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Should I follow a breastfeeding diet plan?

February 24, 2020 • read

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Should I follow a breastfeeding diet plan?

Breastfeeding has a ton of pros: it’s free, portable, and convenient — no washing or sterilizing bottles involved! On top of that, breast milk meets your baby’s nutritional needs no matter what you eat (well, almost). So there’s no need to worry that your sweet tooth or your double cheeseburger habit will leave your little one nutritionally deficient. Despite that, there are still a few reasons to follow a breastfeeding diet plan, here’s why.

Feeding yourself

Nursing mothers don’t have to eat a balanced diet for their breastmilk to be nutritionally complete. With a few notable exceptions (more on these later), your body can draw from your own reserves to make sure your baby gets complete nutrition — by taking calcium from your bones, for example. The main reason to follow a breastfeeding diet plan is to make sure mom has enough nutrients to maintain her own good health. This means that your list of foods to eat while breastfeeding shouldn’t be restrictive. Instead, breastfeeding meals and snacks should incorporate a wide variety of foods, like proteins, fruits and vegetables, dairy, grains and healthy fats like nuts. But no matter what you eat, if you’re breastfeeding make sure to add a vitamin D supplement to baby’s diet.

Breastfeeding while vegan or vegetarian

Putting together a menu for your breastfeeding diet shouldn’t be stressful, but there are a few additional concerns if you are vegan or vegetarian. Vitamin B12 is a crucial nutrient, and infants who don’t get enough of it are at higher risk of anemia, hair and skin issues, and developmental delays. Infants receive vitamin B12 through their mother’s breast milk so if a nursing mom is deficient in vitamin B12, her breastfed infant will be as well. Since vitamin B12 is almost exclusively found in animal products, vegan and vegetarian mothers who are breastfeeding should speak with their doctor about supplementing their diets.

Moms who have previously had gastric bypass surgery should also speak to their doctors as they may have difficulty absorbing necessary nutrients from their food. Their doctors may want to monitor them to ensure adequate levels of several vitamins and minerals including iron, vitamin B12 and calcium.

Dieting and weight loss

As unbelievable as it sounds, breastfeeding women need about the same number of calories as pregnant women. Yes, you read that right: producing breast milk takes about the same amount of energy as growing a baby. The average woman should add between 340 to 450 calories a day to her diet in the last two trimesters of her pregnancy. Once breastfeeding, this same woman requires about 300 to 400 more calories a day than her pre-pregnancy diet. If you’re looking to take off a substantial amount of baby weight, however, speak to your doctor about what your daily caloric intake should be. In many cases your body can draw on the fat reserves it laid down during pregnancy to fuel breastmilk production, meaning you’ll end up feeding your baby while losing weight. But cut your calories too much and you risk decreasing your milk supply.

Keep in mind that if you’re nursing twins (yes, it can be done), or if you’re breastfeeding while pregnant, your caloric needs will obviously be higher. In both of these cases you should speak with your doctor to make sure you’re taking in the appropriate vitamins and nutrients.

Foods to avoid while breastfeeding

Despite what the internet says, there aren’t too many foods you need to cut out of your diet while breastfeeding. While you may have heard a lot about food intolerances causing upset in breastfed babies, this is pretty rare. Caffeine and dairy are the likeliest culprits when it comes to irritating your little one’s stomach. But there’s no need to cut them out unless you notice an increase in your baby’s irritability around their consumption.

One thing you do have to watch for, however, is mercury. Mercury transfers to breast milk and can impact a nursing baby’s brain development. Large fish like mackerel and bigeye tuna are well-known as mercury-rich foods, so it’s best to stay away from them entirely. Check out the FDA’s guide to eating fish for more specific information on other species.

Can I still have coffee if I’m nursing?

The short answer is yes. Your body can take liquid from anything you drink coffee, water and even diet cola. And unlike what you’ve likely been told, the diuretic effects of caffeine are limited so you don’t really have to worry about it making you dehydrated. But caffeine does show up in breastmilk, and can take hours for your baby to fully process. So while there’s no need to cut out caffeine completely, limit yourself to a couple of cups a day. 

One drink you don’t need to limit while breastfeeding is water. Breastfeeding can quickly dehydrate you and will likely make you way thirstier than usual. Because your bowels need water to function optimally, this often means that breastfeeding and constipation go hand-in-hand. Make sure you’re getting enough fibrous foods like fruits and veggies to counteract this. A fiber supplement can also help. But be warned: increasing fiber without upping your water consumption will make you constipated as well. So make sure you’re getting a minimum of 8-10 glasses of water a day.

What can I eat to increase my milk supply?

Milk supply is often a concern for breastfeeding moms. While there’s no diet plan for breastfeeding mothers to follow to increase their milk supply, the Canadian Breastfeeding Foundation says there is some evidence that the herbs fenugreek and blessed thistle may help boost milk production. There are tons of recipes and products that incorporate these herbs, from cookies to teas. No supplements are without risk, however, so speak to your doctor first to rule out any adverse reactions or medication interactions.

If you’re concerned that your milk supply is keeping your little one from gaining enough weight, it’s crucial you speak with your child’s doctor. They may recommend supplementing with formula or, if your baby is a little older, adding certain foods to your baby’s diet. Unfortunately there are no foods moms can eat while breastfeeding to help your baby gain weight.

Taking care of yourself and meeting your nutritional needs with an infant is easier said than done. While you might have enough time to prepare food while your baby sleeps, it’s pretty much guaranteed they’ll wake up before you have time to eat it. Unless you have help or give up sleeping entirely, it’s hard to stick to a diet or nutritional plan. But try your best and make sure to keep taking your prenatal vitamins – it’ll all be over before you know it. 

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