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Breastfeeding: A Nutritional Approach

August is Breastfeeding Awareness Month. For all the moms out there that have successfully breastfed or tried to breastfeed and chose not to… we honor you! There are many opinions regarding whether or not breastfeeding should be promoted. However, when we break things down scientifically there is a specific physiological process allowing the human body to naturally make milk for a newborn to grow and develop. Anatomically and physiologically, women’s bodies were designed to do it. It was only in the last 150 years that another option, formula, was made available. For some babies, this may be their only source of food for the first 6-12 months of life. According to Healthy People 2020 and research conducted from 2007-2009: 74% of infants born in 2006 were ever breastfed at least once, 43.5% of babies were breastfed at 6 months of age, and 22.7% of babies were breastfed at 1 year of age. We are now 10 years removed from this study and, given the spotlight breastfeeding has been in lately, I’d venture to say the breastfeeding population is growing. If you or a loved one chooses to breastfeed, please share the nutritional information below. Unfortunately, the average American diet is not what we want to be feeding our children, especially in the early developmental stages. Many moms struggle to have enough of a supply to exclusively breastfeed. Here are some recommendations that can help both mom and baby have a healthy and successful breastfeeding experience, adapted from

  1. Eat a well-balanced diet for your health. As a woman, the body endures a lot during pregnancy. There is a high demand of energy needed to not only grow a baby, but to provide food for a baby post-partum as well. Just like putting the appropriate fuel in your car to drive it, you need to put the proper foods in your body to use it to its fullest potential. And before anyone asks: No, ice-cream does not help make up a “well-balanced diet,” sorry!
  2. Don’t count calories. Women frequently get frustrated with the weight gain associated with pregnancy. If you were a healthy weight to begin with and gained the recommended 25-35lbs, don’t worry! The weight will come off. Counting calories can take you down a path of unhealthy choices. For example: one cup of sliced avocado, one of the healthiest foods available, has 234 calories, 21g of fat, and 1g sugar. An avocado packed full of nutrients is a better option than a chocolate cupcake that, on average, has only 172 calories, 8g of fat, and 20g of sugar.
  3. Include a variety of healthy foods. When a newborn enters the picture, it is easy to stick with the same, simple meals as it is convenient. The body, however, needs a variety of nutrients to function at its best. Think about having all of the colors of the rainbow in your diet. And before anyone asks: funfetti cupcakes do not count as eating the rainbow! Check out this link for an easy breakdown of the different colors and their benefits.
  4. Choose healthy fats. We need a variety of fats in our diet on a daily basis. However, not all fats are created equal. Saturated fats, most often found in animal meat and dairy products, should be consumed sparingly. Trans fats should be avoided entirely as they are the only fats that actually lower our good cholesterol (HDL). On the other hand, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which includes the Omega-3 fatty acids, are healthy and provide nutrients that are beneficial to the mother and the baby. These healthy fats can be found olive oil, avocados, fish, and nuts.
  5. Take extra steps to avoid contaminants. It is highly recommended that you wash your produce and know the sources of your foods. For the mother’s and baby’s sake, try to avoid avoid ingesting pesticides or other chemical irritants, including the fake sugars (Ex: NutraSweet).
  6. Eat fish- the right fish. A lot of women mourn the fact that they need to avoid sushi, or raw fish, while pregnant. However, consuming fish post-partum, especially cold water fish, can be quite beneficial. Cold-water fish include salmon, tuna, shrimp, tilapia, etc. and contain high levels of DHA, EPA, and Omega-3 fatty acids. These components are very beneficial for brain and eye development for the newborn.
  7. Limit the alcohol. This one may seem like common sense simply because alcohol does temporarily enter breast milk after consumption and is not healthy for babies to consume. However, there are even more reasons that it is better to avoid alcohol while breastfeeding. First, alcohol intake can affect the milk letdown reflex.  Second, alcoholic beverages usually do not contain any healthy nutrients for the body and are often “empty calories.” Lastly, alcohol is a diuretic which can lead to dehydration negatively impacting the mother and, potentially, the milk supply. If you do want a drink, please be safe and consider your baby’s health as well as your own.
  8. Keep taking your vitamins. As much as we’d like to think we can get all of our nutrients from food, we don’t. As a mother, your body is depleted and probably exhausted. Continuing with healthy dietary supplementation can make a world of difference by providing nutrients not readily available in our foods. If you are willing and able to consume mustard and beet greens with a side of calf’s liver, you may not need supplementation. Otherwise, I recommend continuing to take your vitamins!

For other helpful sources of information regarding dietary recommendations for pregnancy, please see below: