Good nutrition plays a crucial role in your baby’s health, and breastfeeding is one of the best things you can do to support your little one’s growth and development. Breastfeeding mothers have unique nutrient needs that are different from any other time in a woman’s life, including pregnancy. To all the breastfeeding mamas: your baby’s nutrition starts with you. Let’s review how to keep your nutrition on track and give your baby a running start.
Back to the Basics: Choose Nutrient-Rich Foods
To give your baby that running start:
- Prepare yourself at the starting line and get back to the basics of a balanced, nutrient-rich diet.
- Eat the rainbow to ensure that your breast milk truly is “liquid gold.”
- Nourish your body with various colorful fruits and vegetables, each providing its unique composition of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
- Opt for protein-rich foods like fish, lean poultry, beef, and eggs to help fuel milk production.
- Include calcium-rich foods like milk, yogurt, cheese, fortified soy milk or tofu, leafy greens, and beans, and magnesium-rich whole grains like oatmeal, brown or wild rice, and quinoa to help support bone health.*
Most breastfeeding mothers need about 500 more calories each day compared to before pregnancy. One or two extra balanced snacks, like nut butter and an apple or carrot sticks and hummus, should do the trick.
Nutrient Needs for Breastfeeding Moms
Nutrient requirements are different during lactation and pregnancy. During breastfeeding, you require slightly more vitamins A, B12, and C, as well as biotin, choline, and iodine, but less folate and iron than you did during pregnancy.
Four top nutrients for breastfeeding moms are highlighted below.
Choline requirements are higher during lactation than at any other time in a woman’s life, with a goal of 550 mg per day. Choline plays a crucial role in healthy infant brain development and memory.* Still, only 10% of Americans get enough choline despite its importance. Eggs are the richest source of choline, but don’t throw out the yolk – that’s where all the choline is! Other sources include salmon, chicken, liver, milk, cocoa powder, almonds, broccoli, brussels sprouts, and cauliflower. Unfortunately, choline is often left out of pre- and postnatal vitamins because it’s bulky and challenging to work with in pills.
DHA (docosahexaenoic acid)
This omega-3 fatty acid is essential during pregnancy and lactation because of its role in infant brain and eye development.* The amount of DHA in your breast milk is directly related to the amount of DHA you take in through your diet or supplements. Ensure that you get enough while breastfeeding by including DHA-rich food sources like fish low in mercury (wild-caught salmon, tuna, mackerel) or DHA in supplements certified to be free of mercury, PCBs, and other contaminants.
Iodine is a mineral that promotes healthy thyroid function, as well as nerve and brain development.* Iodine-rich foods include fish and other seafood, dairy, and iodized salt. Since many women do not get enough iodine from food, the American Thyroid Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend that breastfeeding moms take a daily supplement with iodine.
Vitamin D is essential to support your baby’s rapid growth and development.* Typically, the amount of vitamin D in breast milk is too low to support a healthy vitamin D level in exclusively breastfed infants. As a result, the AAP recommends that breastfed infants receive a supplement of 10 mcg (400 IU) of vitamin D drops per day.
For many moms, giving vitamin D drops can be difficult. Most babies do not like the taste of the drops and may refuse them by mouth or even when mixed into a bottle of breast milk. Research indicates that less than 20% of families are consistent with administering vitamin D drops each day, which makes it difficult for baby to get enough vitamin D.
A 2015 study found that infants of mothers who took high doses of vitamin D3 daily achieved the same vitamin D blood level as infants given the recommended vitamin D drops each day. This allows mothers to provide enough vitamin D to their babies through their breast milk alone.
Even though biotin is also known as vitamin H, it actually belongs to the B vitamin family. Biotin stimulates keratin production and may help promote healthy hair, skin, and nails.* Keep in mind that hormone shifts play a huge role in hair loss after pregnancy, so it’s unclear how much biotin can offset this. Biotin also supports a healthy metabolism by assisting in the breakdown of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats in food.* The goal for breastfeeding mothers is to get at least 35 micrograms per day — include biotin-rich foods like egg yolks, nuts, soybeans, whole grains, bananas, cauliflower, and mushrooms for a biotin boost. Biotin is a water-soluble vitamin and is generally safe taken in the higher doses typically offered to support healthy hair, skin, and nails.* Always check with your doctor first, though, as biotin can interfere with the results of certain lab tests that use biotin technology.
The importance of nutrition does not end after pregnancy. Continue to nourish yourself well so you can pass vital nutrients to your breastfeeding child and help them thrive. In addition to a balanced diet, a high-quality postnatal supplement with these key nutrients can help you meet your nutrient needs while breastfeeding.