What Foods to Prepare for Your Wife While She’s Breastfeeding
While pregnant and breastfeeding, what your partner eats matters. Here's how to make it all easier for her.
This story first appeared on HappyFamilyOrganics.com.
Maintaining healthy eating habits while breastfeeding is as important now for your partner as it was during pregnancy. Food choices can help optimize the nutrition composition of her breast milk, the quantity of her supply, and the resultant health of your baby for years to come.
Staying well-nourished while breastfeeding is vital, because just like in pregnancy, during breastfeeding her body will prioritize the baby. This means that if she is not taking in enough nutrients, baby will use up what he needs, and mom will be left depleted.
So, don’t be afraid to help your partner up her calorie count. Increased caloric intake (as much as an additional nutritious mini-meal per day) is key to maintaining her health and a healthy milk supply for your little one when exclusively breastfeeding. Encourage your partner to continue choosing nutrient-rich foods to best serve your baby’s needs. Here are the nutrients to focus on.
Iron – Although breastfeeding moms need less iron now than they did before becoming pregnant, iron is still an important nutrient. Breastmilk is not particularly rich in iron; however, your baby more easily absorbs the iron from breastmilk than from any other source. Plus, your baby’s iron reserves are sufficient for the first four to six months of his life. Find iron in beef, white beans, eggs, spinach, lentils, and fortified grains. Iron from plant sources is best absorbed if taken with a good source of vitamin C (for example, pair iron-rich cereal with strawberries or beans with tomatoes).
Vitamin B12 – Newborns have very little B12 stored away and will rely on getting plenty of this nutrient from the mother’s breastmilk. B12 is important for normal brain function and forming red blood cells. Tuna, Sockeye salmon, eggs, dairy, meat, and fortified breakfast cereals provide B12.
Choline – A large amount of choline is transferred to breastmilk providing your baby with plenty of this nutrient that plays several roles in the body. Your partner will need good sources of choline to ensure there’s enough to support her own health in addition to baby’s. Eggs, beef, and salmon provide choline.
Vitamin B6 – Appropriate weight gain and growth in early infancy is associated with B6. The amount of B6 in breastmilk changes quickly in response to the diet. Eating fish, starchy vegetables (like potatoes) and non-citrus fruits (like bananas) will help your partner reach her recommended B6 requirements.
Vitamin A – Newborns have low vitamin A stores and depend on breastmilk to get enough of this nutrient, which is important for healthy skin, tissues, and eyes. Including dark leafy greens as well as orange and yellow vegetables (like sweet potatoes, spinach, carrots, and cantaloupe) will help her meet the recommended vitamin A requirement. Other sources include milk, eggs, and the always popular liver and fish oil.
Vitamin D – Vitamin D concentration in breastmilk is highly dependent on your partner’s vitamin D status. Vitamin D supports bone health and influences immune function and blood glucose. Your newborn needs adequate vitamin D to prevent rickets. It can be difficult to reach the recommended amount of vitamin D from diet alone, but the best sources are fish and fortified dairy products.
Folate – Folate plays an important role in DNA synthesis. Breastfeeding mothers need slightly more folate than before pregnancy. Find folate in many foods such as vegetables (especially dark leafy green veggies), fruits, nuts, beans, dairy, and meat.
Calcium– Only a low level of calcium is secreted into breastmilk, however, baby can easily absorb it and the amount is usually adequate. Calcium remains important for your partner’s own health and for your baby’s bones and teeth. Make sure your partner is getting enough, preferably through her diet. Low-fat dairy, dark leafy greens, tofu, baked beans, almonds, sardines, sesame seeds, and figs all contain calcium. Many cereals and plant-based beverages are now fortified with calcium too, so check the labels.
Zinc – Zinc is essential for tissue growth, which your baby will be doing a lot of! Your baby can get plenty from breastmilk if your partner is well-nourished. She can get zinc from meat, beans, nuts, whole grains, and dairy.
Iodine – Iodine is essential for the thyroid (both hers and your baby’s), which is important for neurological development. Many women don’t get enough iodine because so much of our sodium intake comes from processed foods and fast foods made with non-iodized salt. Seafood, dairy, and iodized salt are the best sources for iodine.
Increasing intake of fluids is also critical to your partner because she’ll be losing fluid through her breastmilk. She should aim to drink a full glass of water each time she sits down to nurse and keep a water bottle handy throughout the day. We recommend a minimum of thirteen 8 oz cups of fluids per day and even more if her diet is low in produce (which is naturally high in water content) to stay hydrated and keep her milk supply flowing.
What to Do
A six-part nutritional checklist for nursing moms.
1. Eat and drink regularly throughout the day
Help your partner by keeping your home stocked with easy to grab meals and snacks, especially things she can eat with one hand (she will likely find her other hand constantly occupied with your little one). Think whole pieces of fruit, sliced veggies with hummus or guacamole, nut butter on whole grain toast or crackers, nut and dried fruit trail mix, hard-boiled eggs, sliced cheese or string cheese.
2. Pack in the protein
She should aim to eat several daily servings of high-protein foods, like low mercury fish, lean meat and poultry, eggs, low-fat dairy, beans, tempeh, tofu, and nuts. To get the most bang for your protein buck, remember that a 3-ounce piece of meat or salmon contains a whopping 21 grams of protein, an 8-ounce container of yogurt has 11 grams, a half-cup of cooked beans has 8 grams and a cup of milk contains 8 grams of protein.
3. Choose healthier fat sources
Find healthier fats (mono and polyunsaturated) in fish, avocado, nuts and seeds, and olive and nut oils for cooking and salad dressings. She should be sure to meet her recommended DHA intake requirement by eating 8-12 ounces of omega 3-rich fish per week, opting for fish lower in mercury, such as wild salmon (fresh, frozen or canned) and canned sardines. If she eats beef and dairy, choose the leaner, lower-fat varieties to limit intake of saturated fats. Avoid trans fats if possible (found in processed foods such as baked goods).
4. Take a postnatal vitamin
She should consider taking a postnatal or breastfeeding supplement while nursing to help ensure she is meeting her daily nutritional requirements for vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients.
5. Get familiar with, and eat plenty of, micronutrients
Chat live with a Happy Mama Mentor about the recommended daily requirements for micronutrients and the many ways to satisfy her specific intake needs.
6. Talk with your health care provider about specific needs for any additional supplementation
For example, if she follows a vegan or vegetarian diet, she may need a B12 supplement, as this vitamin is found only in animal products.
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