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Breastfeeding Diet and Health Basics

Find information on diet and health for the breastfeeding mother.

Breastfeeding Diet and Health Basics

Time Out for Mom
With all that you have to do in a day, it's easy to see why you put taking care of yourself at the bottom of the list. Yet, ignoring your needs is actually counterproductive, especially for nursing mothers. Successful breastfeeding depends largely on how Mom treats herself. A poor diet, too little sleep, and too much stress can reduce the quality and quantity of your milk supply. Here are the basics of self-care for postpartum women.

Ask for help. When in doubt, reach out. Call on friends and family to help reduce your anxiety in any way possible. Lactation consultants and the staff at your pediatrician's office should be able to solve your breastfeeding problems and answer your questions, no matter how silly you think your concerns are.

Take care of your breasts. Nursing moms should avoid using soap on nipples or the areola when taking a shower or bath and should stay away from lanolin or antiseptics. Purchase sturdy cotton nursing bras with flaps that easily expose the breast and can unhook and reattach easily with one hand. Whenever possible, especially in the beginning, let breasts air-dry for five to ten minutes to prevent chafing and subsequent irritation. Always change your bra if it becomes wet with milk.

Get some R & R. Forget about all nonessential housework. Don't try to fold laundry or clean the bathroom while baby is napping. You must rest, too. Cut down on answering phone calls by communicating via e-mail and using your answering machine. That's what technology is for! Snooze or rest when baby does, especially if you are getting very little uninterrupted sleep at night. Whenever I could, I turned off the phone ringer, pulled down the shades, nursed the baby, and then napped in the middle of the day.

Eat right. Nursing or not, you need to keep up your energy, which includes eating the right amount of healthy foods and continuing to take a multivitamin with iron to replenish what's lost during delivery as part of blood. New moms should not restrict their calories until at least six weeks after delivery. Women who do not nurse their babies should eat at least 1,600 calories a day to help their bodies return to normal; breastfeeding moms eating fewer than 1,800 calories daily can jeopardize milk production.

Move it, but take care. Physical activity relieves stress and can help you fit into your prepregnancy clothes faster. But before you lace up your running shoes, you need a doctor's OK, which typically comes at your six-week postpartum checkup. Even then, take it slow. Make exercise a family affair by taking baby with you on walks. Or work out at home with specially designed videotapes for postpartum fitness.

Stop before you pop. Nursing moms need to avoid some medications. Always check with your physician before taking any prescription or over-the-counter medication or supplement. Your doctor will likely consult a drug-safety database called LactMed for the latest information.

Your Breastfeeding Diet
When you're her sole source of nutrition, what you eat affects your baby's health and development. Sometimes, nurturing a baby is done at your expense, however. According to a study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, breastfeeding women lacked adequate calcium; vitamins B6, D, and E; folic acid; and zinc because they did not eat right when nursing. That doesn't need to be the case, however. You're feeding two people, so you should focus on consuming a balanced diet while keeping the following in mind.

Calories. Nursing a baby requires more energy than a pregnancy. To make enough milk, you must eat about 500 additional calories every day (in pregnancy, it was 300). Most women will need about 2,700 calories daily to produce adequate amounts of milk for their babies. If you're thinking of fitting into your prepregnancy clothes, no doubt weight loss is on your mind. Go slow. You'll need at least 1,800 calories a day to continue breastfeeding. Eating fewer calories can decrease milk production. If you're dropping more than four pounds a month, increase your calories to adequately nourish yourself and your baby simultaneously.

Fat. Nursing babies require docosahexanoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (AA), two fats that foster brain development and peak vision. To get enough of these vital fats, include fatty fish such as salmon twice weekly, and make nuts, green leafy vegetables, soy products, and vegetable seed oils such as sunflower and canola oils a part of your daily diet. Fattier fish are the most concentrated food sources of DHA, but any fish will do, especially if you don't like the stronger tasting varieties. Avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish because of potentially dangerous mercury levels.

Fluid. Breast milk is 87 percent water, so milk production means drinking more fluid. You probably won't have any trouble downing enough milk, juice, or water, since you will be thirsty. Don't wait until thirst hits to drink, however. As a breastfeeding mother, you need a total of close to 100 ounces or twelve 8-ounce glasses of fluid daily. Here's a tip: Pour yourself a glass of water each time you sit down to nurse to help keep up with fluid loss. Avoid caffeinated beverages, since caffeine makes its way into breast milk and can interfere with baby's sleep. Stay away from alcohol, too. There's evidence that alcohol in breast milk affects a baby's motor skills and sleep patterns.

Choline. Choline is key to your infant's brain development, so make sure to include choline-rich foods such as eggs and beef in your diet on a regular basis. Meat is an excellent source of iron, too.

Supplements. Finish off your prenatal vitamin/mineral supplement, then switch to a multivitamin with iron that provides at least 400 micrograms of folic acid and 100 percent of the Daily Value (DV) for iron. Avoid herbal supplements and other botanicals. There's no proof that they are safe for nursing babies.

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