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The breastfeeding diet for nursing moms

Sarah Caron is a Connecticut-based freelance writer and editor. She lives with her wonderful husband, two adorable kids and two funny beagles. Check out her food blog at Sarah's Cucina Bella.

What to eat when you breastfeed

Hey, Mama! If you're wondering if you should be on a special breastfeeding diet, we have the answers about getting the right nutrition when you're nursing. Get tips on what you should eat and what you shouldn't eat when breastfeeding. Plus, do some foods help increase milk production?

Mom breastfeeding

Congrats on your new baby! One of the first decisions you make as a new mom is whether to breastfeed. If you've chosen to do so, then you probably have a ton of questions about what you can and cannot do, and what you can and cannot eat.

Your breastfeeding diet will affect your baby, of course, because she will taste -- and get nutrients from -- what you eat. "Unlike formula, breast milk tastes different with every feeding. This is actually an advantage, because it prepares babies to be exposed to a wide variety of food in the future. Even spicy and other more flavorful foods can be good for your baby," says nutrition expert Jennifer Grossman, vice president of the Dole Nutrition Institute.

Breastfeeding diet: What to eat when you're nursing

Proper nutrition for a nursing mother isn't much different than proper nutrition in general.

"The basic elements of a healthy diet for a breastfeeding mother are similar to [those for] a non-breastfeeding mother. Many mothers feel that they have to eat healthy and that they need to avoid a lot of delicious foods that they crave; this is not true," says Lynsay Southworth, a nutrition educator and certified lactation counselor. "If you have a poor diet, you will not make poor milk. Your body will feed your baby first and make milk that is sufficient in all the vitamins and minerals your baby needs."

That said, your diet does matter, because your body needs all the right vitamins and minerals to operate properly. "Mothers use approximately 500 calories synthesizing milk daily. This helps breastfeeding mothers to get back to their pre-pregnancy states. The diet of a breastfeeding mother should be similar to [that of] anyone who is aiming to eat healthy: Fruits, veggies, whole grains, legumes, lean meats and low-fat dairy products," says Southworth.

More specifically, some nutrients are key. "It is also crucial that breastfeeding moms make sure to take in plenty of calcium and vitamin D from foods like broccoli and milk," says Grossman.

Water and other good hydrators are important elements of breastfeeding, too. "Breastfeeding moms need to remember to drink plenty of fluids in order to stay hydrated," says Grossman.

Herbs and spices are safe for nursing moms and expose babies to new flavors.

What not to eat

Are there foods you shouldn't eat when breastfeeding? That's a question that doesn't have a firm, clear answer. "There are not many foods that women should avoid. Moderate caffeine consumption is appropriate for mothers of healthy, full-term infants. Excessive caffeine consumption by the breastfeeding mother may make her baby fussy and more wakeful," says Southworth.

Some things are definitely off the list of what's healthful for breastfeeding mothers, however. "They should stay clear of alcohol and cigarettes," says Grossman.

The fish issue

A lot of conflicting information is out there regarding whether fish is safe for expecting and breastfeeding moms. "As during pregnancy, breastfeeding women should avoid fish high in mercury and limit low-mercury fish consumption to no more than twice per week," says Southworth.

Others agree. "Breastfeeding moms should avoid soft cheeses and large fish such as tuna, swordfish and shark," says Grossman.

Other experts, however, say that fish is healthy and recommended for nursing moms -- a great natural source of omega-3 fatty acids. According to the Perinatal Nutrition Working Group (a division of Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies): "Women who plan to become pregnant, are pregnant, or are breastfeeding are encouraged to eat two to three servings of cooked seafood each week, of which half (6 ounces) can be albacore tuna."

Healthy babySo, what's recommended? "A variety of seafood two to three times a week is not only safe during breastfeeding, but helps give growing babies a brain boost," says the Perinatal Nutrition Working Group.

Foods to increase milk production

If you are experiencing breastmilk supply issues, can your diet help? If you believe old wives' tales, yes. "There are foods that are used traditionally to boost milk production but have not been proved scientifically, such as oatmeal, almonds and brewers yeast. Some women have found increased milk production when using fenugreek, but this also has not been proven scientifically," says Southworth.

Grossman also says that hydration is important for milk production. "There are no specific foods that have been proven to increase milk production; however, staying hydrated with water, milk or juice is key to milk production. I recommend drinking a glass of water while your baby is feeding," says Grossman.

Ultimately, though, your baby's feeding habits affect breastmilk production the most. The more he eats, the more you produce.

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