The 10 Best Foods to Eat While Breastfeeding
If you’re breastfeeding, there’s a good chance that your hunger levels may have reached an all-time high...and it’s no wonder! Right now, your hardworking body is burning So Many calories a day to fuel your milk-making. So, it stands to reason that you need more calories and nutrients to keep up. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends nursing parents take in an additional 330 to 400 calories a day to stay well-nourished. But any ol food won’t do. Instead, the best foods for breastfeeding need to deliver multiple nutrients at one time to maximize your and your little one’s health. (Plus, what are new parents if not exceptional multitaskers? Our breastfeeding friendly foods need to be the same!) To get the most out of each bite, breastfeeding parents want to chow down on foods that help you…
- Get enough calories to stay fueled up
- Prevent nutrient deficiencies that lower milk quality
- Function at your best and have overall well-being
Here, 10 nutrition-packed foods that do all of the above. And, no, you don’t have to start housing them all right now! Instead, think about adding one new food each week.
Best Foods For Breastfeeding #1: Salmon
By now, we know that eating fish in pregnancy is just as good for you as it is for baby—and the benefits extend right on into breastfeeding. Research has shown that nursing parents who eat fish may even produce more milk. Beyond that, eating protein-rich salmon, for instance, can help turn your breastmilk into Baby’s best source of DHA and EPA, types of omega-3 fatty acids that are important for the development of your little one’s nervous system. Salmon also offers choline, a nutrient that’s linked to infant brain development. (It’s recommended that lactating parents consume 550 milligrams of choline daily throughout Baby’s first year.) Bonus: Salmon is also one of the very few food sources of vitamin D, which helps with the absorption of calcium. Plus, since research shows that vitamin-D deficiency is related to the incidence of postpartum depression, it’s not a bad idea to eat up.
Eat it this way: Enjoy your salmon grilled, steamed, even fresh out of the can! Canned salmon is a perfect add-in to a fresh salad and for making pan-fried salmon patties. While nursing, you can safely enjoy 2 to 3 4-ounce servings of salmon a week.
Best Foods For Breastfeeding #2: Mustard greens
Dark leafy green vegetables, such as mustard greens, are overflowing with health-giving nutrients, like fiber, flavonoids, calcium, and vitamins A, C, E, and K. (Vitamin K may sound familiar because newborns are given vitamin K shots shortly after they’re born to help their blood clot and prevent serious bleeding.) Another green leafy plus: Flavonoids in mustard greens are thought to promote prolactin production, which is the primary milk-making hormone.
Eat it this way: Prepare mustard greens just like you would spinach. But with this green leafy, expect a stronger flavor. Try sautéeing yours in olive oil and garlic and pairing with lemon pepper chicken and roasted sweet potatoes for a delicious dinner.
Best Foods For Breastfeeding #3: Lean Beef
Beefing up isn’t just for bodybuilders. Breastfeeding parents need lots of protein, too—an extra 25 grams daily to be exact. Typical protein recommendations are 0.36 grams per pound of body weight. So, if you’re, say, 140 pounds, you’d normally need about 50 grams of protein daily. But when you’re nursing, that total bumps up to 75 grams of protein a day.
Lean cuts of beef have lots of protein, plus a lot of vitamin B12, which is an essential nutrient for keeping your new baby’s red blood cells healthy and functioning. It’s so important that, if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, it’s a good idea to talk to your healthcare provider to see if you need to take a B12 supplement while breastfeeding.
Eat it this way: Again, lean is best! So shop for 90% lean ground beef, sirloin, brisket, or stew meat. And, if possible, choose grass-fed beef, which has less fat and calories than the grain-fed variety—and it doesn’t contain added hormones or antibiotics.
Best Foods For Breastfeeding #4: Grapefruit
It turns out, when breastfeeding, your vitamin C needs go up a bit. So, if you're nursing, you should shoot for 120 milligrams a day. A good source of vitamin C includes the pretty-in-pink grapefruit, which is also an excellent source of folate, a water-soluble B-vitamin that you may remember was super important during pregnancy. (Folate aka folic acid, promotes the production of new and healthy cells.) Folate remains important when nursing, but research in the journal Nutrients notes that breastfeeding ups your risk of folate deficiency. And if you’re not getting enough, your baby isn’t getting enough, either.
Eat it this way: Grapefruits are one of the easiest breakfast choices around, but don’t limit it to your morning meal. Try broiling it, adding juicy segments to a fruit salad, mixing it into your otherwise ho-hum green salad, or even creating a bright citrus salsa to accompany a fish dish.
Best Foods For Breastfeeding #5: Chickpeas
Fiber-rich and protein-packed, chickpeas are perfectly designed to keep your blood sugar in good balance. (That means no high-to-low energy roller coaster rides.) Chickpeas are also brimming with vitamin B6, which helps your and your baby’s immune system function at their best. And there’s more! Chickpeas contain something called saponins, which is a natural compound found in some plant-based foods that may help you produce more milk for your baby, according to research in the Journal of Human Lactation.
Eat it this way: Chickpeas work well in a vegetable chili, soup, or roasted for a semi-salty snack. And chickpeas are the main ingredient in healthy hummus.
Best Foods For Breastfeeding #6: Brown rice
Brown rice is a fantastic whole grain that’s stocked with fiber (2 grams in every half cup), which means after eating, you’ll stay feeling full longer, digest better—and keep your blood sugar levels steady. Brown rice is also rich in thiamin (aka vitamin B1), which plays a key role in energy metabolism—something all new parents need. And because thiamin passes through breastmilk, when you get enough, Baby does, too. And that’s important because babies need thiamin for optimal growth and development.
Eat it this way: Add brown rice to a Thai chicken rice bowl, toss some in with spinach and tomatoes for yummy salad, or make a brown rice and veggie stir fry.
Best Foods For Breastfeeding #7: Walnuts
Walnuts are a nutrient-wealthy munchable snack that’s easy to eat…even while nursing. They’re super-high in heart-healthy fats, also known as omega-3 fats. In fact, walnuts clock significantly more omega-3 fatty acids than any other nut, offering up 2.5 grams per ounce. They’re also a great source of fiber, so you know that they’ll keep you feeling fuller longer. Plus, about 14 walnut halves add up to 185 calories, putting you closer to your new caloric goal.
Eat it this way: Consider topping your salad or yogurt with walnuts or pair them with a small handful of dried fruit.
Best Foods For Breastfeeding #8: Mushrooms
Just like salmon, mushrooms are mighty in vitamin D. Morels, chanterelles, cremini, and portobello are naturally higher in D, but any mushroom exposed to UV light after harvest will offer a solid boost of the vitamin. Again, vitamin D is a great food for breastfeeding because it helps the body absorb calcium. Though the National Institutes of Health recommends 600 IUs of daily vitamin D to lactating mothers, studies show a higher intake (up to 6,400 IUs) is safe and may be more beneficial. If you’re wondering how much vitamin D you should be taking, talk with your medical provider. But know that a half cup of mushrooms provide 9% of your daily value.
Eat it this way: Add mushrooms to your feta omelet at breakfast, stuff them with cheese and veggies at lunch, throw them into your chicken marsala dinner, or swap your burger for a grilled portobello.
Best Foods For Breastfeeding #9: Ginger
Ginger is a strong-smelling plant root used as a spice to enhance so many lip-smacking dishes and desserts, but it’s also a great add to your breastfeeding diet. Research has shown that including ginger into the mix may increase breastmilk production. A 2016 study of breastfeeding moms found that those who consumed 500 milligrams of a ginger supplement produced more breastmilk after three days than those who took a placebo. While it’s not clear how ginger may do this, ginger root is considered a safe spice to incorporate into your meals when breastfeeding or otherwise.
Eat it this way: Add fresh or dried ginger to a teriyaki stir fry, homemade rice bowls, or even your breakfast oatmeal. You can also boil a few slices of fresh ginger in water and let sit for 5 minutes, remove the ginger and enjoy an invigorating tea.
Best Foods For Breastfeeding #10: Apricots
These bright stone fruits might be small, but boy are they mighty! Not only are apricots filled with antioxidants, vitamins A, C, and E, potassium, and stay-full-longer of fiber, they’re thought to increase the milk-making hormone prolactin, too. Just a note: While there’s promising research and anecdotal evidence that certain foods, like apricots, may increase breastmilk supply, if you’re worried about your supply, it’s best to turn to your healthcare provider or a lactation consultant for advice.
Eat it this way: When enjoying fresh, keep the peel on since the skin is where much of the nutrients and fiber reside. And remember, dried apricots are a super-easy snack to keep in your purse or by the glider for a nutritious bite.
For even more helpful info on breastfeeding, check out these articles:
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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.