Follow the same guidelines for healthy eating recommended to you during your pregnancy. As a nursing mother, you’ll need to eat a balanced diet that contains about 500 calories more per day than the diet you needed before pregnancy. In general, lactating women should get nutrients from a well-balanced, varied diet, rather than from vitamin and mineral supplements. Eat generous amounts of fruits and vegetables, whole grain breads and cereals, calcium-rich dairy products, and protein-rich foods (meats, fish, and legumes). Make sure you are getting enough calories.
Continue taking your daily prenatal vitamins. Remember, however, that vitamin and mineral supplements do not take the place of food. It is better to get your nutrients from a well-balanced diet than to rely on a vitamin and mineral supplement.
Be sure to drink lots of fluids – at least 8 glasses of water a day, one glass every time you nurse or pump. You need the fluids to replace what you lose through your breast milk. Don’t drink more than 2 cups of coffee, tea, cola, or other caffeine-containing beverages a day. Caffeine passes into your breast milk and can make your baby irritable or cause difficulty sleeping.
It is best to abstain from alcohol while you are breastfeeding, just as you did during your pregnancy. Alcohol is readily passed into human milk. Any heavy drinking or daily drinking of even small quantities of alcoholic beverages could hurt your baby. If you have a hospitalized premature or ill newborn, DO NOT drink ANY alcohol. An occasional beer or glass of wine is probably OK as long as you “pump and dump” your breast milk two to three hours after drinking. You should not have more than one or two drinks a week.
Do not smoke. Smoking can decrease your milk supply. Also, the breakdown products from nicotine can pass to your baby in your milk. If you cannot stop smoking altogether, try to cut down. If you must smoke, do it shortly after nursing your baby. Above all, do not smoke in the same room as your baby or even in the house and change your shirt before holding them. Breathing your exhaled smoke, even the particles on your clothes, can hurt your baby. It can cause cancer later in life and can make your baby more at risk for asthma, allergies, and even ear infections.
Foods in mothers’ diets very rarely have a disturbing effect on their babies. Foods such as tomatoes, onions, cabbage, chocolate, and spicy foods have a reputation of causing gas. Other foods such as milk, soy, eggs, nuts, wheat, and fish have a reputation of causing allergies. If your baby has loose stools, blood in their stools, colic, or excess gas for no reason that you can think of, you may review your diet from the previous 24 hours and even consider eliminating some of the foods listed above (milk and soy first) to see if it helps. Call us if you think your baby is reacting negatively to foods that you are eating.
Daily Food Guide for Breastfeeding Mothers
- Milk, yogurt, and cheese – at least 4 servings
- Meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs, and nuts – at least 3 servings
- Vegetables – at least 3 to 5 servings
- Fruits – 2 to 4 servings (choose two foods high in vitamin C and folic acid, and one food high in vitamin A)
- Bread, cereal, rice, and pasta – about 6 to 11 servings
- Fats, oils, and sweets – go easy!
This is just a guide. You may need to eat more than this based on your size and activity level.
Beware of Medications
Medications taken by a mother can pass into her breast milk. This applies to both prescription and over-the-counter drugs. The most common medications that can cause problems with breastfeeding babies are sedatives taken for sleep, tranquilizing agents, mood-altering drugs, a few antibiotics, anti-tuberculosis medications, chemotherapeutic agents and seizure medications. Almost all over-the-counter medications are safe in their recommended doses. If you need to take a medication that is compatible with breastfeeding, always take the medication immediately after you complete a feeding. This gives your body several hours to metabolize the medication before the next feeding time. If you ever have questions about the safety of breastfeeding while you are on a certain medication, please call our office. The following resources offer similar information:
- TCH Lactation Program and Mother’s Own Milk Bank: (832) 824-6120
- Medications and a Mother’s Milk by Thomas W. Hale
- LactMed smart phone app