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Sharp Health News

What to eat while breastfeeding

June 7, 2021

What to eat while breastfeeding

During pregnancy, it is essential for a mother to provide proper nourishment for herself and her growing baby. If she plans to breastfeed, those mindful eating habits are still just as important because nutrients will continue to pass to baby through breastmilk.

Sara Oneil, a lactation consultant with Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns, says that breastfeeding does not mean adhering to any special diet. “Milk production is usually not affected by diet,” she says. “I usually recommend a culturally appropriate diet because it helps a baby get used to tastes common in a particular culture.”

What does breastfeeding do to a woman’s body?
A lot of women gain weight during pregnancy. According to Oneil, “If a mother is breastfeeding her baby exclusively, she will likely burn an extra 500 calories per day.” For mothers who are at a normal weight, it’s typically recommended that they include an additional 500 calories per day to their diets because breastfeeding burns so many calories. However, if a new mom gained a lot of weight during pregnancy or is slightly overweight, then breastfeeding can be a good opportunity to lose the weight gained.

What are the best foods to eat after having a baby?
In addition to encouraging a culturally appropriate diet, Oneil suggests well-rounded, veggie-heavy meals. Green, leafy vegetables that are high in fiber, protein and B vitamins, as well as foods high in iron are good. As a new mother, it may be difficult for you to consistently eat a healthy diet. Talk to your doctor about taking a quality vitamin supplement to support your health and the quality of your milk composition. A quality omega-3-rich diet or supplement can pass into breastmilk and is good for a baby’s developing brain.

Are there foods to avoid?
“Not many,” says Oneil. “Sometimes cow’s milk protein is not the best. If a baby is experiencing eczema, gassiness or abnormal bowels, then a new mom may want to decrease her dairy intake and consult with her physician.” 

At one point in time, peanuts and tree nuts were considered a food to avoid. Doctors recommended against them to help prevent babies from developing allergies. However, research does not support this belief. If a mom does not have a peanut allergy, then eating peanuts and tree nuts is recommended in order to help a baby build a tolerance to them.

What types of food could help increase milk supply?
Oneil points out that research shows an ingredient common in Filipino foods might help with this. “There’s a lot of buzz about Moringa leaf. In clinical observations, milk supply has been seen to increase.”

Should a mom who had a C-section eat differently than a mom who had a vaginal birth?
No. “There is a huge myth that exists around this subject and it is that if a mom has a C-section, then she should expect a delay or decrease in milk supply. This is simply not true. The more frequently a mom empties her breasts, the more milk she makes. Milk needs to be removed eight or more times in a 24-hour period. If a new mom wants more milk, then she should pump or breastfeed every two to three hours.”

Along with these suggestions, Oneil notes that caffeine, sushi and the occasional cocktail are safe to consume after a baby is born because there is no direct connection to mom. Oneil explains, “Caffeine is passed in small amounts to a baby through breastfeeding. Limit caffeine to one to two cups, preferably in the morning. For alcohol, one serving of a standard drink after feeding baby will likely dissipate in the milk by the next time baby will need to feed.” If mom is feeling “buzzed” at the next feeding, it is generally recommended that she “pump and dump” the milk until she no longer feels the effects of the alcohol.

Finally and most importantly, Oneil encourages new moms to talk with their doctor for more personalized guidance in breastfeeding and nutrition. What is best for one mom may not be best for another. As a general rule of thumb, “it’s best to eat for hunger and drink for thirst,” she says.

Learn more about breastfeeding by registering for an upcoming class or support group.

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