5 Nourishing Foods for Chest/Breastfeeding
Meals and snacks that support your body and mind during your nursing journey
- Nutritional needs increase when your body is producing milk.
- Foods high in protein, folate, and choline are especially helpful when nursing an infant.
- Having quick, easy, and healthy snacks and meals already prepared can help you keep up with your increased nutritional needs.
So much emphasis is placed on taking care of your body during pregnancy. And for good reason – growing a little one isn’t easy! But sometimes, it can feel like that guidance fades away when it comes to caring for yourself while chest/breastfeeding.
Here’s the thing: you deserve to take care of YOU – especially in the early postpartum days when your body is still healing and things may feel overwhelming. Self-care may look different day-to-day, but hopefully it is always rooted in gratitude for your body. One step you can take is surrounding yourself with foods that support your health.
While you aren’t “eating for two,” your body does have increased nutritional needs while you’re producing milk. In fact, chest/breastfeeding people need an extra 330-400 calories per day! Extremely low calorie diets may actually decrease your milk supply. Many experts advise eating a minimum of 1800 calories per day while nursing.
Producing such a complete, powerful food source while keeping up with your own body’s needs is no easy task. It’s extra important to nourish yourself with food options that pack a punch.
You need more than just calories while chest/breastfeeding. Nutrient demand increases because vitamins and minerals pass from the lactating parent into their milk. Human milk is usually the baby’s only source of nutrition for the first six months unless you are supplementing with formula. Producing such a complete, powerful food source while keeping up with your own body’s needs is no easy task. That’s why it’s extra important to nourish yourself with food options that pack a punch.
For your information
Many of the compounds in the food you eat appear in your milk. Just as you may have food allergies and sensitivities, babies can also be sensitive to certain foods. Talk to your pediatrician if you need support.
Fish contains omega-3 fatty acids, which have been linked to brain development in children. Experts typically recommend eating around 2-3 servings of fish per week. Salmon is easy to find and prepare for a wholesome, healthy option. You can also find canned cooked salmon or smoked salmon in many grocery stores.
It’s best to avoid high-mercury fish like shark, king mackerel, and tilefish since mercury can pass through breast milk.
For a quick weeknight dinner, try spreading some pesto with chopped walnuts (another great omega-3 source!) over a piece of salmon. Wrap in aluminum foil or parchment paper and bake in the oven at 400 degrees for around 10-15 minutes.
Any parent knows that having a simple, filling, on-the-go snack is essential. Nursing especially is hard work! Many lactating parents find themselves extra hungry in those early days. Choosing a snack with plenty of protein can help you to feel fuller for longer.
Protein is the building block of our muscles. For those who are lactating, the recommended daily intake of protein is much higher than for people who are not producing milk. The body uses protein to create milk, and it is a key nutrient of human milk itself.
For those who are nursing, the recommended daily intake of protein is much higher than for people who are not producing milk.
Sunflower seeds are not only an excellent protein source, but they’re also packed with folate. Your body is very good at making sure that your milk is high in folate, but that leaves less for your own nutritional needs. Folate is important for producing blood cells and repairing DNA in your cells. Good nutritional sources of folate while nursing are essential to meet the needs of both you and your baby. Another great option is pepitas, or pumpkin seeds.
Sunflower seeds and pepitas are versatile–perfect for sprinkling on a salad, adding to trail mix, or eating as a stand-alone snack.
Many people have heard that oats are good for increasing milk supply. There has not been any research to support this claim. However, anecdotally it seems to help. And eating a bowl of oatmeal certainly can't hurt!
Though the jury is still out on the milk-making properties of oatmeal, one thing is certain—it is an excellent source of soluble fiber, iron, B vitamins, and many other nutrients. It will help keep you feeling full as you move through your busy day.
Are you on a time crunch when it comes to your morning routine? Save time by preparing your oats in the refrigerator overnight. Mix ½ cup of old-fashioned oats with ¾ cup of your favorite milk and put it in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours. The longer you leave it, the more the liquid absorbs. You can mix in any flavors that you enjoy—add a bit of pumpkin puree, maple, and cinnamon for a delicious fall treat! You can add some sunflower seeds and/or your favorite nut butter for an extra boost of nutrients.
Caption: Fresh or frozen fruit, yogurt or plant-based alternatives, and seeds and nuts are all great ways to add more nutrients to a simple bowl of oatmeal.
Yogurt, and especially Greek yogurt, is such a versatile food. You can eat it plain, mix in different fruits/flavors, or add it to your recipes to make them extra creamy.
Besides containing a huge amount of protein per serving, Greek yogurt is high in many other vitamins that make it an ideal choice for nursing people. It is full of vitamin B-12, riboflavin, and vitamin A—all vitamins that you need more of while breastfeeding.
Vitamin B-12, riboflavin, and vitamin A are all vitamins that you need more of while chest/breastfeeding.
One grab-and-go option is adding Greek yogurt into a fruit- and veggie-packed smoothie. It can be tough to sit down for a full meal as a new parent, especially one where both of your hands are free! Try blending spinach, Greek yogurt, a handful of frozen berries, ½ of a banana, and just a little orange juice for a tropical green smoothie you can sip on all day.
Another nutrient that you need more of while breastfeeding is choline. Choline is key for brain development, and your baby’s brain is currently growing quickly as they take in their new environment! Choline is found in foods like eggs, meat, beans, and peas.
Peeled hard-boiled eggs can be prepared in one big batch to keep in the refrigerator for about 7 days. They are great to grab for a one-handed, nourishing snack while nursing.
Nutrition is important while nursing
It’s so rewarding to care for your baby and watch them grow, but please don’t forget to look out for yourself. You don’t have to eat all (or any!) of the foods on this list to have a healthy chest/breastfeeding body. However, this list can serve as a guide for the type of nutrient-dense foods that will fuel you for your journey.
And remember— you’re not alone. Ask a friend or family member to help you prepare nourishing meals and snacks that are realistic for a busy lifestyle. Keep up the amazing work!
This article was reviewed by Nadia Crane, CNM.