What should you eat as a breastfeeding mom and what should you feed your baby? We interviewed Dietitian and Nutritionist, Katie Di Lauro, to find out!
Q: 1. What are the best foods for mothers to eat when nursing?
A: Breastfeeding is a natural phenomenon that will provide all the nutritional needs for nursing your baby in the first 6 months of your baby’s life. Amazingly, breast milk can have just the right amount of fat, sugar, water, and protein, and it is easy to digest1. Its powers extend even further by providing, hormones, and antibodies to build the immune system. Your body starts preparing for breastfeeding during your pregnancy by storing fat tissue and important proteins. This is why it is so important to eat a healthy and balanced variety of foods during and after pregnancy.
Fortunately, you learned a lot about eating healthy while you were pregnant: Keep it up! You can continue eating the same balanced meals while breastfeeding as you did during pregnancy. Consume proteins from both plants and animals. Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats2. Fats are important parts of your baby’s development, so don’t be afraid of olive oils, avocados, low-mercury fatty fish such as wild salmon and sardines, and nuts and seeds. However, make sure to avoid trans fats and choose saturated fats in moderation. Be sure to stay hydrated, eat a low-sugar and wholesome breakfast, plan for easy snacks, and don’t skip meals. If you are having trouble consuming certain foods with vital nutrients, talk to your doctor about supplementation.
Q: 2. What should mothers avoid?
A: Alcohol: You have most likely received a lot of opinions about alcohol already. To be on the safe side, you may avoid it all together. If that’s not ideal for you, limit yourself to 1 drink or wait until after you breastfeed. If you have more than 1 drink, wait at least 2 hours per drink before nursing again.3,4
Caffeine: Each individual metabolizes caffeine differently. If you are a regular caffeine drinker, a small amount of caffeine (1-2 cups/day) may be fine. For those women who are sensitive to caffeine, it is best to avoid it all together. If you notice your baby is not sleeping well or is fussy, check your caffeine intake. Remember that caffeine is found not only in coffee, but teas, energy drinks, sodas, chocolate, some over-the-counter medicines, protein powders, and even snack bars.5
High-mercury fish: The same recommendations apply to breastfeeding as pregnancy — avoid high-mercury fish such as tuna, shark, swordfish, and orange roughy, and make sure the fish you do eat is fresh!6
When choosing high-fat meats and dairy: Pesticides and chemicals can be stored in animal fat, so choose organic when possible. This will decrease your consumption of antibiotics, growth hormones, pesticides, and other chemicals.5
While there are foods that are on the definite no-no list, it is also important to understand what foods your baby has aversions to. If you notice a pattern of a gassy, fussy, or uncomfortable baby or even a rash, congestion, or diarrhea after you eat an unusual food, omit that food from your diet for a few days to see if it corrects itself. If you want to confirm, reintroduce the food in a small amount to test your baby’s reaction.
Foods that commonly cause aversions are citrus fruits and juices, strawberries, kiwi, pineapple, spicy foods, and spices including garlic, chili pepper, cinnamon, and curry. Some fruits and vegetables are known to have a laxative effect or cause gas, such as cherries, prunes, or gassy vegetables such as onions, cabbage, peppers, cauliflower, broccoli, and cucumbers. It may be safer to avoid foods that may be common allergies in your immediate family if severe, whether it is dairy, gluten, peanuts, soy, and so on. Always ask your health practitioner before introducing any herbs or additional supplements!
Q: 3. When and how should you introduce solid foods to babies?
A: Solid foods can be introduced as a complement to breastmilk or formula between 4 and 6 months. You will know that your baby is ready when they can: sit upright, hold up their head, start to look around at your food curiously, and have mastered their tongue movement. You will also notice that they will still be hungry after a full day’s portion of milk or wake up hungry more often at night.
Q: 4. What are the best foods to start your child with?
A: Start with foods that are soft (mashed, pureed, blended, etc.). This is an exciting time for babies to explore the taste, texture, and feel of foods. Great foods to start with are avocado, sweet potato, or banana. Introduce one food at a time; some parents follow the “4-day wait rule” before introducing another new food. This allows time to learn if your child has any allergic reactions to particular foods.
Q: 5. Should mothers be eating specific vitamins and foods when they are going through the weaning process?
A: Some mothers have trouble reducing their milk supply during the weaning process. Herbs such as sage, jasmine, and peppermint have been noted to help decrease milk production, but always consult with your physician before introducing herbs.
Q: 6. What are the best foods to give mothers energy throughout the day?
A: In order to keep your energy up, choose balanced meals and snacks. You may naturally reach for sugary, fatty, and calorie-dense options for a burst of energy, but that may only cause you to crash later. Start your day off with a low-sugar meal that has complex carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats. A fast option is overnight oats with nut butter. Mix old-fashioned oats with your liquid of choice, flavors such as vanilla extract, and maybe some almond butter. Put them in the refrigerator to soak and you will have breakfast ready for you in the morning.
Avoid skipping meals, stay hydrated with caffeine-free and non-sugary beverages, have snacks on hand at all times (nuts, fruit, veggie slices, etc.), and prepare in advance as much as possible.
Q: 7. Are there any foods that should be introduced with caution?
A: Yes! Foods such as grapes, cranberries, dried berries, nuts, popcorn, and peanut butter are choking hazards. These foods should not be introduced until the child has learned to properly chew before swallowing to avoid choking.
Honey, if introduced too early, can cause botulism, a serious illness. Wait at least until after your child’s first birthday to be safe7.
Cow’s milk should not be introduced until after at least 12 months. It cannot be digested easily, its high concentration of protein and minerals can tax immature kidneys, and it does not have the right nutritional content for infants8.
Citrus should be introduced with caution. For some babies it can cause eczema or a nasty diaper rash9.
Pay special attention to any foods that may cause an allergy, especially if someone in your family has food allergies. Introduce new foods one at a time, with 3-4 days in between to watch for any reactions.
Q: 8. How do you prepare and plan meals when working and raising a child?
A: Do your best to plan in advance. When you can steal some time for food preparation, make enough for several days. For example, if cooking chicken for dinner, cook enough for leftover sandwiches, or even a snack and a dinner the following evening. You can change the sauces and flavors to add variety. You can do the same with whole grains and vegetables. Consider investing in a slow cooker if you don’t already have one — dump your ingredients in and you’ll have a meal ready to go in several hours without having to think about it.
Q: 9. Do you suggest any special products at the store for helping moms lose weight and reduce belly fat and bloat?
A: I strongly discourage moms to use any weight loss supplements, products, or meal replacements during breastfeeding. The best way to lose weight after pregnancy and during breastfeeding is to maintain a healthy and balanced diet, incorporate some exercise, and allow your body to readjust. Women’s bodies burn on average 500 calories each day of breastfeeding; they’re also burning some of the fat tissue that was strategically stored during pregnancy. Among other parts of having an infant, losing weight takes patience too. Taking products to help with weight loss during breastfeeding can expose your child to dangerous herbs, stimulants, heavy metals, or other potentially damaging products.
Q: 10. If you had to choose any guilty pleasure foods or junk food to cheat on your diet with, are there some better than others?
A: I don’t recommend a diet when breastfeeding or pregnant, but when you are craving a sweet or other indulgence, do so mindfully and control your portions.
Katie Di Lauro is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and owner of Nutrition By Katie. Katie aims to help her clients reach their health and wellness goals through education, accountability, and support. As a public speaker, writer, and health coach, Katie works with a variety of people in different stages of life with different goals. She recognizes the need for a unique approach for each individual and honors the personal process that accompanies sustainable lifestyle change.
Disclaimer: This information is for educational purposes only. Please consult your healthcare provider directly for medical advice, diagnoses, and treatments. If you have specific questions or concerns about your health or the health of your baby, consult your physician.
- IOM Subcommittee on Lactation, Washington DC, 1991.
- IOM Maternal Nutrition during Lactation, National Academy Address, Washington DC, 2005.
- Alcohol and Breastfeeding; Calculation of time to zero level in milk, Collates et al., Biol Neonate, 2001 80(3):219.
- Alcohol and Breastfeeding, Basic & Clinical Pharmacology & Toxicology, 2014;114, 168-173, Maija Haastrup et al
- Transfer of Drugs and Other Chemicals into Human Milk, AAP Committee on Drugs;2001: 108(3) :776.
- Maternal Diet during Pregnancy in relation to eczema and allergic sensitization in the offspring, Amer J Clinical Nutrition Feb 2007 vol. 85 no. 2 530-537.