The transition from pregnancy to motherhood is accompanied by a host of changes; from hormonal shifts and sleep deprivation, to bonding with your little one and learning on the go. It is an emotionally and physically taxing time. Pregnancy and breastfeeding represent a significant part of a child’s first 1000 days of life – a period that holds both great possibility and great vulnerability due to their rapid growth, development and sensitivity to programming. As a mother, this idea can be quite daunting and, despite its importance, there is very little guidance on nutrition and how it can support you during this time. Understanding how you can use food to support both your baby’s growth and your own recovery can help you feel confident that you’re choosing the targeted, nutrient-dense foods that can help you both thrive. Not sure what to eat to support your breastfeeding journey? Read on to learn more.
Nutrient needs during breastfeeding
The increased nutrient requirements that we experience during pregnancy continue throughout the breastfeeding period. Many of us enter the breastfeeding period in an already-depleted state; common post-partum patterns in post-partum nutrient depletion include low ferritin, zinc, magnesium, and DHA1.
The production of breastmilk also comes with increased requirements for nutrients such as Iron, Calcium, Iodine, Vitamin A, DHA, Choline and Folate2. Whilst it’s important to continue with a high-quality multi-nutrient to support your nutrient needs during lactation, like Enhanced Fertility, and an Omega-3 supplement, like Essential Omegas, the food you eat has an enormous impact.
Here’s how to get additional support from your nutrition:
Dark leafy greens, lentils, asparagus, spinach, artichoke, avocado, beets, mango, citrus fruit, Brussels sprouts, beans, peanuts, peas, quinoa, millet, wild rice, papaya, and banana are all food sources of Folate. Animal foods also contain Folate. For example, eggs are a good source, but fish and other meats have limited amounts, which is why plant foods should be your primary source of dietary Folate.
Seafood, meat, and fish are the best sources, with oysters being the highest of any food by far. Beef, crab, prawns, pork, turkey, and sardines are also good sources. Zinc is also plentiful in plant-based foods, with oats, pumpkin seeds, nuts, lentils, tofu and tempeh being the best sources. Whilst legumes and beans are good sources of Zinc, its bioavailability is far lower than in meat. Because of this, I recommend soaking lentils and beans ahead of cooking, or using a pressure cooker, which will improve its bio-accessibility
Green leafy vegetables, pumpkin seeds, Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, almonds, cashews, avocado, cacao powder, seaweed, black beans and other legumes, tofu, salmon, buckwheat, oats, and bananas.
Dairy products, sardines, leafy greens, soybeans, tofu, lentils, beans, sesame seeds/tahini, almonds, salmon, squash, figs, oats, and broccoli are all good sources of calcium. When looking at dairy sources, goat and sheep’s milk cheeses have more calcium than cow’s milk varieties and may be less allergenic whilst breastfeeding.
The best sources of heme iron include game meats like bison and venison, beef, dark poultry meat, sardines, and clams. The best sources of non heme iron include lentils, spinach, black beans, quinoa, spirulina (1 tbsp), and broccoli, however, non heme iron is not absorbed as well as heme iron is by the body. If you struggled to maintain ferritin levels whilst pregnant, consider supplementing with Essential Iron Complex.
Liver is the best source of Vitamin A, however, it should not be consumed in excess whilst breastfeeding. Mackerel, salmon, tuna, goat cheese and other cheeses, whole egg, trout, clams, yogurt are other good sources of pre-formed vitamin A.
Whole eggs, salmon, beef, soybeans, chicken breast, shitake mushrooms, yogurt, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, sunflower seeds.
Most high-quality pregnancy multi-nutrients will contain Vitamin D3, however, if you are not continuing with one, Vitamin D3 supplementation should be considered.
A note on Omega 3 fats (DHA + EPA): I always recommend supplementing with a high-quality fatty acid supplement like Essential Omegas during the perinatal period because of how essential they are to the health of both mama and baby. Studies have shown that high levels of DHA and total Omega-3’s are protective against depression (2), and that there is an association between low levels of Omega-3s and Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scores (3). When it comes to infant development, DHA is directly involved in their neural and visual development, making it an essential component of breastmilk for their healthy growth and development. A 2022 study showed that mothers who ate a Mediterranean style diet rich in food sources of Omega-3 fats produced milk with higher levels of beneficial DHA (4).
It might sound like a lot to remember, but the nutrition that supports you whilst your breastfeeding mimics that of the nutrition that supports you whilst you’re pregnant. It is high in vegetables, fruit, and plant diversity, rich in healthy fats, high in good quality protein, and moderate in low-glycemic carbohydrates to ensure you support healthy blood sugar levels for both your emotional and metabolic health.
Here are the basics of what to eat when breastfeeding:
- Focus on whole, minimally processed food and avoid ultra-processed foods.
- Increase vegetable and fruit intake, especially those which are rich in colour.
- Healthy blood sugar is important; reduce simple sugar and refined carbohydrates, focus on low GI carbohydrates, and increase fibre.
- Be conscious of protein; protein requirements increase significantly during pregnancy, and peak in the third trimester.
- Don’t be afraid of healthy fats like extra-virgin olive oil, grass fed butter, coconut oil, avocado oil and organic full fat dairy products.
- Stay hydrated! Drink plenty of water and consider adding natural electrolytes to support.
- Support yourself with targeted supplements like Enhanced Fertility, Essential Omegas, and Essential Iron Complex.
(1) Dr. Oscar Serrallach, Postpartum Depletion Cure. Sphere Publishing, 2018.
(2) National Institute of Health: Meeting Maternal Nutrient Needs During Lactation. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK235579/
(3) Opie, R. S., Uldrich, A. C., & Ball, K. (2020). Maternal Postpartum Diet and Postpartum
Depression: A Systematic Review. Maternal and child health journal, 24(8).
(4) Mozurkewich, Ellen & Klemens, Chelsea. Omega-3 fatty acids and pregnancy: Current implications for practice. Current opinion in obstetrics & gynecology. 2012.
(5) Di Maso M, Bravi F, Ferraroni M, Agostoni C, Eussen SRBM, Decsi T, Quitadamo PA, Tonetto P, Peila C, Profeti C, Salvatori G, Kazmierska I, Decarli A, Vacca E, Bertino E, Stahl B, Moro GE. Adherence to Mediterranean Diet of Breastfeeding Mothers and Fatty Acids Composition of Their Human Milk: Results from the Italian MEDIDIET Study. Front Nutr. June 2022.9:891376.
Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. For The Creators has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions.