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Mom Matters

The best foods for a breastfeeding mom— According to a lactation consultant & wellness expert

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Nursing is one of the championship sports for mothers— along with diapering, bathing and all of the other incredibly important, yet sometimes difficult tasks we’re put to daily. Just think about the amazing concept that is nursing: your body creates its own food source to sustain and help foster the life of your child. It’s akin to the miracle that is pregnancy in the sense that your body works overtime to nourish your growing baby. That’s why it’s so important to be mindful of the best foods to eat while breastfeeding.

Long after your baby makes their big debut into the world, your body is clocking extra hours, not to mention late-night shifts. Even if you’re supplementing some of your feeds with high quality infant formula, what you eat matters. “Every single morsel of food that you eat gets broken down in your body, passes through your bloodstream and becomes a part of the human milk that nourishes your baby,” explains Jadah Parks Chatterjee, RN, lactation consultant and Bobbie medical advisor. That’s one reason why you might notice that you’re hungry all the time—maybe even more so now than when you were pregnant. 

Best foods to eat when breastfeeding:

Rest assured, there’s good reason for those hunger pangs—your body’s caloric needs have now increased by 500-900 calories and the nutrient requirements are even more specific due to the fact that your baby needs the right vitamins and minerals to grow optimally. This is why it’s so important that breastfeeding mothers, especially, maintain a nutrient-rich diet that contains whole foods. 

“During the postpartum year, your body is recovering, nurturing yourself and your baby with nutrients that are made in your body,” explains Chatterjee. “For this reason, it’s essential that a nursing mom consume a diet packed with nutrient dense breastfeeding foods, not only to support her growing baby, but also her energy level, recovery time and satiated feelings.”

Of course, not all foods are ideal— there are a few foods to avoid when breastfeeding. But if you’re wondering which foods you should be filling your plate with in between nursing sessions, we’ve got your back. We asked Chatterjee to share the most important foods that complement a healthy breastfeeding diet. 

Best foods for breastfeeding moms:

Avocado when breastfeeding

Loaded with good-for-you fats—both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids—as well as a slew of other important nutrients, like vitamins E, C, K, B, folate and potassium, avocados are a great addition to your nursing diet. “Avocados are packed with the right nutrients that contribute to protecting nerve cells against damage, degeneration, or impairment of function for you and your baby,” explains Chatterjee. “This is what makes it a superfood! It’s one of my favorite fats (if I must say) and can be enjoyed on toast, in salads or in a smoothie.”

Leafy greens for breastfeeding

Kale and spinach are nutrient powerhouses that give you a serious dose of health even in a small portion. They provide your body with calcium, folate, iron and vitamin K, all important nutrients to aid in your breastfeeding journey, notes Chatterjee. “Spinach, in particular, has a high content of phytoestrogens, which help boost your estrogen levels that naturally decrease after you deliver your baby, helping to contribute to increased milk production,” she says. 

Mushrooms and breastfeeding

If you’re a mushroom lover, you’re in luck. Mushrooms are one of the best foods to eat while breastfeeding. These funghis are phenomenal sources of beta-glucan, a polysaccharide that supports increasing prolactin levels, thereby increasing milk volume and production, according to  Chatterjee. “Beta glucans are also beneficial for boosting immunity, decreasing the risk of obesity, heart health, lowering blood cholesterol and insulin resistance.” 

Mushrooms of all varieties, such as shiitake, portobello, white or button, oyster and cremini, are also a great source of B vitamins, which are beneficial for aiding your immune and digestive system, as well as copper, which helps your body create red blood cells to deliver oxygen to your important organs. 

Oatmeal for breastfeeding

Oatmeal is an easy thing to eat, whether it’s for breakfast or a midday snack. And it’s great for nursing, since oatmeal has been linked to an increase in milk supply, notes Chatterjee. “Oats were found to have 3 grams of beta glucans in three packs of instant oatmeal,” she says. Another perk of eating oats: they serve up a healthy dose of iron, which can help restore your energy levels while nursing. 

Brown rice for breastfeeding

You probably already know that brown rice is superior over white rice when it comes to nutrients. It’s higher in a myriad of nutrients, including fiber, magnesium and antioxidants, which can help boost your digestion and lower the amount of inflammation in your body, thereby reducing your risk of certain diseases, per research published in the International Journal of Preventative Medicine

On the nursing front, Chatterjee points out that brown rice helps the body release the gamma aminobutyric acid gaba (GABA), a nutrient that helps release serotonin into your body, creating the warm and fuzzy feeling in your brain that improves your mood. “Serotonin increases the release of prolactin, the hormone that increases milk volume and production,” she adds.  

Is lean beef good for breastfeeding?

Rich in iron, lean beef is an excellent protein source to add to your repertoire while you’re breastfeeding. As you probably already know, nursing can be exhausting—and there’s good reason for this (aside from your sleep deprivation). In addition to all of those calories you’re burning, breastfeeding releases the hormone oxytocin, which can give you that relaxed, sleepy feel, notes Chatterjee. Ground beef can help up your iron intake, which, in turn, gives you more energy. Consider having a taco night or making a big batch of chili to have throughout the week.

Fennel for breastfeeding

While this might not be a food you’re hankering for, this licorice-flavored vegetable, which looks a bit like celery, is not only nutritious for nursing moms, but it may also help boost your milk supply, per research published by the International Journal of Pediatrics. “Fennel is a wonderful antioxidant that contributes to immunity and protects the body from cellular damage caused by free radicals,” says Chatterjee. “It also supports digestion.” She recommends enjoying tea with fennel in the morning to get the day started. 

Spicy foods and breastfeeding

If you’re wondering if spicy foods are ok, Chatterjee says, “Eat what you enjoy. It is not uncommon for babies to be gassy after eating spicy foods, cruciferous veggies (such as kale, broccoli, brussel sprouts) and dairy. Every baby is unique. If your baby is fussy after eating a specific food, consider feeding your baby first and then enjoying your food.”

Tips on Postnatal Nourishment

Taylor Fazio, Wellness Advisor at The Lanby (a Feeding Friendly Integrative Primary Care Practice), also shares her personal tips for breastfeeding moms:

  • During breastfeeding, an additional 500+ calories may be required to meet daily energy needs. Ensuring mom has optimal levels of nutrient stores and improving deficiencies is essential for milk production and continued lactation. This is also a time when it may be difficult to consume enough overall. Keep it simple, time and energy is a limited resource right after giving birth (and beyond). Having a loose blueprint for meals makes meeting daily nutrient and energy needs easier. Checklist for meals: protein (ideally 20+ grams), healthy fat, greens, and fiber. 
  • Decrease inflammation by increasing intake of omega-3 rich foods like fatty cold water fish (avoid the high mercury big fish), avocado, olive oil, turmeric and black pepper, and sources of bromelain, a group of enzymes found in fruits like pineapple that reduces pain and swelling. 
  • Hydration is essential for breastfeeding and the amount of milk produced. Aim for 2-3 liters of water daily. If drinking enough water is a challenge, aim for hydrating foods like oranges, watermelon, berries, broth-based soups, cucumbers, tomatoes, and lettuce.

Milk Enrichment

Fazio recommends eating a diverse diet which can change the taste of breast milk and expose baby to a variety of flavors. “Garlic for example, supports immune health and is a lactation aid,” says Fazio. “Some claim babies enjoy the resulting flavor in the breast milk, which decreases feeding time. Exposure to different flavors may help introduce solids and new foods in the future.” 

Fazio also suggests adding nuts to your diet, like walnuts, almonds, cashews, and pistachios. They are packed with omega-3 fatty acids, protein, fiber, magnesium, and antioxidants which support nutrient levels. 

Expert tips on best foods for new moms

  • Nutrition after pregnancy is equally as important for mom and baby as it is during pregnancy. Postpartum diet impacts the nutrient profile and supply of milk. 
  • Proper nutrients can also help mom’s body heal and restore any depleted nutrients that can occur during pregnancy. Vitamins D, C, A, K, B6, and E, iron, folate, calcium, potassium, magnesium, and choline are common nutrient deficiencies. 
  • Postnatal vitamins can efficiently fill in some gaps, if needed. 
  • Opt for protein options like chickpeas, lentils, almonds, hemp seeds, chia seeds, basil seeds, eggs and full fat organic dairy. 
  • Good sources of calcium include dairy products, oats, and dark leafy green vegetables like kale, spinach, and alfalfa. 
  • Barley can be added to salads, stews, and other dishes to capture beta-glucan, which is a sugar that supports prolactin levels in the body that helps milk production. 
  • Drinking teas like Mother’s Milk, made from fenugreek and fennel can help balance hormones and support milk production. 
  • Other foods with estrogenic activity that support hormone balance include flaxseeds, alfalfa sprouts, soy products like tofu and miso, lentils, and herbs such as turmeric, thyme, and sage. 
  • Supplements like milk thistle can support adequate prolactin levels and maintain adequate milk supply. 
  • Asparagus is rich in flavonoids, plant-powered antioxidants, that help increase and maintain milk secretion.

Fazio leaves us with this valuable piece of advice, “Prioritizing sleep as feasible, this is not only essential for recovery and rebalancing, but also managing stress.”

The content on this site is for informational purposes only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Discuss any health or feeding concerns with your infant's pediatrician. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay it based on the content on this page.
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The content on this site is for informational purposes only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Discuss any health or feeding concerns with your infant’s pediatrician. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay it based on the content on this page.

Author Jenn Sinrich

Jenn Sinrich is an experienced writer, digital and social editor and content strategist in Boston, Massachusetts. She's written for several publications including SELF, Women's Health, Martha Stewart Weddings, Reader's Digest, PureWow, and many more. She covers various topics, from health and fitness to love and sex.