Just like in pregnancy, a well-rounded diet rich in nutrition is a priority when breastfeeding. While most assume it has to do with milk composition and supply, there is evidence that it has more to do with the health status of the lactating mother.
Breastfeeding and Nutrition
By Ashley Georgakopoulos, IBCLC and Owner of Genesis Lactation
Adding Healthy Calories
Breastfeeding burns anywhere from 300-500 calories a day1, depending on a mother’s metabolism and current weight status, how much water she drinks, not to mention vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients. Regardless of maternal intake, breast milk composition and calories given to the baby are consistent. One exception to this statement is vitamin D status, which will be discussed in a moment.
This basically means it does not require a particulate diet or extreme amount of caloric intake to produce and maintain lactation abilities to exclusively breastfeed. However, production will take from the mother’s body if not available through her diet.
The caloric intake for a mother at a healthy weight is recommended to be around 500 additional calories a day, more so for enough vitamin and mineral replenishment through the foods we eat rather than calories actually burned.
An important side note to this is to be cautious and particular with supplementary snacks, often coined as “lactation foods,” since many can be high in calories and not the answer to breastfeeding problems. An additional 500 calories can be broken out into two healthy snacks easily. Feeding multiples will increase these needs up to approximately 800-1000 extra calories a day.
The Benefit of Vitamin D
Finishing prenatal vitamins and starting a postnatal vitamin, preferably from whole-food sources instead of synthetic, is recommended. Our diets tend to fall short in achieving the recommended amount of vitamins and minerals needed. One vitamin, in particular, is vitamin D. Often we don’t receive enough sunlight to metabolize vitamin D in the cholesterol of our skin. Which is why all babies, whether breastfed or formula-fed, need supplementation. On the flip side, if a mother supplements herself with 6400 IU of vitamin D, enough will pace through the breastmilk to satisfy the baby’s needs as well2.
Vitamin D and a healthy gut biome can also reduce the rates and risks of postpartum depression, anxiety, and psychosis in the mother.
As for other mineral needs, calcium has an interesting part to play. We reabsorb calcium requirements at a faster and more efficient rate while lactating than at any other time. This is an excellent time to reach for those dark, leafy greens, oily fish and bone broths3.
From the time a girl has her first period to the point of menopause, and every pregnancy in between, women lose iron with each menses and birth, but we also lose calcium from our bones to provide homeostasis while losing blood and to provide calcium for a baby’s growing bones while in the womb. If a woman breastfeeds for 12 months or more, she replenishes almost all of that due to the hormones involved, encouraging efficient calcium absorption rates. It’s why breastfeeding reduces the risk of osteoporosis across the board.
Lactation can be hindered due to heavy amounts of blood loss, commonly occurring after a cesarean section or hemorrhaging, so it’s important to focus on iron-rich foods during this time. Oatmeal is a common galactogue, or lactation food, to replenish those iron stores and help the body function.
Foods to Focus On
The most crucial part of nutrition is focusing on quality foods, as the body absorbs nutrition better from food sources. So, what foods should mothers focus on?
Fruits and Vegetables: Berries, tomatoes, kale, garlic, broccoli
Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, walnuts, chia seeds, flax
Fish and Seafood: Salmon, seaweed, shellfish, sardines
Meat: Beef, pork, dark chicken, meat, and organ meats, such as liver, all rich in iron
Eggs: Great source of healthy cholesterol and vitamin D
Whole Grains: Oats, quinoa, barley
Other: Bone broth, fermented foods, mushrooms.
There is no need to force fluids or drink in excess if you are drinking to your thirst and take water with you throughout your day4. Your breastmilk is 84% water, so of course, you will need to increase the amount you used to drink. You’ll know you need to hydrate more if you experience a “cotton mouth” dryness when you sit to feed your nursling, or if your urine becomes dark or has an odd scent.
At the end of the day, you’ll feel much stronger when your personal nutritional needs are met and you’re better able to care and feed your baby.
About the Author
Ashley is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) that specializes in the clinical management of breastfeeding and an expert in the field of lactation. Ashley is from Knoxville, TN, and is a mother who has dealt with the obstacles and joys of breastfeeding. As the owner of Genesis Lactation, she educates families, connects them to resources, and helps the next generation be as healthy as possible: nutritionally and sustainably.
All content published on the Motif Medical site is credited for information purposes only. This information should not substitute as medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always consult your doctor or qualified health professional with any questions regarding the health of you or your baby.