Breast-feeding nutrition can be confusing. How much should you eat? What should you avoid? How might your diet affect your baby? Follow these important nutrition tips.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

If you're breast-feeding, you're giving your baby nutrients that will promote his or her growth and health. You might have questions, however, about what foods and drinks are best for you — and how your diet might affect your breast milk and your baby.

Understand the basics of breast-feeding nutrition.

Yes, you might need to eat a little more — about an additional 400 to 500 calories a day — to keep up your energy.

To get these extra calories, opt for nutrient-rich choices, such as a slice of whole-grain bread with a tablespoon (about 16 grams) of peanut butter, a medium banana or apple, and 8 ounces (about 227 grams) of yogurt.

Focus on making healthy choices to help fuel your milk production. Opt for protein-rich foods, such as lean meat, eggs, dairy, beans, lentils and seafood low in mercury. Choose a variety of whole grains as well as fruits and vegetables. Wash your fruits and vegetables to reduce exposure to pesticide residue.

Eating a variety of different foods while breast-feeding will change the flavor of your breast milk. This will expose your baby to different tastes, which might help him or her more easily accept solid foods down the road.

To make sure you and your baby are getting all of the vitamins you need, your health care provider might recommend continuing to take a daily prenatal vitamin until you wean your baby.

Drink frequently, preferably before you feel thirsty, and drink more if your urine appears dark yellow. Have a glass of water nearby when you breast-feed your baby.

Be wary of juices and sugary drinks, however. Too much sugar can contribute to weight gain — or sabotage your efforts to lose pregnancy weight. Too much caffeine can be troublesome, too. Limit yourself to no more than 2 to 3 cups (16 to 24 ounces) of caffeinated drinks a day. Caffeine in your breast milk might agitate your baby or interfere with your baby's sleep.

If you follow a vegetarian diet, it's especially important to choose foods that'll give you the nutrients you need. For example:

  • Choose foods rich in iron, protein and calcium. Good sources of iron include lentils, enriched cereals, whole-grain products, peas, dark leafy green vegetables and dried fruit. To help your body absorb iron, eat iron-rich foods with foods high in vitamin C, such as citrus fruits.

    For protein, consider eggs and dairy products or plant sources, such as soy products and meat substitutes, legumes, lentils, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.

    Good sources of calcium include dairy products and dark green vegetables. Other options include calcium-enriched and -fortified products, such as juices, cereals, soy milk, soy yogurt and tofu.

  • Consider supplements. Your health care provider will likely recommend a daily vitamin B-12 supplement. Vitamin B-12 is found almost exclusively in animal products, so it's difficult to get enough in vegetarian diets. Vitamin B-12 is essential for your baby's brain development.

    If you don't eat enough vitamin D-fortified foods — such as cow's milk and some cereals — and you have limited sun exposure, you might need vitamin D supplements. Your baby needs vitamin D to absorb calcium and phosphorus. Too little vitamin D can cause rickets, a softening and weakening of bones. Tell your doctor and your baby's doctor if you're also giving your baby a vitamin D supplement.

Certain foods and drinks deserve caution while you're breast-feeding. For example:

  • Alcohol. There's no level of alcohol in breast milk that's considered safe for a baby. If you drink, avoid breast-feeding until the alcohol has completely cleared your breast milk. This typically takes two to three hours for 12 ounces (355 milliliters) of 5 percent beer, 5 ounces (148 milliliters) of 11 percent wine or 1.5 ounces (44 milliliters) of 40 percent liquor, depending on your body weight. Pumping and dumping doesn't speed the elimination of alcohol from your body.
  • Caffeine. Avoid drinking more than 2 to 3 cups (16 to 24 ounces) of caffeinated drinks a day. Caffeine in your breast milk might agitate your baby or interfere with your baby's sleep.
  • Fish. Seafood can be a great source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Most seafood contains mercury or other contaminants, however. Exposure to excessive amounts of mercury through breast milk can pose a risk to a baby's developing nervous system. To limit your baby's exposure, avoid seafood that's high in mercury, including swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish. If you eat fish from local waters, pay attention to local fish advisories or limit fish from local waters to 6 ounces (170 grams) a week and don't eat other fish that week.

Certain foods or drinks in your diet could cause your baby to become irritable or have an allergic reaction. If your baby becomes fussy or develops a rash, diarrhea or congestion soon after nursing, consult your baby's doctor.

If you suspect that something in your diet might be affecting your baby, avoid the food or drink for up to a week to see if it makes a difference in your baby's behavior. Consider eliminating food made from cow's milk, peanuts, soy, wheat, eggs or corn.  Some breast-feeding women say that avoiding spicy or gassy foods, such as onions or cabbage, can help — but this hasn't been proved through research.

To determine links between your diet and your baby's behavior, keep a food diary. List everything you eat and drink, along with notes about how your baby reacts — if at all. If removing a food or drink from your diet has no impact on your baby's fussiness, add it back to your diet and consider other culprits.

Remember, there's no need to go on a special diet while you're breast-feeding. Simply focus on making healthy choices — and you and your baby will reap the rewards.

May 05, 2015