Nutrition for Nursing Moms

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Here’s Where “Eating for Two” Is Really True.

Feeling extra hungry these days? It’s no wonder, since you need about 500 additional calories a day to make the milk your baby needs. It’s best to get those extra calories from a balanced, nutrient-rich diet — think plenty of protein, calcium, fruits and vegetables, and whole grains.

The good news is that your body will create nutritionally complete breast milk even if you’re not taking in an ideal diet. The bad news is that your body will pull these elements from your own reserves, which may affect your health in the long run. For example, if you’re not taking in enough calcium, your body will pull the calcium needed for your baby’s breast milk from your bones, which weakens them over time.

To help keep your energy level and milk supply up, eat several small meals throughout the day and stay well hydrated. You should keep taking your prenatal vitamin until you talk to your doctor or midwife at your six-week new mom checkup.

Food Choices and Safety

If you’ve been missing sushi or soft cheese while pregnant, here’s some more good news — you can eat them again. In fact, it’s good to eat a variety of flavors, which come through your breast milk to some degree and may help your baby be a more open-minded eater when she’s older.

However, some breastfeeding moms notice their babies are more gassy or fussy after meals with certain ingredients, especially broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, dairy products, chocolate, citrus, garlic or hot chilies. If a certain food you eat always seems to bother your baby, try avoiding it for a while. On rare occasion, a nursing baby is allergic to something her mother ate. If you notice your baby has hives, wheezy breathing, or green, mucousy stools after nursing, talk to your baby’s doctor.

Eat a wide variety of foods each day, and watch out for food or water that may contain toxins like pesticides, lead and other dangerous substances that can enter your breast milk. Drink filtered water, eat organic food whenever possible, and follow the same rules about the types of fish to avoid as you did during pregnancy.

Caffeine and Alcohol

Try to eliminate or reduce your caffeine intake, as some of it does enter your breast milk. Alcohol also enters breast milk through your bloodstream. The general rule is that you need about two hours after each drink until you’ll no longer have alcohol in your breast milk.

If you plan to have a glass of wine or beer, try to drink it just after a long nursing session, especially if you think your baby won’t want to nurse again for a few hours. You may also want to have a bottle of stored breast milk or formula ready, just in case you need to feed your baby but still have alcohol in your bloodstream.

Losing Weight

Breastfeeding can be a way to start shedding the baby weight, although some moms find their bodies hang on to a few extra pounds until after weaning. Don’t start trying to lose weight until at least two months after your baby’s birth. Losing too much weight too quickly can leave you exhausted and reduce your milk supply, and may release toxins stored in your fat into your breast milk. Aim to lose about a pound a week, and figure on about six months to a year until you’re back in your pre-baby clothes.