Reviewed by the BabyCenter Medical Advisory Board
Many women wonder if they should follow a special diet while they're breastfeeding. The good news is that you probably don't need to make any major changes to what you eat or drink during this time, though there are a few important considerations to keep in mind:
to see why a well-balanced diet is important for your health...
One of the wonders of breast milk is that it can meet your baby's nutritional needs even if you're not eating well. But just because your baby won't be harmed by any dietary insufficiency on your part doesn't mean that you won't suffer. Getting enough vitamins and nutrients is important because you need energy to meet the physical demands of caring for a new baby. Think of nursing as continued motivation to follow the healthy diet you followed during pregnancy. Focus on eating whole grains and cereals, fresh fruits and vegetables, and foods that provide plenty of protein, calcium, and iron. (As always, a treat every now and then is fine.)Eating well doesn't mean you need to eat more. Experts used to recommend that nursing moms get an extra 500 calories a day, but recent research indicates that breastfeeding moms don't necessarily need a calorie boost, says breastfeeding expert Kathleen Huggins, a BabyCenter advisor and author of The Nursing Mother's Companion. Your energy needs will depend on your current weight and a lot on your activity level — there's no one-size-fits-all recommendation.
Dieting while nursing is fine, but go slow
Lose weight gradually (1 to 2 pounds a week) by combining a healthy, low-fat diet with moderate exercise. Rapid weight loss can pose a danger to your baby because it releases toxins — normally stored in your body fat — into the bloodstream, increasing the amount of these contaminants that wind up in your milk. If you're losing more than 2 pounds a week after the first six weeks, you need to take in more calories.If you think you must wean your baby to lose weight, rest assured: Nursing helps to deplete the fat deposited during pregnancy to prepare you for lactation. So some new moms find the weight just seems to fall off while they're breastfeeding. Still, count on taking ten months to a year to return to your pre-pregnancy weight. And don't even think about trying to lose weight until at least six weeks after your baby is born. Limiting what you eat in the early weeks of lactation may reduce your milk supply.
Limit your consumption of some fish
In March 2004, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued new guidelines for how women who are trying to conceive, pregnant women, nursing mothers, and young children can limit their exposure to mercury in fish. They now advise eating no more than 6 ounces (about one serving) of canned albacore or "white" tuna a week.According to the FDA/EPA guidelines, you should also limit yourself to 12 ounces a week (about two servings) of canned "light" tuna and other cooked fish. And you should completely avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish (also called golden or white snapper). More conservative experts recommend that you avoid tuna steak (fresh or frozen), orange roughy, Spanish mackerel, marlin, and grouper because these fish are at the top of the food chain and contain the highest levels of mercury.
You may want to hold off on drinking while you're breastfeeding, because alcohol does enter your breast milk and can potentially harm or irritate your baby. Among other risks, drinking as little as one alcoholic beverage can inhibit your body's ability to produce milk.If you're going to enjoy an occasional alcoholic beverage or have more than one drink, wait at least two hours before nursing your baby to give the alcohol a chance to dissipate. Alcohol isn't stored in breast milk, so "pumping and dumping" (using a breast pump to empty your breasts and then throwing out the collected milk) serves no purpose. To avoid dehydration, be sure to down a nonalcoholic drink for every cocktail you have.
Drink plenty of water to stay well-hydrated
When you breastfeed, your body is shedding excess fluid. Although it won't affect your milk supply, you should aim to drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water or liquid a day to stay hydrated. Another rule of thumb is to "drink to thirst" — that is, drink whenever you feel the need. Avoid caffeine, which can dehydrate you.
Some strong-flavored foods may cause your baby to be gassy or irritable. You'll be able to figure out whether your child is sensitive to something you eat or drink: She'll show her discomfort by being fussy after feedings, crying inconsolably, or sleeping very little. If your baby's allergic to something you've eaten you may see a reaction on her skin (rash or hives), in her breathing (wheezing or congestion), or in her stools (green or mucusy).Although some moms swear that spicy dishes upset their babies, trial and error may be your best guide, because food-induced irritability differs markedly from one infant to the next. If you find you can eat a hot salsa burrito, garlic chicken, or fiery vegetable curry without making your baby unhappy, then dig in. One note of caution: Some common colic offenders include broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and cows' milk.
Check your iron levels
Even if you took a vitamin-mineral supplement when you were pregnant, you might not need one now that you've had your baby. However, many health professionals recommend continuing a prenatal supplement, which has extra iron, while nursing. Or, if a blood test reveals that your iron levels are low, your doctor may recommend that you take an iron supplement instead. If you do continue with a general vitamin supplement, remember that it can't make up for poor eating habits. Strive to eat a well-balanced, varied diet.
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