We know breastmilk is the absolute best first food for baby (of course, there are circumstances in which moms can not or choose not to breastfeed for personal reasons and I honor and respect that- a fed baby is a healthy baby!). Your body creates this perfect food without you needing to do anything at all. But did you know what you eat can affect the quality of of the breastmilk your body makes? B-vitamins increase when your diet is abundant, and the composition of the fats changes, as well. And further, when you are not getting adequate nutrition, breastfeeding can make you depleted- and a depleted mama is not a healthy mama! So how can you optimize the quality of the milk you’re feeding your sweet babe, and ensure you are adequately nourished, as well? We already talked about supplementing– but I always believe the best place to start is by nourishing with real food.
There are two categories of nutrients that are important to focus on when breastfeeding; those that change the composition of the milk and aid baby, and those that take directly from the mom’s stores, and therefore can leave her depleted.
Category 1- Important for baby:
Vitamin B1 (Thiamin): Fish, pork, seeds, nuts and bread.
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin): Cheese, almonds, nuts, red meat, oily fish and eggs.
Vitamin B6: Seeds, nuts, fish, poultry, pork, bananas and dried fruit.
Vitamin B12: Shellfish, liver, oily fish, crab and shrimp.
Choline: Eggs, beef liver, chicken liver, fish and peanuts.
Vitamin A: Sweet potatoes, carrots, dark leafy greens, organ meats and eggs.
Vitamin D: Cod liver oil, oily fish, some mushrooms and fortified foods.
Selenium: Brazil nuts, seafood, fish, whole wheat and seeds.
Iodine: Dried seaweed, cod, milk and iodized salt.
Category 2- Important for mama:
Folate: Beans, lentils, leafy greens, asparagus and avocados.
Calcium: Milk, yogurt, cheese, leafy greens and legumes.
Iron: Red meat, pork, poultry, seafood, beans, green vegetables and dried fruit.
Copper: Shellfish, whole grains, nuts, beans, organ meats and potatoes.
Zinc: Oysters, red meat, poultry, beans, nuts and dairy.
But who has time to memorize lists of nutrients (especially with a new baby)?! Instead, here are my top 10 favorite foods for nursing moms. Don’t worry about getting all of these daily- focus on getting just a couple of these each day and your body will utilize the nutrients to provide abundant, nutrient-rich milk.
Omega-3’s (which improve the quality of the omega-3 content in breast milk), Vitamin D, Selenium, Iron and even calcium when you enjoy the canned variety with bones. Salmon is an incredible food for nursing moms! Whether you enjoy salmon as part of your dinner a couple times a week, smoked salmon on sprouted toast in the morning or salmon salad for lunch, get in that fatty fish as much as you can!
Packed with protein (you need 15 extra grams when you’re breastfeeding) healthy fats and nutrients- including the ever-important Choline, a relative of folate that is crucial for brain health; as well as Vitamin D and B12 (this is especially important to get from eggs if you do not consume meat!). There are so many ways to enjoy eggs, too- scrambled in the morning, hard cooked as a snack or on a salad, in an egg bake for dinner- the list goes on!
3. Spinach (or really, any dark leafy greens).
Folate and other B-vitamins, Iron, Vitamin C, Vitamin A and Calcium– we know leafy greens are packed with nutrients. My favorite way to get in a ton? A great big healthy mama super smoothie.
4. Grass-fed Beef
Grass-fed beef is a powerhouse of nutrients, even moreso than other meats. It is not only packed with iron (make sure to pair it with some vitamin C to get the full effect), grass-fed beef is high in omega-3 fats, zinc and B-vitamins. A couple servings a week will keep those iron levels high.
Not only is yogurt full of essential probiotics (yes, you do pass these onto your baby) and boosts mama’s immune system, dairy is high in calcium, and the fermented aspect helps the digestibility of those who might be more sensitive to milk. Have some as a snack or add to your smoothie for protein.
Oatmeal has long been touted as a galactagogue, so that in and of itself makes it an awesome food for nursing moms! It is also high in folate and other B-vitamins and copper. Please note however, oats do NOT work for everyone- if they cause you digestive distress, discontinue enjoying them! Inflammation isn’t good for mama, or baby. Overnight oats, low sugar granola or warm baked oatmeal are some of my favorite ways to enjoy.
Full of plant-based protein and monounsaturated fats, almonds are also high in calcium and zinc. Grab a handful, use in energy balls or put a tablespoon or two in your super smoothie.
8. Coconut Water
Though this isn’t a food per say, it is packed enough with electrolytes (necessary for breast milk production as well as baby’s health and mama’s hydration) to make it on the list. Potassium and magnesium are especially high; it is high in sugar so if you have issues with blood sugar limit it to one cup and pair it with some protein and/or healthy fats (in a smoothie, or cut with water or almond milk and shaken up with some protein powder is great!).
Avocados are packed with healthy fats, as well as Vitamin E, Vitamin C, Folate and potassium. Eat them straight or add them to egg salad in place of mayo for a delicious quick lunch.
10. Organ Meats
I know this might not be a popular one, but it’s true- organ meats are like nature’s multivitamin. Even just a tablespoon of liver a week can boost your stores of iron, zinc, copper, vitamin A, B12, and choline. If you can’t stand the thought of cooking up liver, I do love Vital Protein’s desiccated liver capsules as an alternative (and no, they don’t taste like liver!).
Do you have any foods you love while breastfeeding? Any special ways you love to prepare them? Share with us!