Your baby has arrived and the joy -- as well as the challenges -- of breastfeeding kicks in. In addition to taking care of baby; however, it's important that you continue to take care of yourself as you did during pregnancy. It's crucial that lactating women consume nutrient-rich foods and sufficient calories instead of relying on vitamin and mineral supplements. University of Illinois McKinley Health Center recommends that nursing mothers "eat to hunger," or trust their hunger signals, which can equate 500 calories above prepregnancy daily intake.
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Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables play an important role in a nursing mother's diet. They're packed with vitamins and minerals, folic aid and fiber and are valuable in preventing vitamin C and vitamin A deficiencies. Add at least three to five half-cup servings of vegetables and two to four 1-cup servings of fruit to your daily meal plan. Good sources of vitamin A include sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkin, squash, spinach and mangoes. Vitamin C-rich foods include broccoli, bell peppers, spinach, strawberries, tomatoes, Brussels sprouts and citrus fruits. Spinach, asparagus, broccoli and orange juice are excellent sources of folic acid.
Calcium-rich foods are essential to a breastfeeding diet. Calcium helps build and protect bones and teeth. It aids in muscle contractions and muscle relaxation. Calcium also plays an important role in blood clotting and nerve impulse transmission and helps maintain healthy blood pressure. Eat at least four 1-cup servings of dairy foods such as low-fat milk and yogurt or 1.5 to 2 ounces of low-fat cheese as part of your daily meal plan. Fortified juices, salmon and leafy green vegetables such as broccoli and kale also contain calcium.
Protein is essential in building and maintaining a healthy body. It is especially important for pregnant and nursing women and children. Protein supports growth, repairs tissues, helps make essential hormones and enzymes, aids in proper immune system functions, preserves lean muscle mass and provides energy when carbohydrates are not available. Include at least three servings of protein-rich foods in your food plan each day. One serving equals 1 ounce of cooked poultry, fish or lean meat; one egg; one-half ounce of nuts or seeds or one-quarter cup of dried beans, after cooking.
Fiber and Fuel
Carbohydrates, such as whole grains, are your body's main source of fuel. When you eat carbohydrates your body converts them into glucose that provides energy to all your body's tissues and cells. Your central nervous system, kidneys, brain and muscles -- including your heart -- rely on carbohydrates to function properly. Include six to 11 servings of whole-grain foods such as cereals, bread, brown rice and oatmeal in your daily breastfeeding diet. One serving is equivalent to one slice of whole-grain bread or 1/2 cup cooked rice or cereal.
Although it's recommended that you go easy on the fats and oils, a small amount is an important part of your diet when breastfeeding. Dietary fat supports normal growth and development and assists in the absorption of vitamins A, D, E, K and carotenoids. Fat also cushions your organs and helps maintain healthy cell membranes. Eat heart-healthy monounsaturated oils, such as olive and canola oil, or include an avocado half in your salad. Avoid processed foods and high-fat meats, such as regular ground beef and bacon, that are often loaded with unhealthy saturated fat.