Breastfeeding Diet – What to Eat While Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding has all sorts of benefits for both mom and baby.

Not surprisingly, it is incredibly important to eat healthy while breastfeeding.

Breast milk is very nutritious and contains most of the nutrients your baby needs for the first 6 months of life.

Consequently, your needs for most nutrients are increased in order to meet this demand.

Healthy eating will also give you the energy you need to take care of yourself and your baby.

What’s more, eating healthy foods may help you shed the pregnancy weight faster.

This article explains everything you need to know about eating a healthy diet while breastfeeding.

Breast Milk is Very Nutritious

With the exception of vitamin D, breast milk contains everything a baby requires for proper development during the first six months of life.

The composition of breast milk is highly regulated, and your diet only has limited effects on the concentrations of some nutrients.

However, if your overall diet does not provide sufficient amounts of nutrients, it can affect both the quality of your breast milk and your own health.

Generally, an ounce (28 ml) of breast milk contains 19–23 calories, with 3.6–4.8% from protein, 28.8–32.4% from fat and 26.8–31.2% from carbs, mostly lactose.

Unlike baby formula, the calorie content and composition of breast milk varies. Breast milk changes during each feeding and throughout your lactation period, in order to meet the needs of your baby.

At the beginning of a feeding, the milk is more watery and usually quenches the baby’s thirst. The milk that comes later is thicker, higher in fat and more nutritious.

In fact, this milk may contain 2–3 times as much fat as milk from the beginning of a feeding, and 7–11 more calories per ounce.

Therefore, to get to the most nutritious milk, it’s important that your baby “empties” one breast before switching to the other.

Bottom Line: Breast milk contains everything a baby needs for the first six months of life. Additionally, the fat and calorie content of breast milk changes both during a feeding and throughout the time you lactate.

Breastfeeding May Require More Calories

Making breast milk is hard work for your body.

It is estimated that breastfeeding increases your energy needs by about 500 calories per day.

You also have an increased need for most nutrients, so it’s very important to eat a healthy and varied diet.

You might be tempted to lose weight quickly after delivery, but you may need to be patient. It is completely normal to not lose any weight — or even gain some — during the first 3 months of breastfeeding.

Due to hormonal changes in your body, you may have a bigger appetite and be more prone to hold on to body fat.

Restricting calories too much, especially during the first few months of breastfeeding, may decrease both your milk supply and much-needed energy levels.

However, you will likely experience a spontaneous increase in fat burning after 3–6 months of breastfeeding and start losing more weight than mothers who don’t breastfeed.

Losing approximately 1.1 lbs (0.5 kg) per week through a combination of diet and exercise should not affect your milk supply or milk composition, assuming that you are not undernourished to begin with.

However, very thin women may be more sensitive to calorie restriction. They may need to eat abundantly to avoid a reduction in milk supply.

All in all, remember that losing weight after delivery is a marathon — not a sprint. It took you months to put on the weight, and it may take you months to lose it.

Eat Nutrient-Dense Foods

Your nutrient needs are greater while breastfeeding, both to fulfill the baby’s needs and your own.

The amounts of some nutrients in your diet may directly affect their presence in your breast milk.

On the other hand, some nutrients are transferred into breast milk regardless of your intake.

It is very important to eat a variety of nutritious, whole foods to ensure that you get all the nutrients you and your baby need.

Here are some nutritious foods you should eat while breastfeeding:

  • Fish and seafood: Salmon, seaweed, shellfish and sardines.

  • Meat: Beef, lamb, pork and organ meats, such as liver.

  • Fruits and vegetables: Berries, tomatoes, cabbage, kale, garlic and broccoli.

  • Nuts and seeds: Almonds, walnuts, chia seeds, hemp seeds and flaxseeds.

  • Other foods: Eggs, oats, potatoes, quinoa, buckwheat and dark chocolate.

However, this list is in no way limiting.

Additionally, avoid processed foods as much as possible because they are usually high in calories, added sugars and unhealthy fats.

Make Sure to Get Plenty of These Nutrients

The nutrients in breast milk may be categorized into two groups, depending on the extent to which they are secreted into the milk.

The amounts of group 1 nutrients in breast milk depend on dietary intake, while group 2 nutrients are secreted into breast milk regardless of intake or health status.

Therefore, getting enough group 1 nutrients is very important for both you and your baby, while getting enough group 2 nutrients is mostly important for you.

Group 1 Nutrients