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Foods to Eat and Avoid While Breastfeeding or Pumping

Has anyone ever told you that drinking beer—Guinness, in particular—enhances milk production? That’s an old time myth that keeps hanging around. Probably because it’s not entirely false: an element in the barley does produce prolactin, which is the hormone that stimulates milk production. That said, the alcohol can slow milk production down so it’s six of one and half dozen of the other on effectiveness. Plus there’s the downside of consuming alcohol while breastfeeding / pumping, but I’ll get to that later.

There’s no magic to what you should eat or avoid while breastfeeding or pumping, but with so much conflicting information out there, here’s the lowdown for new moms.

How much should a new mom be eating

If you’re breastfeeding or pumping, you need to take in an extra 500 calories, for a total of 2000-2500 calories / day, to keep up your milk production. That can be done with an extra healthy snack or two throughout the day.

Crash dieting postpartum to get back to your pre-pregnancy weight isn’t a great idea, for you or the baby. That’s because too severe a drop in calorie intake can impede your milk production. Remember: it took 9 months to grow a human; you shouldn’t expect to get right back to normal in 9 weeks.

Other tips?

1. Wait until your milk supply is well established and you’ve recovered physically from the birth before beginning a diet.

2. Drop your calorie intake slowly. A sudden drop will signal to your body to stop putting energy towards unnecessary systems, and milk production is among those systems!

You’re not ‘eating for two’ anymore, but you do need to keep up your energy for breastfeeding / pumping. Also, remember that anything and everything you eat and drink goes into the milk supply, to some extent. It’s not unlike when you were pregnant and your baby was eating what you were eating / drinking, though to a lesser extent.

Foods to eat while breastfeeding or pumping

First and foremost, be sure to hydrate. Water is best, but if you find it too hard to get 6-8 glasses of water a day in, add some fruit to make it interesting! What you want to avoid is too much in the way of caffeinated beverages, which have a diuretic effect, causing you to lose more fluids.

That said, I don’t know many new moms who can go without some sort of caffeine boost, particularly after a long night of cluster feedings so unless you have the option to nap all morning (thanks to your fabulous postpartum doula arriving in the a.m.) to make it up, a cup of coffee isn’t going to hurt!

A good combination of whole grains, fresh fruits and veggies, legumes, lean proteins, and dairy products is your best bet for the long term. While fish is an excellent source of protein, you should limit your consumption to once or twice a week due to the possible exposure to mercury, which many fish contain.

A word on flavors

There are some parents that are afraid to eat intensely flavored foods while breastfeeding / pumping, but think of it this way: people around the world, with different food cultures, have babies every day. Do you think they stop eating curries and spicy dishes because they had a baby? No. In fact, babies can develop a taste, so to speak, for those flavors, via the breast milk, which can make it easier when you’re ready to introduce solids with a little flavor later on!

Foods to avoid while breastfeeding or pumping

Bottom line? Moderate your intake of sugar, fat, salt and caffeine in your diet.

Anything that isn’t healthy should be limited to the status of an occasional treat. Yes, you can eat that cupcake. No, you shouldn’t eat six of them. That’s good advice whether or not you’re breastfeeding but it’s even more important when you think about your child getting some of that same sugar hit.

A word about alcohol consumption while breastfeeding or pumping

Alcohol is best avoided while breastfeeding / pumping but an occasional small drink won’t do lasting damage. Just remember that it takes about 2 to 3 hours for the alcohol to leave your system, so avoid breastfeeding until that time has passed and you’re fine.

Don’t beat yourself up

New parents have enough to worry about without guilt tripping themselves over the burger they ate, or the onion rings they just demolished. The key isn’t perfection in your postpartum diet. It’s okay to indulge here and there and there’s no value in feeling bad about that. Just make sure that these little extras are the exception, not the rule, and you’ll be fine.

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