Women who are breastfeeding their children have special nutritional needs. In general, they must add an average of 500 calories to their daily diets to ensure good nutrition for themselves and their babies. Include certain nutrient-rich foods to your diet to help you weather the demands of breastfeeding and keep both you and your baby healthy. In addition, drink lots of water or other fluids to replenish what you lose through nursing.
Fish are a rich source of high-quality protein for breastfeeding mothers. Certain fish consumed whole, bones and all -- for example canned sardines -- are also a good source of calcium. Fatty fish such as salmon, herring, anchovies, black cod and trout are the best food source around for delivering DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid that infants need for optimal brain development. Keep in mind, however, that some fish are dangerously high in mercury, which can harm your infant's brain. Avoid fish such as tuna, mackerel, shark and swordfish.
Yogurt is high in both calcium and protein, the two nutrients you're most likely to need extra doses of while you're breastfeeding. Certain brand of yogurt also contain live cultures of probiotic bacteria -- beneficial microogranisms that help maintain good gastrointestinal health for both you and your baby. A yogurt smoothie makes a great snack or breakfast for nursing mothers.
Folic acid is an important nutrient during pregnancy, when it contributes to proper development of the central nervous system. However, breastfed infants also need a good supply of folic acid to help continue their proper growth and development. Avocados are rich in folic acid as well as in vitamin C, vitamin E and potassium. They're also a great way to get a calorie boost due to their high concentration of monounsaturated fats -- those are the "good" fats that help balance your cholesterol levels.
Cheese is a good source of protein and calcium. Eat slices of cheese with multigrain crackers for a fiber and vitamin boost. Keep pre-sliced or cubed cheese ready in the refrigerator for a convenient snack. Now that you're no longer pregnant, soft cheeses and those made from unpasteurized milk are no longer off limits.
Eggs are full of high-quality protein as well as vitamin A, vitamin B12, riboflavin, iron and zinc. Several brands of eggs have been enriched with DHA. Eggs can be prepared in dozens of ways, which also makes them a convenient and versatile food for nursing mothers.
Both lean beef and lamb are excellent foods for nursing mothers. They deliver hefty helpings of protein and iron plus vitamin B12, which is needed for proper neurological development. Zinc helps with bone growth and immune system support.
Dark leafy greens such as kale, collards, bok choy and, to a lesser extent, spinach and chard, are also nutritional heavyweights. They're a prime nondairy source of calcium and rich in folic acid, both of which your baby needs. Dark leafy greens also offer solid doses of vitamins A and C, as well as iron and fiber.
Legume is the catchall term for beans, lentils and dried split peas. They're all botanically related and have similar nutritional profiles. Nursing mothers should note their high levels of folate. They're also an important vegetarian source of protein, iron and zinc. Legumes are also high in fiber. They're a versatile food that can find a niche in just about any diet -- think chili, hummus, beans and rice or lentil soup.
Blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and their relatives are packed with antioxidants, such as vitamin A and vitamin C. Strawberries also add a small dose of calcium to the mix. They are also one of the most convenient snack foods around -- very important for breastfeeding mothers who often need extra nutrition on the go. Eat them fresh or dried.
Tree nuts are packed with protein and a good source of fiber. Walnuts are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, almonds offer extra calcium, and cashews boast high levels of iron and folic acid. Some people worry about the high fat content of nuts, but most of the fat is "good" monounsaturated fat. Like berries, they're a convenient snack food for nursing mothers to have on hand when hunger pangs strike. The peanut isn't a true tree nut but rather a legume -- still a great choice, nutritionally speaking, but with a different nutritional profile. Eating peanuts while breastfeeding is generally safe for your baby. Unless peanut allergies run in your family, it is highly unlikely that the peanut proteins passed on via your breast milk will cause any problems.