Question: Do I need to be eating differently for better nutrition while breastfeeding? What do you recommend is best to eat?
Answer: Since you are eating for two, you need to eat healthier for more nutrition while breastfeeding. Most mothers need to eat an extra 300-500 nutritious calories per day. The top nutritional deficiency in breastfeeding mothers is omega-3 fats, found in safe seafood like wild salmon and in omega-3 supplements. Because you are feeding a little “fathead” (baby brains are 60% fat), babies literally suck extra omega-3 fats out of mothers, leaving baby with an omega-3 sufficiency; but mother may then have an omega-3 insufficiency. When there isn’t enough of a nutrient for both, baby gets first dibs.
Since omega-3s are the smartest fat for brain development, this is a smart design – at least for baby. Yet, new research reveals that an omega-3 insufficiency can contribute to post-partum depression. So, what’s smart for babies is smart for mothers.
A 2006 study of DHA content (the smartest omega-3 fat) of the breastmilk of mothers from nine different countries revealed the DHA content was highest in Japan and the Arctic cultures (both high-seafood eaters). But lowest in Canada and the United States.
Breastfeeding mothers who do not eat at least 12 ounces of safe seafood a week (best is wild salmon) need to take a supplement of 1000 mg (DHA/EPA combined) daily. For more “brainy” information about smart fats for building smart baby brains, see The Omega-3 Effect, by William and James Sears.
Other nutritional tips while breastfeeding:
- Reports that breastfeeding leaches calcium from a mother’s bones tell only a half-truth. During lactation, the mother’s body does take calcium from her bones and uses it to make milk, regardless of the mother’s own calcium intake. But what nature takes, nature gives back. The calcium loss is only temporary. The good news is that after weaning, mother’s body returns more calcium to her bones than lactation took out, resulting in a healthier bone density than the woman had prior to breastfeeding.
- Iron: See the list of iron-rich foods by clicking here.
- Enjoy a daily smoothie for breastfeeding moms we call “Lactade”, containing berries, avocado, kiwi, organic whole milk yogurt or kefir, kale, nut butters, pomegranate seeds or juice, and a protein/multi-nutrient powder such as Juice Plus Complete. ENJOY!
For more about nutritious eating while breastfeeding, see our newly revised edition of The Breastfeeding Book.
Martha Sears, RN
Martha is the mother of Dr. Bill’s eight children, a registered nurse, a former childbirth educator, a La Leche League leader, and a lactation consultant. Martha is the co-author of 25 parenting books and is a popular lecturer and media guest drawing on her 18 years of breastfeeding experience with her eight children (including Stephen with Down Syndrome and Lauren, her adopted daughter). Martha speaks frequently at national parenting conferences and is noted for her advice on how to handle the most common problems facing today’s mothers with their changing lifestyles. Martha is able to connect with both full-time, stay-at-home mothers and working mothers because she herself has experienced both styles of parenting. Martha takes great pride in referring to herself as a “professional mother” and one of her favorite quips when someone voices their concern about her having eight children in an already populated world is: “The world needs my children.”