Today marks the start of World Breastfeeding Week, a week that holds a very special place in my heart as it calls attention to the health benefits offered by exclusively breastfeeding during the first six months. As a breastfeeding mother myself, I know feeding your child can be a struggle. When nursing, you need to be aware of certain nutrients that are critical to both your health and the health of your growing baby. Let’s take a look at the most essential nutrients and how to ensure you are getting enough each day.
Disclosure: this blog post is a collaboration with GOED. All opinions are 100% my own.
At the top of the list, omega-3 fatty acids stand out as one of the most essential nutrients when breastfeeding. EPA and DHA—found in marine foods—are the primary omega-3s you need to support heart health, brain health, eye health and maternal health. Babies need DHA for brain development, and this is especially important in the second half of pregnancy and through infancy. DHA is passed from mom to baby through the placenta during pregnancy and in breast milk after birth. Since you as the mother are the sole source of DHA for your developing baby, it is critical that you eat enough fatty fish or take an omega-3 supplement while nursing. For pregnant and lactating women, the minimum optimal intake is 300 mg per day of EPA and DHA, of which at least 200 mg should be DHA. Eating two servings of fatty fish per week or taking a daily omega-3 supplement can help reach this goal.
Breastfeeding places significant demands on the nursing mother’s body, one of which is an increase in daily calorie needs. It can be tempting to reduce your calories in an effort to quickly loss the baby weight after giving birth, but restricting calories can lead to a decline in breast milk production. Your body needs, on average, an extra 500 calories per day to support healthy breast milk production. It lose weight in a healthy way after your baby as been born, focus on eating a diet rich in whole, unprocessed foods including plenty of vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, and healthy fats. By eating a high quality diet rich you will find that your weight will slowly return back to what it was pre-pregnancy without experiencing a significant in breast milk production and without having to drive yourself crazy counting calories (and come on- you have enough to worry about right now without adding more to the list!)
Choline plays a critical role in memory and knowledge retention. Although this nutrient is essential for health at all ages, for babies – whose brains grow rapidly- not getting enough choline can impact health and well-being for life. When breastfeeding, the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) level recommended for choline is 550mg. To see if you are getting enough and to learn more about this important nutrient, check out my recent blog post: Choline for All: Everything You Need to Know About Choline (sponsored by Balchem, a nutritional ingredient supplier)
Every ounce of breast milk you provide to your growing baby is an ounce of fluid that is being pulled from your body. In addition to your own fluid needs, you want to make sure to drink back the ounces of breast milk you produce each day. For instance, if your baby drinks 30 ounces of breast milk a day, you will want to make sure to drink an extra 30 ounces of fluid on top of your regular fluid intake to ensure that you stay adequately hydrated. If you drink too little, this can impact your own hydration status and increase fatigue (and as a new mom I know that you cannot afford to be even more tired than you already are!) as well as decrease your breast milk production. A good rule of thumb is to aim for about 100 ounces of total fluid each day while breastfeeding. Try carrying a large water bottle with you throughout the day as a reminder or make it a habit to drink water anytime you feed your baby.