Breastfeeding can be a journey with many ups and downs. From magically intimate moments bonding with your new baby to mastitis and milk production issues, you can go from joyful to anxious and back again in just a few days flat.
If you’re currently breastfeeding or will be soon, it’s important to remember the critically important role that diet plays in your breastfeeding journey. As Tracy Scott , health coach at Parsley Health in New York City explains, “Your milk is your body’s priority, and nutrients will be used for the milk first, so we need to ensure you’re properly nourished so there is enough left for your body to thrive as well.”
The good news is that there are certain foods that will guarantee that your baby and your body are getting everything they need to thrive. Parsley Health doctors and health coaches frequently work with new moms to make sure they’re getting the proper nutrients and having a healthy postpartum recovery. Here are some new-mom “superfoods” (AKA foods that pack a nutritional punch) to make sure your breastfeeding diet is preparing you for all the ups and downs:
Between changing diapers and feedings, you’re probably not going to have time to count all your macronutrients, but one nutrient in particular to focus on is healthy fat. As Scott explains, “you need to be eating about 500 extra calories per day while breastfeeding, and a healthy way to accomplish that is by adding in extra fats, which are also wonderful for your milk supply.” Some of her favorite sources of healthy fats include wild-caught sardines, wild-caught salmon, and pasture-raised organic eggs as well as nuts and seeds, avocados, olives, and olive oil if you’re looking for plant-based sources of fat.
Another important new mom superfood is ironically, not a food at all. It’s water. As Scott explains, “breast milk is made up of around 87% water, so drinking adequate water is absolutely key.” If you’re not sure how much water you should be drinking. It’s important to know that the “eight, 8-ounce glasses of water a day” rule is a little outdated. As it turns out, not everyone needs the same amount of water every day. Instead of following generic advice, click here to find out if you’re drinking enough water every day . Your health coach can also help you determine the right intake for your needs while breastfeeding.
According to Scott, when you’re breastfeeding, “Your need for vitamin A, E, C, and B12 as well as zinc and selenium all increase.” That might seem like a lot of nutrients to keep front of mind but luckily, these important vitamins and minerals are found in a bunch of delicious foods. For example, Brazil nuts are an excellent source of selenium ; strawberries and tomatoes are both great sources of vitamin C; vitamin E is found in high amounts in sunflower, almond, and peanut butter ; and finally, vitamin B12—which is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the world—is found in grass-fed beef, as is zinc.
If you want to keep it simple, Scott recommends a breastfeeding diet focusing on “a mix of colorful veggies and nutrient-dense foods that give you the most bang for your buck.” That means avoiding packaged and processed foods as much as possible, even though they are incredibly convenient, especially when you’re short on time and energy!
Eating a diverse breastfeeding diet of colorful veggies, focusing on healthy fats, and making sure you’re properly hydrated should cover a lot of your nutritional bases. That said, there are some foods and substances that, while breastfeeding, should be consumed in moderation as well. According to Scott, alcohol is number one on the list. “Alcohol should be consumed in moderation and spaced out properly so that it leaves the system before the next feed,” she explains. The good news is that you don’t have to play a guessing game to find out how long that is—alcohol test strips are available on Amazon and at most pharmacies and grocery stores.
Caffeine is another substance to be mindful of while you’re pumping or breastfeeding. “The caffeine in coffee and tea does cross into breast milk, which can make napping or sleeping difficult for both you and your baby,” says Scott. But before you opt for herbal teas because of their caffeine-free nature, you should also know that “peppermint and sage can have a negative impact on milk supply,” she continues.
If this all feels overwhelming to you, consider working with a health coach to optimize your breastfeeding journey through proper nutrition. “At Parsley Health, a health coach would take many factors into account to ensure you’re getting a proper diet while breastfeeding or pumping,” says Scott. On top of discussing milk supply and how often you’re feeding, “we would look at a sample food journal to make sure you’re getting a nice balance of fat, fiber , protein and carbs,” she explains. That way, you can rest easy knowing that you and your baby are getting everything you need.
Gretchen Lidicker is a writer, researcher, and author of the book CBD Oil Everyday Secrets: A Lifestyle Guide To Hemp-Derived Health & Wellness. She has a masters degree in physiology and complementary and alternative medicine from Georgetown University and is the former health editor at mindbodygreen. She's been featured in the New York Times, Marie Claire, Forbes, SELF, The Times, Huffington Post, and Travel + Leisure.