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Nutritional Needs While Breastfeeding

What Should I Eat When I'm Breastfeeding?

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Updated May 30, 2014

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The age-old worry, "What should I eat (or avoid eating) while I'm breastfeeding?" comes replete with myths and wives' tales. Aside from the fact that you need at least 500 extra calories a day, the general answer is: "Eat anything and everything you want in moderation." But what truly constitutes the "right" breastfeeding diet and how can you fit in healthy food choices in these harried days as a busy mom?

Don't Worry About Being Perfect!

You have enough to think about these days. There's no need to stress about having the "perfect" diet to build an abundant milk supply. Your body is prepared -- regardless of what you eat -- to make a sufficient amount of milk for your baby (or babies, as the case may be.) With that said, it is essential that you eat well so that your breast milk will have plenty of nutrients.

You should continue to take your prenatal vitamins, but the majority of nutrients need to come from food. Yes, your body has a great nutrient "storage system" for those times where you're not eating so well. But you need the actual nutrients to store. So eating a well-rounded -- not "perfect" -- diet as often as possible is key. There's no diet that is the diet to follow, as mothers across the world eat what is culturally theirs, and most can provide healthy milk for their children. Each culture has distinct dietary guidelines, but the consensus is that it is critical to eat a medley of foods that have minimal sugar, caffeine, fat, and salt. Foods to focus on are iron-rich (meat, dark leafy greens, broccoli, beans) and high in fiber (whole grains, dried fruit, vegetables, beans). These foods will keep your body strong while you're breastfeeding. And, even though not necessarily about food, it is also important to exercise daily.

Tips For Quick And Nutritious Meals

You may feel totally consumed, time- and energy-wise, by your role as a breastfeeding mom. It's hard to even imagine taking any moments in the day for yourself, but it's actually very easy to fit healthy eating into the picture. Here are some ideas:

  • For breakfast, add some berries to your cereal or toss some dried fruit and granola into low-fat yogurt. If you're a bagel lover, add some chopped peppers and carrots to your cream cheese, or top it with cottage cheese.
  • For lunch or dinner, add some beans and peas to a salad.
  • Always have cut-up vegetables ready in the refrigerator. You can either eat them raw or dip them into salad dressing. Most grocery stores are now recognizing the lack of time we have in our lives and selling an array of pre-cut veggies. The best part is that you can munch on these snacks all day or prepare a salad quickly. (If you don't go for the pre-cut vegetables, do the job yourself soon after you get home from the store so they're ready to go when you most need them). For dinner, you can melt some cheese on top of the vegetables.
  • If you have to go to Dunkin' Donuts or Starbucks, go for the bran muffin instead of the donuts.
  • A great way to sneak some protein and fiber into your diet is from trail mix, which is usually a combination of nuts and dried fruit. You can even add some dark chocolate to the mix; it's good for you.
  • Dip cut-up fruit into yogurt.
  • Hard-boil some eggs to have in the fridge. You can grab one quickly for a good protein punch.
  • Feel like a kid again. Have a peanut butter sandwich on whole-grain bread. It'll fill you for hours while giving you a good dose of power.

It's important to eat a lot of fruits and vegetables. Fresh ones are ideal, but it's fine to eat the frozen version if the fresh are unavailable. Apples are a great standby as you can find them year-round.

Remember to drink water. Don't wait until you're thirsty. Your body is approximately 65% water and its function relies heavily on water intake. If you're not drinking enough, you may feel tired and nauseated. If you need a break from water, a glass of low-fat milk is nutrient-rich and will give a great boost.

Always Have These In Your Kitchen Cabinets

  • Canned foods: water-packed fruit (avoid light or heavy syrups), vegetables (peas, corn, tomatoes), beans (all kinds are great for salads); soups
  • Dried food: fruit (raisins, cranberries, apples)
  • Whole-grains: cereals (including oatmeal), pasta, rice, crackers (most are, but the low or reduced fat versions are ideal)
  • Nuts, legumes, seeds: sunflower seeds (for ease, buy them already shelled -- they add great protein to salads); sesame seeds (cook with them to add flavor and excitement); almonds; walnuts; peanut, soy or almond butter
  • Oils: canola, extra-virgin olive, flaxseed, sesame, walnut, peanut, grapeseed
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