Breastfeeding has many benefits for both mom and baby. For example, breastfeeding strengthens a baby’s immune system, lowers their risk of chronic diseases later in life, and may even help them maintain a healthy weight as an adult.
For moms, breastfeeding lowers the risk of postpartum depression, lowers the risk of breast and ovarian cancer, and may promote postpartum weight loss.
The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or longer.
Nutrition is especially important while breastfeeding to support mom, baby and overall milk production.
Pregnancy, labor and the postpartum period take a big toll on a mom’s body.
Moms should continue taking prenatal vitamins for at least the first six months postpartum to replete important vitamins and minerals and keep both mom and baby properly nourished.
Eat enough calories
Breastfeeding is nutritionally demanding. In fact, a mom’s body requires an estimated 500 extra calories per day during this time! Moms may feel hungry more often while breastfeeding.
Any VA Registered Dietitian can help a mom achieve a healthy diet and lifestyle while breastfeeding.
Although moms may desire to return to pre-pregnancy weight as soon as possible, it’s best to avoid restrictive dieting to prevent any drops in milk supply. Instead, keep nutrient-dense snacks in arm’s reach to satisfy hunger.
Snacks may include mixed nuts, string cheese and fruit, carrots and hummus, or turkey roll-ups. Make a batch of Peanut Butter Energy Bars on page 106 of the VA Healthy Cooking at Home Cookbook for a snack to enjoy throughout the week!
Hydration is crucial for establishing and maintaining milk supply. A mom will feel thirstier when nursing, which is a body’s way of telling a mom to drink more water. Keep a water bottle nearby whenever feeding a baby and listen to thirst cues.
Aim to drink least two liters of water each day, or about nine cups. Water is the best beverage for nursing; however, feel free to add flavoring packets, drops, or fruit to your water if this will help reach daily hydration goals.
Motherhood is a challenging and often stressful time. Moms should not worry if they cannot eat “perfectly” while breastfeeding. A mom’s body will still make the best food for a baby, and breastmilk will still be rich in immune-boosting antibodies and nourishing ingredients.
While breastfeeding may help some women return to pre-pregnancy weight, many women do not lose the last few pounds until after weaning.
Be gentle. It took nine months to grow a precious baby. It can take nine months or more to return to pre-pregnancy weight.
Some VA Registered Dietitians are certified lactation consultants who can give even more specific breastfeeding coaching and support. Any VA Registered Dietitian can help achieve a healthy diet and lifestyle while breastfeeding.
Veterans interested in working with a Registered Dietitian can contact a local VA to get connected.