nutritional stores and energy. But with some pre-baby planning and smart shopping, energy and milk supplies can be better for mom and baby. Here are some tips:

Calories and Fluid

The average woman needs anywhere from 1,500-2,000 calories, based on activity level. Nursing moms need more: 2,000-2,500 calories (more if nursing twins) daily, along with at least 10 8-oz. glasses of water. To make up a 500-calorie deficit, consider a few healthy choices that will also help with weight loss over time:

  • Two tablespoons of peanut butter has 200 calories and 7 g protein.
  • One small container of full-fat Greek yogurt can have 180 calories and 15 g protein.
  • Adding two tablespoons of full-fat balsamic dressing to a salad with half an avocado will add an additional 300 calories.
  • Avoid sugary drinks (juices, carbonated beverages) and sweets, as this will slow down on some of the postpartum weight loss.  

Proper hydration is also crucial for nursing mothers. ChooseMyPlate.gov recommends drinking enough fluids, especially water, to quench your thirst. 

Nutrients

Calcium consumption is crucial for both nursing mothers and their babies. Mother can obtain this nutrient in foods such as dairy products, non-dairy fortified products (almond or soy milk), fish, dark leafy greens, fortified cereals and tofu. New moms should stock up on fortified cereals as they are shelf-stable and consider using frozen leafy greens to add to omelets, pastas and soups.

Iron

Iron is crucial during the postpartum period. Doctors will usually test for iron and recommend supplementation if necessary, but the following foods will help with improving iron stores: fortified cereals, oysters, lean beef, tofu and spinach (when combined with an acid such as citrus or vinegar). Also, consider avoiding coffee, teas and legumes while consuming iron-rich foods as these can block iron absorption.  

Caffeine

Sleepless nights and depleted iron stores make for exhausted parents. Coffee to the rescue? Excessive consumption of caffeine (three or more cups per day) may affect the breastfeeding infant. However, a morning cup of coffee is acceptable during breastfeeding. Keep in mind that the later you drink coffee the later it’s in the breast milk, which might keep baby up later.  

Seafood 

Low-mercury fish can be eaten twice a week. Good options are cod, haddock, pollock, shrimp, tilapia and light tuna. Farm-raised salmon can be eaten twice a month along with herring and sardines, but keep in mind they contain polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which, in high numbers, can cause neurological problems and development delays in babies.

Alcohol

Once the baby is on an established breastfeeding schedule, around age three months, mom may have a chance to imbibe. Alcohol passes into breast milk so ChooseMyPlate.gov recommends pumping or breastfeeding before having a drink. Or, wait four hours after drinking before pumping or nursing to ensure the alcohol is completely out of the mother’s system.  

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Gina Lesako
Gina Lesako, RD, LD, is a nutritionist and the blog coordinator for the dietetic practice group, SCAN (Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition). She also writes her own blog, Dietitians Eat Chocolate Too. Follow her antics on Twitter.