Breastfeeding: Which foods should I eat now?
Have more vitamins, minerals and dairy
If you breastfeed your baby, you will have to adapt your diet, as your body has an important task in the coming months: to process your baby's food. And your nutritional needs increase because of breast milk production.
Why you need to eat more and better
When your baby asks for it
Breastfeeding should always be provided on demand, i.e. when your child asks for it. And at first, your baby’s tiny stomach will empty right away. During the first weeks of life, your new-born baby will demand to be fed every three hours or so, both day and night.
This, together with the extra work involved in caring for the new member of the family and the metabolic effort of producing milk, will make you feel very tired, sleepy and hungry – very hungry.
Watch out for snacks and frequent visits to the fridge
That's why it's normal that during the first few weeks you will need something to eat at 3am, after you've breastfed your baby, or you will feel like snacking on anything in between hours, regardless of whether it provides you with many or just a few calories or is rich in vitamins or contains only fat.
Also, bear in mind that you will be spending a lot of time at home with your fridge and pantry at your entire disposal.
Take vitamins and minerals
As you can see, breastfeeding is going to be a very special time when you will need to eat enough so that your body doesn't suffer from vitamin and mineral deficiencies that may later take their toll. But watch out for those extra calories which can gradually turn into fat that accumulates in your thighs or love handles in the abdominal area.
Take in more calories if you breastfeed
Energy and nutritional needs during breastfeeding increase even more than during pregnancy. To give you an idea, in order to produce one litre of milk your body will need around 700 kcal. Generally, most of this additional requirement is met thanks to your fat reserves – the two to four kilograms accumulated throughout your pregnancy. This is why the hip area is a little wider in pregnancy.
Increase your calories by 500 each day
But this fat reserve is not enough, which is why your calorie intake should be increased by about 500 kcal per day during breastfeeding. "Energy requirements during breastfeeding are about 2,700 kcal per day, while a non-breastfeeding woman needs about 2,200 kcal/day," says Myriam Viudes, a midwife at La Milagrosa Hospital in Madrid. But be careful: you must not only take in more calories, but also other nutrients as well. "The production of breast milk requires significant amounts of vitamins and minerals which are 'stolen' from the mother," Dr Rafael Montero Reguera, paediatrician at the Nisa Pardo Hospital in Aravaca.
No sweets, chocolate, buns...
This does not mean that as long as you are breastfeeding you can enjoy all the culinary treats you want, such as sweets, chocolate, scones, chips and so on.
In general, if you increase your servings of dairy, that will be enough. Also, bear in mind that from the sixth month of breastfeeding your baby will no long only be drinking your milk and will start eating other foods as well. As your baby's milk intake decreases, so does its production, and your energy needs will also start to decrease.
What should I eat every day?
During breastfeeding, a balanced diet should contain all the food groups you need to get the necessary nutrients. These are the daily servings of the different food groups recommended when you are breastfeeding. They should be spread over four or five meals:
- Cereals, tubers and legumes: four to five servings, to get enough carbohydrates.
- Vegetables, fruits and greens: five servings to provide you with fat-soluble (A, D, E) and water-soluble vitamins (C, B6, B12, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, folates), and minerals, particularly calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, zinc, iodine, selenium and copper.
- Meat, fish and eggs: two and a half servings, which together with dairy products and legumes provide sufficient protein, as a woman needs 2 g per day per kg of weight when breastfeeding.
- Milk and dairy: five servings.
- Fats: four servings.
- Water: two litres.
And don’t forget iodine
Generally, "it is recommended that after giving birth and during breastfeeding mothers take a vitamin and mineral supplement, and iron to ensure an adequate nutritional status", says Dr Rafael Montero Reguera.
"The recommended supplement during lactation is iodine (in the form of potassium iodide) in a minimum dose of 200 micrograms per day. Despite an adequate diet, minimum needs are not always met and the infant's intake depends directly on the supply through the mother's milk," adds midwife Myriam Viudes.