Deciding whether to breastfeed your infant is one of the biggest choices you’ll make as an expectant mother. Like pregnancy, breastfeeding requires an immense amount of energy and it’s important to feed your body well (and often) during breastfeeding. Most women find that pregnancy is a great time to adopt healthier eating habits, such as avoiding alcohol and tobacco, which can and should continue during lactation.
Milk production is energetically “expensive” for the body: producing 100 mL (about 75 kcalories) of milk requires an input of 85 kcal. On average, breastfeeding requires an extra 330 kcal daily during the first 6 months, and an extra 400 kcal per day after that. Fat stores from pregnancy provide extra energy, too. Breastfeeding women should be encouraged to increase their food and fluid intake across the board, but there are a few specific nutrient requirements to keep in mind while you’re lactating.
Though the composition of breast milk changes and adapts to baby’s needs, the amount of milk produced primarily depends on a mothers’ hydration status and the frequency of suckling. In other words, the more fluids you drink and the more often you’re breastfeeding, the more milk you’re likely to produce. Aim for at least 8 cups of water per day. A good rule of thumb is to sip on something whenever your baby is feeding.
Women who breastfeed need extra protein as their bodies produce protein-rich milk. On average, women should aim for 3-4 servings of high-quality protein (about 70 grams in total) per day. Sources of protein include meat and dairy products, fish, tofu and soy, beans, legumes, seeds and nuts. The FDA recommends that breastfeeding women avoid fish high in mercury like king mackerel, tilefish and swordfish.
Calcium and Vitamin D
The calcium content of breast milk does not vary with maternal intake, but the requirements for this mineral are still higher during lactation. Aim for at least 1300 mg/day (some of which may be provided through a multivitamin). Dairy products, fortified cereals and leafy green vegetables are all high in calcium.
The vitamin D content of milk is, however, related to maternal exposure. Many women are vitamin D-deficient to begin with, so those who are breastfeeding require even more to supply their infants with sufficient vitamin D. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusively- breastfed infants be given a vitamin D supplement of 200 IU per day starting at 2 months.
Iron is another important mineral for lactating women. Mothers over age 19 should consume 9 mg per day. Iron-rich foods include meat and poultry, egg yolks, dried beans and legumes, and dried fruit. Most prenatal vitamins are also high in iron.
While moms can be confident that they’re providing the best source of nutrition for their infants through breast milk, it’s just as important to support their own bodies by focusing on nutrient-dense foods and plenty of fluids.
Sources: Krause’s Food and the Nutrition Care Process. 13th Ed.