Here’s a little secret about breastfeeding: Regardless of what you eat, your baby will get all of the nutrients he needs to grow.
But that doesn’t mean you should just chow down on chips— make the extra 300 to 500 extra daily calories you need healthy ones.
Here’s why. The extra calories will help your milk supply, replenish your energy, and help you lose the baby weight. Pay attention to your hunger cues but also don’t be too restrictive in hopes of losing the weight faster.
“When you don’t take in enough calories, then your body hangs onto everything, especially if you’re breastfeeding,” said Tamara S. Melton, a registered dietitian, nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND).
What’s more, the variety of flavors your baby is exposed to can help make her a healthy eater too. In fact, a recent article in the journal Pediatrics found that babies who were breastfed three months or more were healthier eaters when they were 6 years old, compared to children who weren’t breast fed.
Here are some of the healthiest foods you can eat for breastfeeding.
Ok, it’s not a food, but filling up your water bottle and drinking throughout the day is important for your milk supply. Without enough, you’ll also be dehydrated and low on energy. Not a good thing— especially when you’re already sleep-deprived. Don’t worry too much about hitting a quota,just drink for thirst. Non-caffeinated, unsweetened beverages, as well as soups and juicy fruits and vegetables count too
An excellent source of protein, salmon is rich in vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acids, which studies show may help ward off postpartum depression. Salmon is also one of the few naturally occurring sources of vitamin D, something many women are deficient in, said Rachel Begun, a registered dietitian and culinary nutritionist.
3. Whole grains
Whole grains in breads, rice, pasta and oatmeal are an important source of B vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Fiber will keep you feeling fuller longer and may help you lose the baby weight. They also help with digestion and keep your blood sugar levels steady. Whole grains like quinoa, farro, spelt, barley, and teff also give you an added boost of protein.
Breastfeeding moms have an increased need for the mineral zinc, and beef is a great way to get it. Beef is a high-quality protein that’s rich in iron and B vitamins and can help you maintain your energy. If possible, choose grass-fed beef because it has more omega-3 fatty acids and cuts that are raised without antibiotics and hormones.
Eggs are a quick, easy and versatile choice for meals or even as a snack. They’re rich in protein, choline, lutein, vitamins B12 and D, riboflavin and folate. Eat the whole egg to get the most nutrition. Plus, research now shows that eggs will not increase your cholesterol.
6. Leafy green vegetables
“They offer so many different nutrients at high levels while also being really low in calories,” Begun said.
Leafy greens are rich in vitamins A, C, E, and K andminerals including calcium as well as fiber and antioxidants. Aim for at least one serving a day. Add them to your breakfast omelet, blend them into a smoothie, or make a stir-fry.
“There are so many to choose from and they can be prepared in so many ways raw or cooked,” Begun said.
7. Legumes and beans
“Moms can get all of the nutrients they need on a vegetarian diet but they want to make smart food choices,” Begun said.
Vegetarian or not, legumes and beans are both excellent sources of both protein and fiber, minerals and phytochemicals. So throw a lentil chili in the slow cooker for dinner or add chickpeas to your salad.
8. Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are packed with nutrition and are a great source of protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Not only will they protect you from heart disease, but they’re anti-aging, good for your skin, and can help you stay satisfied in between meals. So grab a handful of almonds, trail mix, or an apple with almond butter.
“The more satisfied you are in between meals, the less likely you are to overeat,” Melton said.
Julie Revelant is a health journalist and a consultant who provides content marketing and copywriting services for the healthcare industry. She's also a mom of two. Learn more about Julie at revelantwriting.com.