Should I Adjust My Diet While Breastfeeding?
Giving birth to your baby leads to many changes, one being lactation. While breastfeeding is a very normal experience, it can be a challenging and stressful time for new parents. Having lots of questions, concerns, and even worries or fears is normal. However, The Nest hopes to help remove some of your concerns. As a new parent, you may be wondering, “Should I adjust my diet while breastfeeding?” The answer is: maybe.
At large, a balanced diet with a variety of foods is needed to ensure you and your baby are getting needed nutrients. However, there are a few additional things to be aware of. Keep reading to learn more!
Eat a Balanced Diet
Like during pregnancy, you want to include a variety of nutritious foods. This will help ensure both you and your baby are getting the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients you need.
Aim to eat a balanced diet that includes plenty of vegetables and fruits, along with whole grain foods and protein. Some great food choices are:
- Leafy greens such as kale and spinach;
- Orange vegetables such as carrots and sweet potatoes;
- Whole grains such as oats, rice, and whole wheat pasta; and
- Quality proteins such as eggs, nuts and seeds, beans and lentils, low-mercury fish, poultry, lean red meats, dairy products, and fortified soy products (1).
Taking a multivitamin can also help ensure you’re getting enough nutrients, especially if you choose a plant-based diet.
Enjoy the foods you love, but be mindful of items that are high in sugar, sodium, and saturated fats. Include these items in your diet in moderation. Remember, a “perfect diet” isn’t a thing, and including all foods will help to ensure your baby is getting the nutrients they need!
Eat a Little Extra
While breastfeeding, you need about 450 additional calories each day (2). This is because your body uses more energy while breastfeeding. Eating an extra snack or two each day is a good way to get in extra calories. Some snack ideas are:
- 1 small apple + 2 tablespoons of peanut butter = approximately 250 to 300 calories
- 1 medium carrot + 2 tablespoons of hummus = approximately 100 calories
- 1 slice of whole wheat bread + 1 tablespoon of cream cheese = approximately 105 calories
- 1 hard boiled egg = approximately 80 calories
- 1 cup of yogurt = approximately 150 calories
- 1 cup of blueberries = approximately 85 calories
Your body needs extra fluid during lactation to keep you hydrated. Because your fluid needs depend on a variety of factors (such as climate, milk production, and body size), a standard amount is not used. Instead, it is recommended that you drink to satisfy thirst and aim to keep your urine a pale-yellow colour (2).
Make water your choice of beverage, and limit drinks with sodium, sugars, saturated fat, and caffeine. Try to keep your caffeine intake below 300 mg a day – about two 8-ounce cups of coffee per day (3). Other beverage options include milk, milk alternatives, and 100% fruit juices.
Note: While it’s important to stay hydrated, increasing fluid intake while breastfeeding will not increase milk production (2).
Limit Alcohol and Avoid Cannabis
When breastfeeding, it’s best to avoid cannabis use and excessive alcohol intake. These substances can be transferred through breast milk and may harm your baby’s growth and development.
An alcoholic drink is okay to consume, but should be planned for (3). If you are going to drink, aim to follow these guidelines:
- Limit the amount you drink per occasion.
- Drink alcohol after breastfeeding sessions.
- Allow enough time for alcohol to be eliminated from your body before the next feeding. On average, it takes up to 2 hours for one drink and about 6 hours for 3 drinks.
- Plan ahead. Express and store your breast milk for those times when you plan to drink alcohol and cannot safely breastfeed your baby (4).
Unlike alcohol, cannabis accumulates in the body and therefore should not be used at all when breastfeeding (3).
Final Notes from The Nest
Remember, there is no such thing as a perfect diet! Eating a balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein and water will help ensure both you and baby are getting the nutrients you need. While you do not need to give up your favourite foods, you should avoid cannabis use and plan ahead when consuming alcohol.
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- Canada’s Food Guide [Internet]. Ottawa: Government of Canada [updated 2022 May 3; cited 2022 May 28]. Healthy eating when pregnant and breastfeeding; [about 4 screens]. Available from: https://food-guide.canada.ca/en/tips-for-healthy-eating/pregnant-breastfeeding/
- Brown, JE. Nutrition through the life cycle. 7th ed. Boston: Cengage, 2019. 586 p.
- Public Health Agency of Canada. Your guide to a healthy pregnancy – Canada [Internet]. Ottawa: Public Health Agency of Canada; 2021 [cited 2022 May 28]. 88 p. Available from: https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/phac-aspc/documents/services/health-promotion/healthy-pregnancy/healthy-pregnancy-guide.pdf
- Best Start. Mixing alcohol and breastfeeding [Internet]. Toronto: Health Nexus; [revised 2020; cited 2022 May 28]. 2 p. Available from: https://resources.beststart.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/A28-E.pdf.