Eating well is an important part of self-care, especially during breastfeeding. Nourishing your body can only help you in post-delivery healing, maintaining health, and in keeping up energy levels during this demanding period of life. Plus if you’re going to eat anyway, you might as well be smart about what you are having!
How much to eat?
It is estimated that a breastfeeding woman may need an extra of 450-500 calories a day, though the actual intake a woman needs also depends on other factors like body fat and physical activity levels. How much is 450-500 calories? It’s roughly equivalent to a Starbucks’ white hot chocolate (16oz) with whipped cream, or a sandwich (made of 2 slices of bread, mayo, cheese and lunchmeat) plus a glass of milk, so not a huge amount more!
At the beginning you may not notice the need to increase your intake (this may be why breastfeeding women lose those pregnancy pounds much faster). However, as your baby’s intake at the breast increases, you may start to feel hungrier. If you’re like me, I felt like I was the cookie monster raiding the kitchen every few hours (especially after a full pumping session). I found I soon needed to add in 1-2 snacks or ‘mini-meals’ during the day to compensate and keep up my energy levels.
What to eat?
As in pregnancy, continue to aim for a varied and healthy diet, with plenty of whole grains, protein-rich foods (e.g., lean meat, chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, pulses like beans and lentils), vegetables and fruits. Continue to include at least 2-3 daily servings of good sources of calcium in your diet. These include milk, yogurt, cheese, tofu prepared with calcium sulphate, broccoli, okra, and calcium fortified drinks.
Keep meals simple so they will be easy to prepare. If you are too tired or feel you don’t have the energy to fix yourself three proper meals in between trying to rest and breastfeed, then eat smaller ‘mini-meals’ throughout the day. Alternatively, have lots of healthful nutrient dense snacks available in the house which you can consume quickly and then rest. Examples are a quick handful of nuts, dried fruit or sunflower seeds (or combine these with cereal to make your own trail mix), bananas, granola bars, fresh fruits, tinned fruits (canned in its own juice), salads, yogurts, hummus with pitta bread or vegetable sticks, cheese and crackers, canned soup, tinned fish to make quick sandwiches, and cereal.
Along with eating well, is drinking well too. Breastfeeding can make you feel quite thirsty so drink lots! Water is fine, but include other more nutritious options during the day as well. Examples are milk or calcium fortified alternatives (like calcium fortified soymilk, oatmilk, coconut milk, orange juice…the possibilities are endless!), frozen fruit banana yogurt smoothies, soups and broths. Sometimes it helps to have a glass ready near your breastfeeding chair so that every time your baby breastfeeds, you can have a drink too!