Breastfeeding is an incredible journey for those of us who are fortunate to be able to nurse our babies. It’s a selfless act that we mothers participate in to provide our children with the best nutrition possible.
It’s important to remember that those doing the nourishing also need to be nourished. A mother’s healthy diet is just as important as the milk provided to the baby. For the body to produce milk, it’s going to need burn extra calories and need added fuel. Burning those extra calories may seem enticing as we try to lose extra weight. However, it’s important though that we provide our body with those extra calories in a healthy way during our breastfeeding journey.
So, what healthy foods can you eat while breastfeeding? How can you lose weight and still maintain a healthy milk supply? What foods should be avoided? Let’s dig a little deeper into a healthy breastfeeding diet.
Calories burned while breastfeeding
A new mother faces a lot of challenges. One that takes center stage is how to lose the baby weight. Your first concern should be to allow your body to recover from childbirth and enjoy these precious few new weeks with your newborn. You won’t get this time back! There will be plenty of time for calorie reduction and exercise later.
As a new mother, your body is taking on an incredible new task. That is to nourish and care for your new baby. Your body is going to be working extremely hard to produce enough milk to keep your new baby healthy. You need to provide your body with that extra fuel.
How many calories does breastfeeding burn? Breastfeeding can burn as many (if not more) calories than a hard workout. It’s incredible how fast the energy seems to drain from your body just as fast as the milk does.
According to La Leche League International, you burn 500-700 extra calories per day while breastfeeding. This information is useful when you start to develop a postpartum weight loss plan. In those first few weeks though, you must keep your calorie intake up to keep your energy level high and produce milk. You should try to add these extra calories in a healthy way to maintain your energy and milk supply.
After the first 6 to 8 weeks of your baby’s life, your doctor may give you the green light to exercise. That is a lot of burned calories If you are exercising and breastfeeding simultaneously. Weight loss is a result of calorie deficit, but we don’t want to take it too far. Your milk supply will suffer if you start to cut too many calories too fast. It’s critical you find a balance between a wholesome diet and steady calorie intake.
The first step in your new breastfeeding diet journey is to focus on the foods and activities that are going to nourish you, give you the energy you need to care for and feed your baby, and avoid any adverse reactions.
Let’s talk about how to build up a strong, steady milk supply.
What are the best foods that help lactation?
All new mothers can benefit from adding a few items to their diet that will help increase their milk supply. It will benefit you and the baby in the long run If you maintain a steady milk supply from the beginning.
There has been some research done on galactagogues (herbs or medications used to stimulate an increase in milk production) and foods that will increase lactation.
- Fenugreek: Fenugreek is an herb that is a member of the pea family. It has been associated with increasing sweat production. The breast is considered to be a “modified sweat gland,” which is why this herb has been used for centuries as a milk production stimulator.
Things to try: tea and herbal supplements
- Oatmeal: Oatmeal is a very traditional way of increasing milk supply. Oatmeal is very high in iron. Low iron levels could result in a low milk supply.
Things to try: breakfast bowls, cookies, energy balls, and smoothies
- Hops, brewer’s yeast, and barley: While there has not been a significant amount of research done to determine if these specific ingredients can increase milk supply, there has been a fair amount of success among new mothers. You’ll be hard pressed to find a doctor that will recommend these items in large amounts because the easiest way to consume it is with beer. But alcohol in small amounts may not be harmful while breastfeeding (especially if you wait at least 2 hours after consuming the feed the baby).
Things to try: beer, tea, bread, or powdered supplements
- Leafy greens: Leafy green vegetables are especially important to include in your diet while breastfeeding. They are high in iron and fiber. Eating green vegetables while nursing may even encourage the child to eat a healthy diet as they grow up and develop their own eating habits. Some of the best vegetables include beet greens, watercress, and dandelion greens.
Things to try: sauté or roast vegetables, add to smoothies
- Other foods known to increase milk supply: apricots, garlic, sesame seeds, carrots, sweet potatoes, pecans, asparagus, green beans, and peas
Foods to avoid while breastfeeding
There are also foods out there that are going to negatively impact your milk supply and irritate the baby. Some foods may make them gassy while others may cause a rash. Some common allergens (ones that you yourself may not have a reaction to) can also be transferred through breast milk.
Foods or herbs that decrease milk supply
- Black walnut
- Lemon balm
These items can alternatively be used when you make the decision to wean and stop breastfeeding.
Foods that could upset or be harmful to the baby
- Caffeine: Drinking a small amount of caffeine (1-2 cups of coffee per day) is considered safe. If you drink more caffeine and drink it throughout the day, it could transfer to your milk and disrupt the baby’s sleeping.
- “Cold crops” (onions, cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower): These are vegetables that are known to cause gas issues. They may make you feel gassy and bloated and that can easily transfer to the baby. A baby with colic will likely not love when a mother’s diet consists of these fibrous vegetables.
- Garlic: Garlic may be considered a galactagogue, but though it might increase your supply, it may upset the baby. Breast milk will take on the flavor of foods you are eating. Garlic has a very strong, distinct flavor. Try to avoid garlic if you notice your baby not nursing as well after you’ve consumed it.
- Fish high in mercury: It’s best to avoid fish that have high mercury levels like bigeye tuna, king mackerel, marlin, shark, and swordfish (just like when you were pregnant). High mercury levels can be toxic to newborns and permanently affect their nervous system.
Allergens to avoid while breastfeeding
According to La Leche League International, babies are more likely to develop food allergies if there is a history of food allergies on either side of the family. You will know rather quickly if your little one is experiencing an allergic reaction to something that you have consumed. Some symptoms include diarrhea, a sore bottom, a runny nose or eyes, rashes including eczema, or crying and sleeplessness.
It’s best to avoid any allergens that you are aware of (either yours or your baby’s father’s). This will decrease the chance of a negative reaction. There is also a smaller chance of your baby developing the same allergies if they are breastfed more frequently.
Postpartum fitness and breastfeeding
Eventually, it will be safe and recommended to start exercising again. Some exercises may not be comfortable right away, especially while nursing. Remember to start slow and you will still see physical and mental results. You can eventually start losing weight while breastfeeding.
Not only will moving your body again help you lose extra weight gained during pregnancy, it will keep your energy levels up. It’s a great outlet for when you need a break from newborn life.
Fitness is important for our physical and mental health. But it’s not just about losing weight. In fact, it should rarely be about getting your pre-baby body back. Dr. Sangeetha Sivaraman explains that as new mothers we should be embracing our new bodies and moving forward from there. It’s not beneficial to focus on what it was like before having a baby.
Breastfeeding meal plan
A healthy diet should go side-by-side with this new mindset. During pregnancy, it’s easy to throw the rules aside. Pregnancy becomes this comforting excuse to eat whatever we want. Pregnant or not, we all know that when we eat better, we feel better. When we eat better, we are providing our baby better nutrients as well.
Here are some things to remember when developing a postpartum or breastfeeding meal plan:
- Carbs are still carbs. You might have cravings similar to those while you were pregnant. Keep in mind that when you do grab a bagel, muffin, or other foods with empty calories, they will not keep you satisfied for long. This isn’t fuel for your body. Stick to fiber rich carbs like whole grains, quinoa, fruits, and vegetables. Be mindful of extreme low carb diets, like the keto diet. A keto diet while breastfeeding might not be the best choice at this time. Such low carb intake could have negative impacts on your milk supply.
- Don’t skip a meal. You need to keep your body fueled. Skipping meals will only result in a drop in supply and energy. It’s not worth it!
- Keep iron intake high. It’s common for pregnant women to become iron deficient during and after their pregnancy. Low iron levels can result in low milk supply and fatigue. Beef, legumes, and spinach are great sources of iron.
- Some fat is ok. Foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids are recommended. Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids are salmon, chia seeds, walnuts, and flaxseed. Avocados are also a great source of healthy fat.
Three easy breastfeeding meal plan recipes
By adding the following recipes to your regular diet, you should be able to get the extra calories and nutrition you need to nurse your baby.
Nursing energy balls
- 2 cups rolled oats
- 1 cup dark chocolate chips non-dairy
- 1 cup nut butter being mindful of allergies or food sensitivities
- ¾ cup ground flaxseed
- 1 Tbsp fenugreek powder or brewer’s yeast
- ⅔ cup maple syrup agave or honey
- pinch salt
- Add all the ingredients to a large bowl.
- Mix everything together until well combined.
- Roll small balls with your hands or use a small cookie scoop to create balls.
- Line a baking tray with parchment paper. Place all of the balls on the tray.
- Chill in the refrigerator for 3-4 hours. This is important or they will fall apart!
- Store in an air-tight container in the fridge. Can be stored for up to 7 days in the refrigerator or 3 months in the freezer.
- ½ cup ½ cup rolled oats
- 1 cup greens spinach or kale
- 1 Tbsp ground flaxseed
- 1 Tbsp chia seeds or more flaxseed
- ½ frozen pineapple
- 1 frozen banana
- ½ avocado
- 2 cups non-dairy milk almond, oat, cashew
- 1 scoop breastfeeding-friendly protein powder optional
- Add frozen fruit and milk to a blender. Pulse a few times to break down the frozen fruit first. This will eliminate any frozen fruit chunks.
- Add the remaining ingredients and blend until smooth. Can add more milk if you like a thinner consistency.
Make-ahead beef and bean burritos (freezer-friendly and dairy-free)
- 1 lb ground beef 10% fat is best or substitute ground turkey
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 1 can black beans drained and rinsed. Can substitute white beans or pinto beans
- 1 bell pepper diced
- 1 Tbsp cumin
- 2 cups kale or spinach. chopped fine
- 1 cup quinoa cooked. Can substitute cooked lentils or barley
- ½ cup salsa
- salt and pepper
- 8 whole grain flour tortillas
- avocado and salsa for serving
- Heat large sauté pan to medium-high heat. Drizzle the olive oil into the pan.
- Add the ground beef and cook until brown. Drain any excess fat.
- Add the black beans and bell pepper. Cook for another 4-5 minutes.
- Season with the cumin.
- Turn off the heat and fold in the chopped greens, quinoa, and salsa.
- Season with salt and pepper (to taste).
- Fill each tortilla with about ½ cup of the beef mixture. Roll up and wrap in aluminum foil.
- Place the individually wrapped tortillas in a large freezer-friendly bag.
- Store in the freezer and pull out each burrito as you need them.
- Remove the aluminum foil, when you're ready to eat, and heat in a microwave for 1-2 minutes or until it’s fully heated through. Cover with a damp piece of paper towel.
- Serve with avocado and salsa, if desired.
What are your favorite breastfeeding-friendly recipes? Have you found any great supplements or snack ideas you would like to share? Check out the Genes2Teens Facebook group to join the discussion!