Nutrition plays a vital role in our development from birth through old age. Likewise, it is from the beginning of life, that we are faced with many options, from powdered baby formula to ready-to-use cans, all available in different combinations and some supplemented with extra goodies, to the oldest form available: breast milk.
With so many choices, that old saying “mother knows best” may extend far beyond her words of advice, and found within. Each mom’s breast milk has precisely what the infant needs to grow and develop into a healthy child, and the benefits may continue into adulthood. In fact, according to the National Institute of Child Health & Human Development, nutrients in breast milk can help protect against infections like diarrhea, middle ear infections, and certain lung infections. It also contains very important fatty acids which may help increase the infant’s cognitive skills.
Beyond that, there is the closeness and bond that only mom and infant can achieve with breastfeeding. Providing the best nutrition for the infant is also beneficial for mom. A recent study found that breastfeeding ever during lactation helps decrease rate of ovarian cancer, with further decrease in rate the more the mother breastfeeds. In addition, breast and uterine cancers are seen less often in mothers who choose to breastfeed.
To help provide the best nutrition for your infant, start with you! Aim to eat small meals often during the day to help provide a steady source of energy. The following are some helpful general nutrition guidelines from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
- An exclusively breastfeeding mom may need approximately 670 extra calories per day.
- If you are aiming to gradually lose weight, it is recommended you consume an extra 500 calories per day for the first six months and decrease that to an extra 400 calories per day during the next six months.
- Make those extra calories count. Try to eat a variety of foods from all food groups. Aim to include good sources of protein and dietary fiber such as whole grains, brown rice, and oats, for example. Remember to include 2 cups of fruit and 3 cups of vegetables each day.
- If exclusively breastfeeding during the first six months, you need at least 65 grams of protein per day.
- Once the weaning process begins for the next six months, you need at least 62 grams of protein per day.
- Choose skim or low fat milk and milk products, lean cuts of red meats, white chicken (instead of the dark meat), egg whites, legumes, and nuts. Tofu and soy are also good sources of protein.
- Make it a goal to drink 8 to 12 cups of fluids per day.
- Remember to avoid excessive intake of caffeine containing beverages.
- herbal teas, herbal remedies, and tobacco.
- eating high mercury fish like shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tile fish.
- low mercury fish to 12 oz per week: shrimp. canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish.
- albacore tuna to 6 oz per week.
- caffeine to no more than 2 to 5 cups per day.
For more information on nutrition and meal planning while breastfeeding, visit my pyramid for moms at http://www.choosemyplate.gov/mypyramidmoms/index.html
Visit the Everyone Can Help Make Breastfeeding easier campaign.
To help support and promote breastfeeding, visit the United States Breastfeeding Comittee at
By Andrea Parada, MS, RD, LD
Jordan, S.J., Cushing-Haugen, K.L., Wicklund, K.G., Doherty, J.A., Rossing, M.A. (2012). Breastfeeding and risk of epithelial ovarian cancer. Cancer Causes Control, 23, 919-927.
National Institutes of Health Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development. (2/9/2009). Breastfeeding. Retrieved July 12, 2012 from http://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/Breastfeeding.cfm
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Nutrition Care Manual.