You may want to start cutting calories to shed those pregnancy pounds, but adequate calorie intake is crucial while breast feeding. A low calorie diet can decrease your milk supply and deprive you of important nutrients. Breast feeding requires up to 500 more calories each day than you consumed before you were pregnant. Losing 2 to 4 pounds per month will not affect your milk supply; however, it is not recommended to lose more than 4 pounds per month after the first month. It is important to obtain the extra calories you need through whole, nutritious foods that will support both you and your baby.
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Meat and Meat Alternatives
According to a 2012 study in "Advances in Nutrition," meat and meat alternatives contain vitamins, such as B-6 and B-12, which are especially important to consume because their secretion into breast milk is decreased when mothers do not have an adequate nutrient supply. Lactating mothers should also get iron from sources such as red meat, chicken, fish, and nuts to rebuild iron stores. Zinc is also beneficial and found in dark meat chicken, pork, beef, legumes and peanuts. Aim to eat approximately 6 ounces of these foods per day.
Aim to eat fish or shellfish two to three days per week or approximately 8 to 12 ounces per week. Seafood contains vitamin B-6, vitamin B-12 and omega 3 fatty acids that will improve your baby's sight and ability to learn. Salmon and herring are fatty fish that contain omega 3s and should be included in your diet. White albacore tuna can also be eaten but should be limited to 6 ounces per week. Avoid high mercury fish such as shark, swordfish, tilefish and king mackerel. Mercury can hurt your baby's brain development.
Dairy products contain calcium, which is an important mineral to get during lactation to protect bone strength and prevent osteoporosis that can occur later in life. Getting three servings (1 serving = 1 cup milk or 1 1/2 ounces of cheese) per day of dairy products, such as milk, cheese, and yogurt is recommended. Dairy products also provide vitamins, minerals and protein. Milk is a good source of vitamin D. If you are lactose intolerant, try soy milk fortified with calcium, but look for varieties that contain 120 milligrams of calcium in 100 milliliters of soy milk.
Fruits and Vegetables
Breast feeding increases your need for folate, vitamin C and vitamin A. Folate can be found in leafy greens, such as spinach, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and fortified cereals and breads. Vitamin C is high in citrus fruits, berries, tropical fruit, tomatoes and potatoes. Vitamin A can be obtained by eating yellow and dark green vegetables, such as carrots, pumpkin and broccoli. Aim for at least 2 cups of fruit and 3 cups of vegetables per day. Berries can easily be added to a breakfast of oatmeal, yogurt or cereal. Slice a tomato in a salad, munch on carrot sticks for a snack and roast Brussels sprouts for dinner.
Snacking is important to help provide sustained energy throughout the day. The best snacks provide both nutrients and energy. Remember that 500 calories is not that much, so avoid obtaining them through foods with added sugars and solid fats, such as desserts, fried foods and sugary beverages. Try consuming 500 extra calories by eating three snacks of healthy whole foods, such as 2 ounces of hummus with 10 baby carrots, one medium pear with 1-part-skim string cheese, and 1 tablespoon peanut butter with one medium apple.