For many new first-time moms, breastfeeding doesn’t always come naturally. And if you don’t have family or close friends nearby to show you the ropes or bounce ideas off of, it can be especially rough.
Lactation consultants can help smooth out the bumps at first, but as mom and baby grow more comfortable in their roles, they often venture out on their own and learn a lot by mere trial and error. And this is never more evident than when it comes to how Mom’s diet affects Baby. So if you’ve bid adieu to your lactation guru and are testing the dietary waters, let us help steer you toward success with a few simple and helpful pointers to make your breastfeeding experience an enjoyable success! Here are some general guidelines of what to (and not to) eat while breastfeeding:
The good news is you don’t have to have a perfect diet to breastfeed, says Bridget Swinney, a registered dietitian nutritionist and author of Eating Expectantly: Practical Advice for Healthy Eating Before, During and After Pregnancy. “Really all foods fit.”
A well-balanced diet with a variety of foods from all food groups is important. And even though you’ve already made the trip to the delivery room, breastfeeding moms have to remember they’re still eating for two. “In general, about 500 extra calories are needed to make breast milk,” says Mary Ellen Oleniczak RN, BSN, IBCLC, a lactation consultant and prenatal educator at Spectrum Health Healthier Communities in Grand Rapids, MI.
If a baby is fussy after Mom eats a particular food, Mom should temporarily cut the food out of her diet. “This usually does not happen if foods are eaten in moderation. Moderation is really the key,” says Oleniczak. Most women do not have to avoid any food or beverages. “Even 1 or 2 cups of coffee are fine for most breastfeeding women,” says Oleniczak.
A good diet is one that provides nutrients needed to build Baby’s brain and nourish his body. And Sweeney says that includes a well-balanced mix of the following:
- Foods high in omega-3’s: Swinney says breastfeeding moms are encouraged to eat fish due to the omega-3 fatty acids. “These fats are essential to the body but particularly to the brain and central nervous system.”
A baby’s brain grows rapidly from conception until the age of 3. In fact, at birth, a baby has close to as many neurons as it will ever have. His brain doubles in size in the first year and is 80 percent of its adult size by age 3. Two-thirds of the brain is made up of fat, so it makes sense that the type of fat we feed our babies matters. Moms who eat omega-3 fatty acids have breast milk higher in omega-3 fatty acids.
“Coldwater fish like salmon, sardines, herring, anchovies, rainbow trout, as well as the farmed fish barramundi are all excellent sources,” says Swinney. Flaxseed and walnuts provide plant-based omega-3s, too. “However, for babies development, it’s better to get DHA/EPA from fish, fortified foods like eggs or a supplement containing DHA and EPA.”
- Foods high in lutein: An antioxidant Swinney says is important for visual development and protection of the developing retina, Lutein has also been found in the brain and is thought to protect cell membranes. “The best sources are spinach, kale, red peppers, parsley, zucchini and eggs.”
- High fiber foods: Labor, delivery and breastfeeding can slow down a woman’s digestive system, says Swinney. “Constipation can be a problem.” Snacking on high-fiber foods like apples, prunes, dates, whole-grain bread and pasta, and lots of veggies can help regulate your digestive system and eliminate abdominal discomfort.
- Foods with flavor: “There is no need to be on a bland diet while breastfeeding,” says Swinney. Babies’ first flavor experiences help mold their palates towards foods the family eats and may decrease the risk of a picky eater.
There really are no truly bad foods for breastfeeding moms, according to Swinney. The key is eating any food in moderation.
“The idea that nursing moms need to skip garlic, spicy foods or gassy foods is urban legend,” she says. “Don’t cut out anything unless your baby shows he has a problem with it.”
- Bad fats: However you do want to keep an eye on the type of fat you incorporate in your diet.
“A mother’s dietary fat can affect the type of fat in her breast milk,” says Swinney. Steer clear of trans fats and limit saturated fats to feed baby the most healthful breast milk. “Opt for a mix of mono- and polyunsaturated fats like olive oil, canola oil, avocado, flax seed oil, etc.,” says Swinney.
- Alcohol: The American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Drugs says alcohol is compatible with breastfeeding in moderation. “The effect of alcohol on a breastfeeding baby is directly related to the amount a mother drinks,” says Oleniczak. “One beer or one glass of wine is not harmful to the baby.”
Alcohol peaks about 30 to 60 minutes after consumption. If a mom consumes more than one or two drinks, she should pump and dump her breast milk and feed the baby previously pumped milk. She can then return to breastfeeding in three to four hours after her body has metabolized the alcohol.
Sizing up supplements
“It’s a good idea to take vitamins, though not necessarily prenatal vitamins,” says Swinney. “They have a lot of extra iron, which you won’t need while nursing unless you lost a lot of blood in delivery.” In fact, all that extra iron could trigger a bout of constipation problems.
You can also consider taking a fish oil or vegan DHA supplement as well as a calcium supplement if you don’t consume 3 servings of dairy every day. “Although it’s really best to get calcium from food sources,” says Swinney.
“There is so much misinformation about this,” says Swinney. Instead of abandoning breastfeeding if you have to take medicine, or skipping the medicine, first talk to your child’s healthcare provider. “Ask your child’s pediatrician what to do if you’re sick while breastfeeding and have to take an antibiotic,” suggests Swinney. “There are many antibiotics that are breastfeeding friendly.”
As with all things medical in nature, always consult your doctor and your child’s pediatrician if you have concerns or questions. And most importantly, enjoy your baby to the fullest!