Many new moms wonder how breastfeeding will affect their diet. You probably don't need to make any major changes to what you eat or drink when you're nursing, though there are a few important considerations to keep in mind.
Don't count calories
There's no single answer to how many calories a nursing mom needs. But in general, most women who are breastfeeding need about 500 calories more than moms who aren't – that's a total of 2,000 to 2,500 calories per day. Instead of counting calories, follow your hunger as a guide to how much you need to eat. The exact amount depends on a number of individual factors, such as your weight, how much exercise you get, how your metabolism works, and how frequently you're breastfeeding. If you're concerned about putting on excess pounds, talk to your healthcare provider about your body mass index and what you can do to maintain a healthy weight.
Include a variety of healthy foods
Variety and balance are key to a healthy diet. Eating a mix of carbohydrates protein, and fat at meals keeps you feeling full longer and supplies the nutrients your body needs. Complex carbs like whole grains and cereals and fresh fruits and vegetables not only provide more nutrition than processed starches and sugars, they provide longer-lasting energy. And choosing from all food groups is important so you can get the vitamins you and your baby need over time. So mix it up – try to eat something today that you didn't eat yesterday.
Choose good fats
When it comes to fat, think mono- and polyunsaturated fats. Sources of these "healthy fats" include canola oil, olive oil, and fatty fish (like salmon) as well as avocados, olives, nuts, and seeds. Limit saturated fats and avoid trans fats, both of which are considered unhealthy. Saturated fats show up in high-fat meats, whole milk, tropical oils (such as palm kernel and coconut), butter, and lard. Partially hydrogenated oils contain trans fats. Saturated fats and trans fats are both listed on a product's nutrition label. In addition to being bad for your diet, getting too much of these unhealthy fats can alter the fat composition of your breast milk, which isn't good for your baby's health. While we don't know the long-term effects of unhealthy fats on infant cardiovascular health, we do know that in adults these fats negatively affect heart health by raising LDL (bad cholesterol), lowering HDL (good cholesterol), and increasing signs of inflammation. Unhealthy fats also boost the risk of heart attack and de
ath from heart disease.
Eat fish – but be picky
When you're nursing, it's important to get protein from a variety of sources – including fish. The American Heart Association recommends fish for a heart-healthy diet. Some fish (especially cold water fish) also contain DHA and EPA, omega-3 fats that play an important role in the brain and eye development that continues during your baby's first year. (Your baby gets these omega-3s from your breast milk.)
Drink plenty of water and limit caffeine
When you're breastfeeding, your body needs plenty of fluid, but there's no need to keep a record of how much you drink. A good guideline to follow is drink to satisfy thirst – that is, drink whenever you feel the need. If your urine is clear or light yellow, it's a good sign that you're well hydrated. Speaking of fluids, it's okay to have your morning cup of coffee while breastfeeding if you like, but don't overdo it. A small amount of caffeine winds up in your breast milk, and it can accumulate in your baby's system because she can't easily break it down and excrete it.
If think your child might have a food allergy, and especially if you have a family history of allergies, talk to your doctor. He or she will likely recommend eliminating a potential problem food for two to three weeks to check if it’s truly the culprit. Other than that, try to maintain a healthy diet and your baby will be grateful.