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What should I eat while breastfeeding?

For the most part, breastfeeding mothers may eat any type of diet they choose without altering the nutritional value of the breast milk. Some mothers do find that eating certain foods can make their baby gassy or fussy. However, these foods are different for each mother and baby.

What you eat and drink is very important when you’re breastfeeding, especially during the first two to three weeks when your milk supply is becoming established. Don’t diet during this critical time. Follow an eating plan that includes a generous intake (1,800 to 2,200 calories each day) of nutrients from all food groups. Also, be sure to make smart choices from each food group, now and all through your life:

  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Dark green, orange and yellow vegetables are especially healthy choices.
  • Make most of the grains you eat whole grains. Examples include whole-wheat bread, brown rice and oatmeal. These have lots of healthy fiber and nutrients.
  • Choose heart-healthy proteins. Examples include beans, eggs, low-fat cheese, nut butters, skinless poultry and lean red meats. Fish is another good protein source, but to limit your intake of mercury (common in many sea fish), eat no more than 12 ounces a week of halibut, sea bass, swordfish, mackerel, grouper, red snapper and orange roughy.
  • Select low-fat dairy products. Go for nonfat or low-fat milk, yogurt and cheese. If you’re breastfeeding, you need at least four servings of dairy each day.
  • Choose unsaturated fats and oils—and stay away from trans fat. Read food labels to see what’s inside.
  • Limit salt and sweets. Most Americans get far too much sodium (salt) in their diet and eat too many sweets. So keep salty and sweet snacks to a minimum—save your appetite for foods with the nutrients you need right now.

What about foods to avoid? Contrary to popular belief, there are no “forbidden foods” for breastfeeding women. Unless you have a food allergy in the family, you should be able to eat everything in moderation—including spicy foods, nuts, dairy, broccoli and chocolate. Your baby’s occasional fussiness is probably not related to your diet. However, if you’re concerned, you can try eliminating a particular food for a time to see if things improve, or talk to your baby’s doctor.

You should drink plenty of fluids. Try to drink at least 8 cups of fluid each day. However, forcing fluids beyond your thirst will not increase your milk supply.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

It doesn't take a biochemist to know that pumping your own body full of spicy nachos grandes doesn't exactly make for the best-formulated breast milk. To make sure your baby is getting the right nutrients, you have to do the same. Keep taking your prenatal vitamin and make sure you get these nutrients, which have been deemed especially beneficial for improving the quality of breast milk:

  1. Protein: 2 or 3 servings a day of organically fed poultry, seafood (non-bottom-feeders and small fish; think wild—including canned—salmon, trout, mahi-mahi, sea bass, flounder), lean meat, eggs, low-fat dairy and soy.
  2. Calcium: 1,300 mg a day (low-fat dairy, calcium-fortified orange juice, soy milk, tofu, broccoli). Consume no more than 600 mg in any two-hour period throughout the day, because your body can only absorb 600 mg at a time, either from food or from your calcium citrate and magnesium supplement.
  3. Iron: 20 mg a day (poultry, seafood, dried beans and fruit, egg yolks). Your multi often includes more than that.
  4. DHA: 600 mg a day (algae source is ideal since it avoids any toxin concerns and is very palatable in pill form; it's available in most drug stores)
  5. Vitamin C: 800 mg a day (citrus fruits, red peppers, broccoli)

Above all, aim to have a healthy, balanced diet and drink plenty of fluids. It's best to eat five or six smaller meals throughout the day, rather than having three larger ones. Avoid spicy or gas-inducing foods, as well as caffeinated beverages and alcohol. Remember you are eating for at most 1.2, not two.

YOU: Having a Baby: The Owner's Manual to a Happy and Healthy Pregnancy

More About this Book

YOU: Having a Baby: The Owner's Manual to a Happy and Healthy Pregnancy

Can I get a cavity filled while pregnant? Will avoiding spicy foods make my kid a picky eater? Can I really increase my baby's IQ while she's in utero? Whether you're pregnant for the first time, are trying to start your family, or already have enough children to start your own basketball team, you're bound to have questions about what it means to be pregnant -- and how you can increase your odds of having a healthy and happy pregnancy. But no matter how much you've read, watched, studied, or talked about this amazing biological journey, you have never read anything like this. In this groundbreaking book, Dr. Michael Roizen and Dr. Mehmet Oz act as mythbusters for the hundreds of questions surrounding pregnancy in the same scientific, informative, and entertaining ways that have made them America's Doctors. In these pages, you'll learn everything you need to know about the miracles of fetal development, your health throughout the pregnancy, and providing the best possible environment for your growing child. Pregnancy is a complicated balancing act, but it doesn't have to be frightening. The doctors will help you de-stress as they describe accurately and rationally what happens during a thrilling nine months of life. While every pregnant body is different, odds are you'll experience some of the cravings, crying, and discomfort that almost all women go through. Your best tactic? Learn why these things are happening -- and what you should do about them. YOU: Having a Baby will teach you everything you need to know about what to eat (should I be eating for two?), how much to exercise, and what guilty pleasures will actually make pregnancy easier on you (and the loved ones who get to be around you for the whole thing). Each phase of pregnancy has different challenges, but the right information will prepare you for what's ahead. The interactive week-by-week calendar inside provides an even more detailed guideline for how and what you should feel through every step of the process. Exciting, cutting-edge scientific research in the fi eld of epigenetics has changed the way the medical profession looks at pregnancy, and now it can change your perspective, too. Epigenetics explores what makes us develop in certain ways -- why some people thrive at math while others are prone to chronic diseases. It turns out that there are easy things you can do that will not just help your baby's development in utero but will actually improve his or her chances of living a healthy, fulfi lling adult life. Filled with recipes for nutritious, satisfying snacks and meals even Pop can cook (yes, he can!), safe exercises for staying fit, and tons of YOU tips that will help you stay comfortable, YOU: Having a Baby is the ultimate guidebook for what to do from the moment of conception to the weeks after your child has arrived home. From morning sickness and food cravings to choosing a doctor and changing a diaper, YOU: Having a Baby will give you the real scoop about what's in store for you during this amazing time in your life.
Annette Duncan
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

Just like when you were pregnant everything you eat/drink will be passed on to your baby, so you still need to eat healthy to give your child the best. You will burn an extra 500 calories per day while nursing, so you will need to eat more. Make sure that the "more" you eat is healthy—focus on calcium, protein, healthy fats and whole grains. Drink at least 3 liters of water per day to insure you don't get dehydrated. For example drinking milk will give you necessary fluid as well as protein and calcium and carbohydrates.

I recommend eating 3 meals per day with 2-3 snacks between meals to meet calorie needs. Having a greek yogurt with a small piece of fruit and water would be an example of a quick and easy snack.

A breastfeeding mom needs to maintain basically the same diet as she had during pregnancy. It requires 500 calories per day extra to produce healthy breast milk. Sometimes mother's will find that after they have eaten certain foods, their baby will become fussy. A good rule of thumb is if a food makes you have indigestion, it will probably bother your baby as well. Furthermore, excess caffeine which is found in coffee, tea, soft drinks and chocolate tends to make babies have problems going to sleep and may make them irritable. Limiting yourself to one caffeinated drink per day can avoid this problem. For the most part, weight loss diets should be avoided while nursing.

Also, moms are often sent home on narcotic pain medications, especially after a C-section. These medications result in sleepy or irritable babies and have been associated with death in rare cases. So, as soon as possible, stop the narcotic pain relievers and use ibuprofen. Breastfeeding mothers should continue with their prenatal vitamins as long as they continue nursing.

Breastfeeding not only passes nutrients to your baby, but also things he may not need or want. Watch this video with Dr. Mike Roizen and Dr. Ellen Rome to learn how your nutrition affects your baby's development.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.