Hi everyone! It’s Beverly again, Natalee’s friend from Okinawa. I have an educational background in nutrition and exercise and I just achieved a Master of Public Health degree – woo hoo! My current job title is “Health Educator” so maybe you can see how much I love talking about and teaching others about how to be the healthiest version of you.
Today we’re talking about breastfeeding nutrition – what mom needs to eat and drink to make sure she’s giving her own body and the baby’s body the nutrients they both need to thrive.
Before we go into nutrition, I’d like to quickly mention the current research being done regarding the human gut. All of the good, helpful bacteria that lines our digestive tract (mouth, stomach, intestines, rectum, and anus) is collectively known as the “gut microbiome” or “gut flora.” Breastfeeding is the most important method that these good, helpful bacteria will be introduced to your baby’s body. Breastfeeding is far more important than we ever knew – by making the decision to breastfeed, you are setting up your baby to have a stronger immune system and less disease. These good, helpful bacteria even help prevent chronic diseases like Type 2 diabetes, obesity, some cancers, depression, anxiety, and the list goes on. There are a lot of research articles from scientific journals you can reference via Google Scholar, but this is a good “blog” type post with a short-and-sweet message: https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/the-best-thing-you-can-do-for-your-babys-immune-system
The World Health Organization has released recommendations that mothers should, ideally, breastfeed exclusively for the first 6 months of baby’s life. After introducing pureed table foods, mom would ideally continue breastfeeding in addition to table foods for the first year of baby’s life. That means mom has a very important task to keep herself well fed, well hydrated, and eating certain nutrients that she will pass to her baby via breastmilk. Let’s look at an appropriate eating pattern for a breastfeeding mother:
1. Make half of your plate fruits and vegetables. Did you know that 90% of American Adults do not get the recommended amounts of fruits and veggies every day? We as a nation need to do better! As a breastfeeding mother, eating lots of fruits and veggies will help in many ways.
a. Vitamins and Minerals
Fruit and vegetables are great sources of all kinds of nutrients that benefit our health. Each vitamin and mineral serves a greater purpose; for example, Vitamin A improves the health of eyes, skin, and immune system while Vitamin E is an antioxidant that improves the health of blood, brain, and skin.
Fiber is the non-digestible part of plants that creates bulk in the intestines. In other words, fiber helps make big, happy poops! Because fiber helps us poop, it also reduces the risk of colon cancers. Fiber also feeds that gut flora, which is a good thing for both you and baby.
c. Nutrient – Dense Calories
Okay, so many of us know what it’s like to get a GREAT deal at our favorite shoe or clothing store, right? We like to get the best bang for our bucks! That same idea goes for nutrition – we want to make sure the calories that we’re eating have the highest content of nutrients. Otherwise, we’re wasting our money on “empty calories” which are foods that offer no real nutritional benefit but still provide calories. Fruits and vegetables are AWESOME options to get the best nutritional bang for your buck – so eat up!
d. Natural Sugars
The American Heart Association recommends that we limit the added sugars in our food and drinks. That’s difficult, considering how American food manufacturing companies add sugar to many, many products. Even if you read the ingredients list before eating a food item, it can be confusing to know how much sugar was added to a food when each type of sugar is called something else: corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, glucose, sucrose, cane sugar, dextrose, and over 40 other types of added sugar.
To make things much less confusing and to make sure you’re eating the right form of sugar/carbohydrates, rely on fruits and vegetables to satisfy your sweet tooth. A few strawberries with a dash of whipped cream is a great dessert option! A roasted sweet potato with a bit of butter and ground cinnamon is delicious, too.
e. Feed that Gut Flora
By eating fruits and vegetables, you are feeding your own gut flora and making yourself the healthiest version of you. The bacteria in our guts play important roles in our immune systems, mental health, and reduce the risk of other chronic diseases, too. Gut bacteria do not thrive with loads of added sugar, so eat more fruits and vegetables to keep those little guys happy. They feed off of the added fiber of fruits and vegetables, so eat up! Feed that gut flora!
2. Clean protein. Plant-based protein will add to the health of your gut flora, so focus on protein-rich plants like nuts, seeds, whole grains, beans, and legumes. If you want to eat meat, too, that’s fine! Just make sure you focus on veggies – at least half of your plate needs to be plants.
a. Eat a variety of nuts and seeds, as each one has a different set of vitamins and minerals: peanuts, almonds, walnuts, pecans, macadamias, chia, flax, pistachios, etc. You can also eat nut butters, but watch for added sugar.
b. Focus on WHOLE grains
When we hear “whole grains” we should think about how the grain grows on the plant. There is no “bread” or “pasta” plant that we can grow in our back yards, so even if those products are made with whole grains, they don’t count as eating a serving of whole grains. Instead, whole grains are products like: rolled oats, farro, millet, wild rice, barley, etc. Of course, whole grain bread is still a better option than white bread! Just make sure half of your grain intake is whole grains, the way it was grown on the plant.
c. Beans, Beans, the musical fruit
Another plant-based protein source is beans/ legumes. They include foods like: soy, lentils, black beans, chick peas, navy beans, white northern beans, black eyed peas, snap peas, snow peas, etc. Again, eat a wide variety of these foods to get a wide array of vitamins and minerals.
3. Drink plenty of water. You will be producing a fluid to feed your baby, and as such, you need to be taking in fluid to replace how much you will be feeding that hungry little thing! You do NOT need to drink milk to make milk – but that’s a common misconception.
a. Limit coffee and other caffeine drinks.
Caffeine can pass through the breast milk to baby, making baby feel jittery and stay awake when they should be getting those precious naps. In general, keep caffeine consumption under 300 mg per day. That means 1 or 2 8-oz cups of coffee per day is okay. Tea has far less caffeine per serving than coffee does, so you can drink a few more 8-oz cups of that per day. Limit energy drinks that contain caffeine like sodas, 5-hour energy, MIO water enhancer, Monster, Rock Star, etc.
b. Reduce added sugars by reducing soda, sweet teas, sweet coffees, etc.
The other big thing about drinking the aforementioned drinks is that they also contain a lot of added sugars. Wean yourself off of the sweetened coffee drinks until you can handle the flavor of a small pinch of sugar or black coffee with no sugar at all. If at all possible, remove all soda and energy drinks from your diet. They are an excellent example of a food with “empty calories” – the exact opposite of what we want and need.
c. A minimum of 32 ounces of water should be consumed every day.
I can tell you from personal experience that I drink a 32-ounce bottle of water over the course of 5 hours – meaning I drink probably 3 of those bad boys over the course of a day (and I’m not even breast feeding!) So Stay very, very hydrated. Just because the absolute minimum amount of water is 32 ounces doesn’t mean it’s enough water for you to thrive. If you’re breastfeeding AND exercising regularly, make sure you drink enough water to offset what you will sweat out during exercise, or your breast milk volume could be reduced simply because there’s a lack of fluid in your body to draw from.
A good rule of thumb is to look at your urine color. After you go pee, look at the color of your urine in the toilet. If it’s a dark or medium yellow, you need to drink more water. If it’s a very pale yellow, you’re doing a good job staying hydrated!
4. Possible areas for supplements: Always consult a doctor or dietitian before starting a supplement. Some supplements can interfere with medications you may be taking.
a. Calcium, especially if you eat a non-dairy diet.
b. Vitamin D
c. B Vitamins
I hope I have helped you think about your diet differently, especially now that we are learning so much more about our gut flora. To feed those good, helpful bacteria, we need to eat more fruits and vegetables every single day! Your baby will benefit from those bacteria, as the bacteria will flow through the breast milk to plant in your baby’s guts. I don’t know about you, but I think that is the COOLEST thing – human bodies are magical, aren’t they.
Okay, mama, go on with your bad self. Start looking up more fruit and vegetable recipes on website like:
Enjoy and Be well –
1. Mayo Clinic. Breast-feeding nutrition: Tips for moms. Mayo Clinic website: https://mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/infant-and-toddler-health/in-depth/breastfeeding-nutrition/art-20046912. Published April 2018. Accessed April 2019.
2. American Pregnancy Association. Nutrition And Breastfeeding. American Pregnancy Association website: https://americanpregnancy.org/breastfeeding/nutrition-during-breastfeeding/. Updated May 2017. Accessed April 2019.
3. United States Department of Agriculture. Tips for Breastfeeding Moms. USDA website: https://wicworks.fns.usda.gov/wicworks/Topics/BreastfeedingFactSheet.pdf. Published Dec 2016. Accessed April 2019.
4. American Heart Association. Added Sugars. AHA website: https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/sugar/added-sugars. Accessed April 2019.