If you are breastfeeding, it can be difficult to know what foods are healthy for you and your child. With the support of a breastfeeding dietitian, it is possible to have a happy, healthy and empowered breastfeeding journey that enables both mom and baby to thrive.
In this article we explore the importance of breastfeeding, the role that nutrition plays in breastfeeding, why and how to work with a breastfeeding dietitian, and nourishing foods to add into a breastfeeding mom meal plan.
The Importance of Breastfeeding
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies are exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life. After six months, age-appropriate table foods can be introduced along with breastmilk until the age of two years.
Breast milk has a wide range of health benefits for both mom and baby.
For mom, breastfeeding helps to:
- Increase bond with baby
- Save time and money
- Shrink uterus to pre-pregnancy size
- Reduce risk for high blood pressure, breast and ovarian cancers, and type 2 diabetes
For baby, breastfeeding helps to:
- Lower rates of infection and disease such as ear infections, asthma and lower respiratory infections
- Develop a healthy digestive system
- Protect against sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
- Reduce risk for childhood obesity, type 2 diabetes and childhood leukemia
Breast Milk Offers Unparalleled Nutrition to Baby
The health benefits attributed to breastfeeding link back to the unique blend of protein, fat, carbohydrates and micronutrients found in breast milk.
Breast milk contains specific antibodies, hormones and enzymes that support the development of your baby’s immune system. This protects your baby from infection and disease in both the short and long term.
The fat in breast milk helps your baby’s brain and nervous system develop.
Lactose is the main carbohydrate in human milk and provides about half of the calories in milk. Lactose also helps promote a healthy digestive system for babies.
Colostrum is the first milk that breastfeeding moms produce. Colostrum is thick and yellow and dense with nutrition. After a few days, mature milk develops in a process known as “milk coming in.”
Challenges of Breastfeeding
In the United States, only about 25% of babies are exclusively breastfed for the recommended six months.The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has implemented Healthy People 2030 Breastfeeding Objectives aimed to increase this and other metrics for positive maternal outcomes.
Common barriers to breastfeeding include:
- Issues related to baby latch, breast and nipple pain and insufficient infant weight gain.
- Lack of family support
- Misinformation about breastfeeding and nutrition during lactation
Workplace barriers are also a large obstacle to breastfeeding. Experts have proposed policy changes to make the United States a more breastfeeding-friendly country including:
- Universal paid maternity leave
- The right to breastfeed in public
- Insurance converge for lactation consultants and breast pumps
- On-site child care
- Clean, safe, non-bathroom locations for expressing milk
There are steps that parents can take to get the care they need while American policy catches up. That is where a dietitian for breastfeeding comes in!
A dietitian for breastfeeding is a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) that specializes in postnatal nutrition. Breastfeeding dietitians work with moms and families to ensure that adequate nutrition is met during lactation and that mom, baby and partner are supported.
Why Work with a Dietitian for Breastfeeding
Working with a postnatal breastfeeding dietitian can help you identify the right food and quantities to keep you feeling good during your pregnancy and build a diet that improves the long-term health of you and your child.
Your breastfeeding dietitian can also help you navigate nutrition issues like diabetes, digestive concerns and disordered eating while breastfeeding.
Some breastfeeding dietitians may also be certified lactation counselors and can therefore assist with issues related to baby latch, infant weight gain, pumping and breast health.
Your breastfeeding dietitian will never judge your feeding decisions. They will empower you with information to make the best choice for your family–whether that is exclusive breastfeeding or a blend of formula and breast milk.
How Breastfeeding Impacts Nutrition
Nutrition needs during lactation are not unlike nutrition needs during pregnancy.
Lactation increases calorie needs
Breastfeeding makes you hungry. Remember your body is producing food for another human! The general recommendation is that breastfeeding moms consume an additional 250-500 calories per day.
Working with a breastfeeding dietitian can help you learn more about your inner hunger cues and tips for staying nourished so you don’t have to worry about counting calories while caring for a newborn.
Milk production requires a hydrated mom
Try to keep up your pregnancy hydration levels of about 100 ounces of unsweetened liquid (ideally water) per day.
Hydration can also come from fruits and vegetables and your breastfeeding dietitian can help you with meal ideas containing hydrating foods.
Breastfeeding impacts vitamin and mineral needs
Many providers will tell breastfeeding moms to continue with the prenatal multivitamin and possible supplementation with key nutrients including vitamin D, iron, calcium, choline and omega-3 fatty acids.
Supplementation during lactation may be especially important for breastfeeding moms that follow a vegetarian or vegan diet.
Your breastfeeding dietitian will empower you with information to make the best choice about supplements during pregnancy and lactation.
Best Foods for Breastfeeding Women
Eating a variety of nutrient dense foods is the foundation for a healthy breastfeeding diet. This includes:
- Lean meat, low mercury seafood and eggs
- Nuts and seeds
- Whole and enriched grain products
- Soy proteins, beans and lentils
- Low or reduced fat dairy products
- Rainbow of fruits and vegetables
The foods you eat while breastfeeding flavor your milk and may even impact your child’s future food preferences. While more research is needed to fully understand how a breastfeeding diet impacts childhood food preferences, it is a great idea to consume food important to your culture and health values so your baby begins to learn these tastes.
Foods to limit during breastfeeding
Seafood: Be mindful of the type of seafood consumed.
Caffeine: 300 mg or less per day is considered safe during lactation.
Alcohol: The best option is to avoid alcohol during lactation, however, up to one drink per day is not known to cause harm.
Recipe Ideas for Breastfeeding Mom Meal Plan
Any new parent will tell you that easy postpartum meals are very helpful in surviving this precious but challenging time. Your breastfeeding dietitian will show you how to make meal prep as easy as possible.
In the meantime, check out these great resources. Robyn Price RD, CBS, The Breastfeeding Dietitian and Marina Lane MS RD CLC CLT of The Lactation Nutritionist shares delicious recipes and even ready made meal plans for lactation available on their websites and social media.
How a Dietitian Can Help
Whether you are still in the prenatal phase or currently breastfeeding, the dietitians at Nourish can help. Our postnatal dietitians will work with you in a compassionate and inclusive fashion to create a postpartum nutrition plan designed specifically for you and your baby.
Frequently Asked Questions
See a Registered Dietitian with Nourish
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