The best diet for breastfeeding

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  • When you breastfeed, your body uses up to 500 more calories per day than you ate before you were pregnant.
  • Basic whole foods are more nutritious than high-calorie snacks.
  • Special nutrient needs that increase during breastfeeding include Calcium, Iron, Zinc and protein.

Now that you’re breastfeeding, you may notice your appetite increase. This is because your body is using more energy to produce breastmilk. You’re now using up to 500 more calories per day than you did before you were pregnant. That means you’re still eating for two. But don’t reach for the slice of cheesecake just yet…  

500 a day
It may sound like a lot, but 500 calories is about the amount you get in a small fast-food shake. However, you can get more food—and a lot more nutrition—by skipping high-calorie, low-nutrient foods like this and choosing basic whole foods instead. Like fruits and vegetables, lean meats and poultry, skim milk or low-fat yogurt, and whole grains.

Top Tip

Try adding one or two small snacks between meals to help keep your energy level up. If you need a snack on the go, try whole-wheat crackers, a granola bar, or portable fruit like a banana.

Nutritious suggestions
Moms who breastfeed exclusively need more nutrients to keep up with their own health needs. These needs can be met in a well-balanced daily diet that includes the following*:

  • 2 cups fruit
  • 3 cups vegetables
  • 8 oz. grains
  • 6½ oz. meat or bean
  • 3 cups skim milk or foods made with milk, like cheese or yogurt
  • Your need for fluids increases while you’re breastfeeding. Drink enough water and other fluids to quench your thirst.

*These amounts are for an average breastfeeding woman. You may need more or less than the average. Check with your health care provider for the amounts appropriate for you.

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Specific nutrients

Your body has an increased need for some specific nutrients while lactating. This is of particular importance to note if you’re a vegetarian or restrict one or more food groups. Here are some of the specific nutrients you need more of, their functions and what foods to find them in:  

Calcium
Helps build and maintain strong bones. Calcium is absorbed better when consumed with Vitamin D.
Good sources: milk, cheese, yogurt, canned salmon, dark green leafy vegetables, beans and lentils, tofu made with Calcium, Calcium-fortified cereals and 100% fruit juice that is Calcium-fortified.


Iron
Carries oxygen to your blood, maintains energy level and can help protect from infections. Iron from vegetable sources can be absorbed better when consumed along with foods rich in Vitamin C.
Good sources: all meats; especially lean beef and poultry; Iron-fortified cereal; soybeans; spinach and beans.


Zinc
Important for healing and cell reproduction
Good sources: lean meat; poultry; beans; nuts; Zinc-fortified cereal; low-fat or fat-free dairy; whole-grain bread.


Protein
Keeps tissues and cells in good repair. Protein needs increase for breastfeeding moms by about 25 grams—the amount in about three ounces of lean meat, poultry or fish.
Good sources: lean meat; skinless poultry; fish; low-fat or fat-free milk and dairy products; eggs; soy foods; cooked dry beans; peas and nuts.  


Vitamin D
Helps the body use Calcium and phosphorus, supports the immune system.
Good sources: low-fat or fat-free milk fortified with Vitamin D; fatty fish such as salmon and tuna; Vitamin D-fortified cereal; exposure to direct sunlight.


Vitamin B 12
Supports your body’s metabolism and your immune system. Works with Folic Acid to form hemoglobin in red blood cells.
Good sources: beef liver; lean meat; skinless poultry; fish, clams; Vitamin B12-fortified cereal; low-fat or fat-free milk; eggs.


Dieting while breastfeeding

While it may be tempting to cut calories to quickly take off those pregnancy pounds, it’s best not to follow strict weight loss diets while breastfeeding. Cutting your calories too low can affect your milk supply and deprive your body of the nutrients it needs. Talk to your health care provider or a Registered Dietitian before starting any diet or exercise program.

We’re here to help.

If you think that you aren't meeting your nutrient needs, or have any questions, talk to a Registered Dietitian.
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