A healthy diet strengthens your immune system, increases energy levels, and if you’re breastfeeding, what you eat has other extremely important benefits and possible drawbacks for both you and your baby. Breast milk is baby’s only source of nourishment for a while. Plus, a breastfeeding-friendly diet is a good way to get back to normal post-natal body functioning. What you consume has a direct effect on overall health for both you and your ability to successfully transfer nature’s perfect food to your newborn.
A Balanced Diet
In general, eat healthy helpings of fresh fruits, vegetables, calcium-rich foods, whole grains, and high-quality protein. You’re past the extra caloric needs of pregnancy and now that you're breastfeeding, you’ll need additional energy. That energy takes the form of increased calories. So if you were eating 2,000 calories a day during your pregnancy, for example, you'll want to boost that up to 2,500 while breastfeeding.
A top priority should be to choose postpartum foods that help the quality and quantity of your breast milk and avoiding those that negatively affect breastfeeding. What you eat ends up being what baby eats. Your body’s nutrients pass through to baby via your breast milk.
Variety is important. Just because fruit, green leafy veggies, organ meats or other nutrient-dense foods are breastfeeding superfoods, eating too much of them at the expense of others robs you and baby of complete nutritional needs. Strive for an array of nutrients. Go for a mix of carbs, protein, and healthy fats. Small meals with healthy snacks in between are also important; they’ll help you fill in what you missed during regular meals and satisfy those feelings of hunger that arise when you’re busy running around being a new mom.
Make sure you’re getting basic nutrients from your food. What are basic nutrients? They’re the building blocks of a healthy diet. You want foods rich in iron; B12 and B6; folate; Vitamins A, C, and D, calcium, zinc, iodine, and potassium.
Foods That Increase Lactation
You may have heard the term before: galactagogue. It’s a substance that increases milk supply and occurs naturally in some foods. Here’s a list of some foods that carry a rich supply of galactagogues:
● Barley and barley malt
● Oats and oatmeal
● Whole wheat
● Brown rice
● Brewer’s yeast
● Red beets
● Herbs and spices: Dill, garlic, fenugreek, blessed thistle, alfalfa, turmeric (turmeric is known to help prevent and treat mastitis and also eases symptoms associated with breast engorgement).
● Seeds: Many seeds are excellent galactagogues: Fennel (fenugreek seeds – the seeds from fennel), sesame seeds, poppy seeds, caraway seeds, anise seeds, coriander seeds.
Other Top Lactation Foods
Avocado. It’s an abundant source of folic acid and vitamins E & C, and some mothers report it increased their milk supply.
Beans and legumes are good sources of protein, vitamins, minerals, and phytoestrogens. Chickpeas were used as a galactagogue in ancient Egypt and are today a staple in North Africa, Middle East, and Mediterranean cuisine. They are very accessible galactagogues here in the U.S. too.
Cold-water fish contains DHA and EPA … omega-3 fatty acids that play an important role in brain and eye development. You can also find DHA in eggs, red meat, and liver.
Liver and other organ meats. Red meat is protein and contains iron plus vitamin B12, which is needed for proper neurological development.
Zinc helps with bone growth and immune system support.
Mushrooms are good a source of beta-glucan thought to be the main lactation agent responsible for mushroom’s galactagogue properties. Reishi, shiitake, maitake, shimeji, and oyster mushrooms have the highest beta-glucan content in the mushroom family.
Oatmeal also contains beta-glucans, as well as phytochemicals, protein, fiber, and carbohydrates to promote a rich supply of nourishing milk. Oatmeal is an excellent source of iron. Oatmeal releases the hormones oxytocin and relaxin – the feel-good hormones – in addition to stimulating breast milk production and milk flow. Be sure to choose non-instant varieties to get the full benefit of oatmeal’s beneficial properties. Our personal favorite is steel cut oats.
Healthy fats. These are avocado, extra virgin olive oil, virgin coconut oil, fresh flax or fish oil. Coconut oil contains lauric acid, a nutrient very similar and vital to breast milk.
Eggs. Fresh pasture-raised farm eggs are another way to get this essential fatty acid into your diet.
Quinoa, a grain, has been shown to increase milk supply. It’s extremely versatile. Use it as in a sweet or savory dish to add protein, amino acids, phosphorus, and iron to your diet.
Leafy greens are a good source of folate as well as being an all-around superfood.
Berries. Blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and virtually all berries are packed with antioxidants such as vitamin A and vitamin C. Mix up a bowl of fruit salad with these and get a good dose of antioxidants and fiber.
Almonds, almond butter, and almond milk can increase milk production. They also provide DHA, calcium, and magnesium.
Seeds. Even if some seeds aren’t galactagogues, they are chock-full of essential amino acids, vitamins and minerals and omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are a complete protein, meaning that they contain all of the essential amino acids needed by the human body in perfect proportions. Be sure to grind up flax seeds so your body can digest them and make full use of their nutrition. Chia seeds are a rich source of fiber, protein, calcium, and magnesium besides having a high omega-3 fatty acid content. Seeds are easy additions to yogurt, smoothies, and salads.
Carrots and other red and orange root vegetables contain vitamin A for growth and development; the same for dark leafy green vegetables and dried beans.
Yogurt is a great way to get probiotics for you and your baby. Look for a variety that contains the biggest list of live and active cultures to increase the digestive health of you both. Don’t worry about the fat content but do try to avoid those with sugar. Usually, the low-fat varieties contain added sugar and artificial flavor enhancers.
Water. Breastfeeding moms stay thirsty all the time, probably because it takes a lot of water to make breast milk. To stay hydrated drink lots of filtered water from a trusted source – about three liters a day.
Tea. Fenugreek, nettle, fennel, raspberry, aniseed, milk thistle, alfalfa, and coriander increase milk supply.
About Food Quality
Eat fresh, organic, whole foods. If you can’t eat organic or you’re buying produce or a packaged food, avoid those that are known to be genetically modified (hint: you could be eating a GMO food if it doesn’t have a “non-GMO” sticker on the label). Does organic make a difference? Absolutely. Producers are not permitted to use antibiotics, growth hormones, pesticides, other chemicals, or GMO-grown foods if they are USDA certified organic foods (but the system isn’t foolproof).
Know which fruits and vegetables are highest in pesticides and choose organic options whenever possible. Always wash fruits and veggies well; natural citrus-based vegetable washes can help. Or better yet, peel them.
At the top of the list heavy in pesticides are: apples, celery, strawberries, peaches, spinach, imported nectarines and grapes, sweet bell peppers, potatoes, blueberries, lettuce, and kale and collard greens.
Lower in pesticides: onions, sweet corn (non-GMO), pineapples, avocados, asparagus, sweet peas, mangoes, eggplant, cantaloupe, kiwi, cabbage, watermelon, sweet potatoes, grapefruit, and mushrooms.
Eat local and in-season whenever possible and choose produce that are in season in your area. Produce that travels long distances often has more pesticides; plus, they’re usually picked before full ripeness to extend shelf life, which could mean you’re not getting their full nutritional value.
Go for complex carbs like whole grains and cereals and fresh fruits and vegetables. They’re more nutritional than processed starches with added sugars and they provide longer-lasting energy.
Eat good fats and avoid trans fats. Good fats include coconut oil, olive oil, and fatty fish (like salmon) as well as avocados, olives, nuts, and seeds. Oils have different smoke points. If it smokes, throw it out. Heating at higher temperatures (if it has a lower smoke point) can make a once-healthy fat carcinogenic.
Foods to Avoid or Use with Caution
Alcohol. Studies show that babies consume less milk in the four hours after you have an alcoholic beverage. Sure, your baby may become drowsy and fall asleep more quickly after you have a drink, but baby will sleep for a shorter amount of time. Also, alcohol level increases and decreases in your bloodstream. If you drink alcohol, wait at least two hours before breastfeeding baby.
Caffeine. A small amount of caffeine can wind up in your breast milk. It can accumulate in your baby's system because baby can't easily break it down and excrete it. Caffeine may cause you and baby to have problems sleeping, feel jittery, irritable, and could lead to colic and acid reflux in some babies.
Certain fish. Some types of fish contain contaminants that can be harmful to pregnant and nursing women and babies. The EPA and USDA advise not eating shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish because they contain high levels of mercury. Solid white or albacore tuna also tends to be higher in mercury than other types of canned tuna. If you eat solid white or albacore tuna, limit your intake to six ounces per week. Also, avoid raw fish of any kind.
Undercooked meats (red- and pink-colored). Harmful bacteria can cause foodborne illness. Don’t take any chances. Cook meats fully.
Unpasteurized soft cheeses could open you up (and baby) to E-coli or other dangerous food poisoning risks. Make sure to keep them at the proper temperature.
Processed foods, boxed foods, cold cuts. Because of additives such as nitrates, sulfites, added sugar, other chemicals, and unhealthy fats to increase shelf life or enhance flavor or smell, stay away from the center aisles of the grocery store. Shop the perimeter where the produce, meat, seafood, and dairy sections for fresh whole foods are.
Added sugar and sugar substitutes. White sugar is highly processed. Some sugar substitutes are also highly processed and contain harmful additives such as saccharine. It’s best to eat fruits and vegetables in the form that nature provided them, containing only their own natural sugar.
Broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts, dairy products, chocolate, citrus, garlic, or chili pepper can make baby gassy or irritable – but not all babies. If your baby seems constantly uncomfortable after you eat a particular food, stop eating it.
Watch teas. They may contain caffeine, which can cause sleep problems in babies. Opt for herbal teas but check with your health practitioner; some herbal teas have medicinal qualities that may be harmful or reduce milk supply.
Side Effects and Food Allergies
In some instances, your baby could be allergic to something you ate. Baby’s reaction could be a skin rash, hives, wheezing or congestion, green, mucous, bloody stools; eczema, diarrhea, or vomiting. Foods that commonly may cause allergic reactions include eggs, nuts, peanuts, soy, wheat, and cow’s milk.
And don’t assume that all galactagogues are safe. They can have side effects and drug interactions too. Talk to a lactation specialist about whether a particular galactagogue is safe for you.
Call Us If You Have Questions or Concerns
If your milk supply is low, you’re having other breastfeeding problems and you’ve tried some of the breastfeeding advice we’ve mentioned here or others without success, get in touch with a breastfeeding consultant. Dr. Michelle Parker is an internationally board certified lactation consultant and can give you one-on-one help with your particular situation.
Dr. Parker is certified by the Academy Council of Chiropractic Pediatric Association in pediatric chiropractic for pre- and postnatal specialties. She is the only chiropractor with the C.A.C.C.P certification in Parker County.
The Chiropractic Place for Mommy and Me also partners with Dewlene Broyles, RN, IBCLC for “mom support” to bring The Nursing Tribe of Parker County, a free breastfeeding community group, to Parker County. Join the group on the 1st and 3rd Wednesday of each month from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. to meet local families and gain more knowledge about breastfeeding.
Centrally Located near Fort Worth
The office of The Chiropractic Place for Mommy and Me is in Aledo, Texas, just 15 minutes west of downtown Fort Worth or 10 minutes east of Weatherford, Hudson Oaks, and Willow Park. The clinic serves these counties: East Parker County, Tarrant, Parker, Erath, Palo Pinto, Hood, Wise, Denton, Dallas, and Johnson.
Feel free to visit our social media pages on Instagram @TheChiroPlaceforMommyandMe or Facebook @TheChiroPlace to get a feel for our atmosphere and how we work with mothers and children. We are proud to offer a family-friendly, kid-approved, and mother-oriented space to the community. Give our office a call to get your baby’s appointment scheduled today at 682-214-0408.