Nutrition 101 During Breastfeeding and the Power of Breastmilk
"Mothers and babies form an inseparable biological and social unit; the health and nutrition of one group cannot be discovered from the health and nutrition of the other." - The World Health Organization, UNICEF
Breastfeeding can be one of the many gifts a mother has to offer herself and her baby and has benefits to both a mother and infant. During this vulnerable time, many mothers may have questions about how to successfully make healthy food choices to benefit themselves and their babies. It is beneficial to talk with your doctor or a lactation consultant about your opportunity to breastfeed to gain education, guidance and support during this process!
Breast milk contains many vitamins and nutrients which are important for the health of a newborn including carbohydrates, fats, proteins and vitamins. All of these nutrients are important for the baby's growth and development and what the mother eats influences how much of these nutrients are the in breast milk. Listed below are some of the possible benefits for the mother and infant.
Possible benefits for baby:
- Immune support for the baby by protecting against diseases and preventing allergies
- Supports healthy stomach bacteria
- Lowers risk of sudden infant death
- Reduced risk for obesity
- Reduced risk of type 1 diabetes
- Reduced risk of ear infections
- Fewer stomach issues (nausea/vomiting)
Possible benefits for mother:
- Reduced risk of bleeding after pregnancy
- Lower blood pressure
- Lower risk of depression after birth
- Potential for increased bonding with the baby
- Potential for decreased risk of cancers (ovarian/breast) and diabetes
- Potential to be more cost-effective
Eating a well-balanced diet is important to support the mother's and baby's nutritional needs. It is important to discuss your situation with your doctor since each mother has a unique situation. Recommendations can differ slightly based on the mother's age and number of months after pregnancy. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans provides evidence-based recommendations for nutrient intakes for women who are breastfeeding. These nutrients play an important role in the overall growth and development of the baby.
- Need an extra 300-330kcals/day (example - a peanut butter sandwich)
- Nutrient needs per day based on 2,200 to 2,400kcals/day for women
- Carbohydrates: 210g/day (45-65% of total calorie intake daily)
- Protein: 71g/day
- 10-30% of total calorie intake daily for ages 14-18
- 10-35% of total calorie intake daily for ages 19-50
- Fat: 20-35% of total calorie intake daily
- Increase your water and fluid intake to meet your needs and satisfy your thirst!
- Fluid goal of 3 liters of fluid per day or around 16 cups per day
- Consider adding a variety of food groups to your plate!
- Add a variety of fruits and vegetables
- Try adding in whole grain sources such as brown rice, oatmeal and whole-wheat bread
- Protein sources: lean meats (skinless chicken/turkey), beans, peas, lentils, nuts, eggs, seafood
- Consider fat free/low-fat dairy products: fat free/low-fat yogurt or milk
Vitamin and mineral recommendations for mothers to consider for women post-pregnancy
It is important to consider not consuming the following nutrients in excess and consulting with your doctor before adding in any supplements. Supplements might not be needed if you are reaching recommendations from a well-balanced diet. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans provide mineral and vitamin recommendations for women who are breastfeeding. These vitamins and minerals can be transferred from breastmilk to the baby and if the mother is deficient there is the potential for the baby to not receive adequate amounts of these nutrients.
Based on 2,200-2,400 calories/day *mcg - micrograms, mg=milligrams
Need: Supports infant's growth
Amount: 1200 to 1300 mcg/day
Sources: Spinach, carrots, yams
Need: Supports infant brain development and production of healthy red blood cells
Amount: 2.8 micrograms/day
Sources: Meat, fish, chicken, shellfish, milk, egg yolks and other dairy foods
Need: Important for infant's bone development
Amount: 600IUs/day=15 micrograms
Sources: Salmon, fortified cereals, milk, egg yolk
Need: Growth/development of the infant and also to replenish the mother's needs
Amount: 500 mcg/day
Sources: Fortified cereals, legumes, spinach, chickpeas, enriched breads
Need: Supports infant growth/development
Amount: 1,000-1,300 mg/day
Sources: Dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese), dark leafy greens (spinach), sardines, fortified cereals
Need: Supports infant growth, brain and spinal cord development
Amount: 550 mcg/day
Sources: Needs can usually be met if protein and dairy needs are being met!
Need: An important component to thyroid hormones: A mothers level of these hormones impact fetal growth/development
Amount: 290 mcg/day
Sources: Eggs, seafood, normal intake of table salt
Need: Supports infant's neurological development and the process of bringing oxygen to red blood cells
Amount: 9-10 mcg/day
Sources: Lean meats, chicken, beans, lentils, dark green vegetables
For mothers who may be vegan or vegetarian it is important to follow up with your doctor about nutrient needs (iron, B12, iodine, choline) and potential supplements needs. These nutrients are often not as prevalent in plant foods.
- Iron: dried beans, legumes, green leafy vegetables, iron-fortified cereals
- B12: fortified cereals, nutritional yeast
- Iodine: table salt, seaweed, consult with a doctor about possible supplementation needs
- Choline: tofu, broccoli, quinoa, mushrooms, soy milk
While avoidance and restriction of certain food groups is not usually a concern for mothers during breastfeeding there are some food consideration to think about!
- Seafood: When choosing seafood options it is recommended to choose those lower in mercury like salmon or cod. Seafood can provide many protein benefits.
- Caffeine: Caffeine can pass from the mother's milk to the baby, low to moderate amounts (2-3 cups/day) do not appear to cause harm but higher intakes may contribute to sleeping problems or irritability among some infants.
- Alcohol: Any amount of alcohol is not safe for the baby to come into contact with and no alcohol consumption is the safest choice, if you do have questions about drinking alcohol while breastfeeding talk with your doctor.
There are many resources and services available out there that support mothers during this time. Exploring the possible benefits and nutrition considerations does not have to be taken on alone.
MyPlate: Pregnancy and Breastfeeding MyPlate is based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Recommendations include eating a diet that is well-balanced in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein foods, and low-fat/fat-free dairy foods. The MyPlate plan also recommends limiting added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium intake.
CDC: Maternal Diet- Diet Considerations for Breastfeeding Mothers: Check out the CDC website for more guidance on seafood recommendations during breastfeeding
- Ballard, O., & Morrow, A. L. (2013). Human Milk Composition: Nutrients and Bioactive Factors. Pediatric Clinics of North America, 60(1), 49–74. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pcl.2012.10.002
- Boquien, C.-Y. (2018). Human Milk: An Ideal Food for Nutrition of Preterm Newborn. Frontiers in Pediatrics, 6, 295. https://doi.org/10.3389/fped.2018.00295
- CDC. (2021, November 19). CDC and Breastfeeding. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/index.htm
- Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Promoting and Supporting Breastfeeding | Elsevier Enhanced Reader. (n.d.). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2014.12.014
- Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. (n.d.). 164.
- Pregnancy | MyPlate. (n.d.). Retrieved February 25, 2022, from https://www.myplate.gov/life-stages/pregnancy-and-breastfeeding
- CDC. (2021, August 10). Diet and Micronutrients. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/breastfeeding-special-circumstances/diet-and-micronutrients/index.html
Quote: Weltgesundheitsorganisation, & UNICEF (Eds.). (2003). Global strategy for infant and young child feeding. WHO.