Just as when you were pregnant, your nutrition during lactation has an important impact on the health of your baby. Your metabolism will be extremely efficient during lactation, requiring you to eat more than you ate while you were pregnant. You should consume approximately 2,400 to 2,700 calories and include the following in your diet:
- Twelve servings of starches and grains
- Four servings of fruits
- Four servings of vegetables
- Seven ounces of protein
- Four to five of servings of dairy
- Five servings of fats
The following nutrients are essential for the baby’s development:
- Vitamin A — found in liver and orange-colored produce like carrots, squash and pumpkin — is needed for healthy eyes and to help to keep the linings of your baby’s bronchial, urinary and intestinal tracts healthy.
- Vitamin B-12 — found in soy products, animal products and cereals — is very important for peripheral nerve development. Mothers who do not eat animal products will need to take a vitamin B-12 supplement while nursing.
- Vitamin C — abundant in citrus fruits, broccoli, peppers and guava — helps to build your child’s bones, teeth and gums, blood vessels and other tissues.
- Vitamin D — found in milk, eggs, tuna and naturally created in your body by sunshine exposure — is also necessary for strong bones and teeth, and helps your baby’s body better absorb calcium.
- Calcium — found in yogurt, milk and other dairy products — is important for your child’s muscle and nerve functioning, strong bones and teeth; it also aids in blood clotting.
- Copper — plentiful in oysters and other shellfish, nuts, cherries and legumes — builds blood cells and helps form connective tissue.
- Sodium is necessary for your baby’s fluid balance and nervous system function. It’s found in salt, processed foods and other seasonings, but you should still limit consumption of these foods to prevent high blood pressure.
- Zinc — found in grains, wheat germ, lentils, tofu, nuts, flaxseed and beans — is another important nutrient for the development of a healthy immune system.
Protein is necessary for your baby’s growth and the repair of cells. Since most organs are composed mostly of protein, deficiencies can cause slow development and weaken muscles. Fats help protect your baby’s body organs and nerves, and aid in the absorption of vitamins and minerals. They also provide insulation against temperature changes and delay the time it takes for the stomach to empty (giving your newborn a sensation of being full). Although it’s important for adults to limit their fat intake, babies and young children should not be on fat-restrictive diets. Carbohydrates supply the rest of your baby’s energy. When insufficient, the body must use fats and protein as energy sources.
Fluids are very important. You need to drink extra water, but it is important not to overdo things. If the average 6 month old takes in around a quart of breast milk a day and 90 percent of that is water, then it’s reasonable for the mother to consume at least four 8-ounce glasses a day more than she would usually drink. Get in the habit of drinking some water when you nurse. Drink enough to quench your thirst plus a bit more, since thirst is not a completely reliable indicator of fluid needs. When traveling, carry a water bottle in your diaper bag and sip throughout the day. If you find that you are constipated, fatigued, have trouble concentrating, then you need more fluids. Water is the beverage of choice and not juice. Fruit juices are high in calories and low in nutritional value.
Most mothers who are lactating can eat and enjoy whatever foods they love. The flavor of the mother’s milk allows the infant to the taste the flavor of your family’s cuisine. If an infant has a problem with something the mother eats, the baby will show symptoms within a few hours of feeding. The infant may exhibit the following signs: colic, vomiting, fussiness, irritability, rash, bloating, diarrhea, severe constipation, and red ring around the baby’s rectum. Mothers may need to talk with family members to determine whether there are any food allergies that may be of concern. If you have any questions about taking any supplemental vitamins, herbs or alternative medications while lactating, contact your health-care provider.