Nutrition is incredibly important during the postpartum period. However, for many of us moms, breastfeeding nutrition can be confusing! We often find ourselves asking questions like:
- How much should we be eating?
- What should we avoid?
- How does my diet affect my baby’s?
To explore this topic further, we reached out to Kate Pickett--a pre and postnatal fitness specialist and soon-to-be Precision Nutrition Coach. With her nutrition expertise and passion for motherhood (which she shares through her blog, Joyful Messes) she’s the perfect fit to share some insight on what to include in a breastfeeding diet!
Follow along as Kate shares 7 important nutrients for lactation:
Important Nutrients for Lactation
Breastfeeding mothers have higher nutrient needs for healthy lactation. It is essential to eat a nutrient dense diet during lactation to ensure a healthy milk supply, but how do you know what nutrients to consume? In general, the more vitamins and minerals the better, but there are 7 very important nutrients needed for lactation. Where many moms can get frustrated is knowing what to eat, and then having the time and energy to prepare and shop for more nutrients.
In addition to going over the important nutrients for lactation, we will also give some pointers on how to consume these nutrients with quick and easy recipes or supplements. Sometimes supplements, if made from high-quality ingredients, are an awesome alternative for new breastfeeding mothers, who are busy and need help consuming the extra macro and micro nutrients needed to support a healthy milk supply.
Bottom line: the idea of eating all these foods and ensuring to get enough nutrients while breastfeeding can seem overwhelming and annoying, so we are fortunate to have so many simple, clean and healthy supplements like Majka to help us! Especially if you aren’t a fan of things like lentils and liver, which you will see why in a bit. Let’s get into business here.
First, here’s the list of 7 important nutrients to consume while breastfeeding:
- Folate (L-methylfolate)
- B Vitamins
- Vitamin C
Consuming enough nutrients during lactation needs to be a high priority for mothers because some of the nutrients are passed directly to the breast milk, and thus affects if the baby has enough of the specific nutrients as well. Let’s go deeper into each nutrient, and how to ensure you are getting enough daily.
You are probably familiar with folate because of the importance during pregnancy, specifically for spinal formation during the early weeks of fetal development. Many mamas don’t realize that folate needs are still increased during lactation. Folate needs increase to 600 μg/daya during pregnancy, and drops to 500 μg/daya during lactation, BUT this is still higher than the 400 μg/daya needed as a non-lactating or pregnant woman.
You may be wondering if folic acid and folate are the same, and no, they are not. Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate. Folic acid isn’t the naturally occurring folate, but rather the fortified version you find added to cereals and other foods. The L-methyfolate is the active version of folate, rather than the non-active version, folic acid. The reason it may be better to consume folate in the L-methylfolate form is because many women go un-diagnosed with a gene issue called 5-MTHFR. If these woman take folic acid in the synthetic form, they can actually cause more problems.
What should you eat for more folate during lactation?
Lentils are fantastic for folate. 1 cup of cooked lentil provides 358mcg, which is close to the needed 500 during breastfeeding. Add in some cooked kidney beans and beets, and you will be at your daily recommended need. I highly recommend this lentil soup recipe for a yummy way to get lots of folate. Not a fan of lentils, well liver packs an even higher folate punch. Lentils and liver isn’t usually at the top of the list in terms of yummy food, so you can add other foods in throughout the day like broccoli, asparagus, nuts and seeds, avocado and papaya.
Zinc is an important nutrient while breastfeeding because your baby needs zinc for growth and development. If your breast milk doesn’t have the needed zinc, your baby won’t be able to consume zinc. During lactation, your body naturally increases its need for zinc, and it improves absorption of zinc! (how amazing). But, even with improved absorption, consuming enough zinc is key.
Luckily, zinc is an easier nutrient to consume because most women eat meat, and you don’t need a lot. If you are a vegetarian, or someone who doesn’t eat much meat, getting enough zinc can be more difficult. Protein powder supplements like Majka can really help with zinc requirements, as well as adding some additional foods like shellfish, lentils, chickpeas, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds and cashews to ensure you are getting enough zinc.
If you aren’t vegetarian ground beef is your best source for zinc. Luckily this means a cheeseburger or spaghetti sauce is necessary for zinc!
I am going to just clump all the B vitamins together here because they are all necessary. Folate is a B vitamin, B9, but I wanted to discuss that one on its own because of the importance. The others are all very important while breastfeeding.
I am particularly fond of vitamin B12, if I had to choose one, but you need them all during lactation. I want to stop on vitamin B12 for a minute because of the effects it has on baby’s development. Low levels of vitamin B12 have been linked to brain development impairment and neurological issues. B12 passes from mama into breast milk and to baby, so there needs to be a sufficient amount of B12 to pass on to baby. Again, meats are one of the best sources for all the B vitamins.
What to eat for optimal vitamin B intake during lactation?
If you aren’t vegetarian, meats, eggs and dairy are the best choices. If you are vegetarian, or steer clear of much meat, you want to eat legumes, nuts, seeds, cheese, broccoli, spinach, kale and one of my all-time favorite - nutritional yeast! This stuff packs a vitamin B punch, and it is so easy to sprinkle on recipes, add to salads and really have some fun with. It has a cheesy, nutty flavor that can make lots of pastas, meats and salads taste really good. I’ve added coconut oil and nutritional yeast to popcorn and it was amazing.
Vitamin C is another water-soluble vitamin (like the B vitamins), so the amount of vitamin C in the breast milk is dependent upon how much the mother is consuming. Vitamin C needs increase from 85mg during pregnancy to 120 mg per day.
Vitamin C helps breastfeeding mothers heal post-birth, is important for the immune system (both in mothers and babies), and most importantly, helps with the absorption of iron. Our bodies need vitamin c to basically assist in the absorption of iron, otherwise we can’t properly digest the iron we consume. This is why a complete, nutrient dense diet is important because many vitamins and minerals work together in the body for optimal health!
Luckily, lots of fruits and veggies are high in vitamin C. Broccoli, cantaloupe, strawberries, kale, kiwi, papaya and more provide plenty of vitamin C. Thin of bright colors, and plants, and you should be able to consume all the vitamin C you need by adding more fruits and veggies to your diet overall.
This is actually a newer nutrient to me, which I’ve learned in my study as a Pre/Post Natal Fitness Specialist and Precision Nutrition Coach. Choline is essential for fetal brain development during pregnancy, and it also passes through breast milk to the new baby.
You might be wondering what choline is. It is a micro nutrient, and we don’t need a whole lot of it each day. It is another micronutrient found in meats and eggs (specifically the yoiks), and fish. It is involved homocysteine concentration in the blood through its metabolite betaine.
It is one of the smaller, less-known, but still important nutrients. Studies even found that choline is linked to baby’s growth.
To eat more choline, focus on these foods while breastfeeding:
- Grass-fed, raw dairy
- Nuts and legumes
Now we are moving onto a macronutrient, protein. Protein is key for breastfeeding mothers because our bodies need extra energy and nutrients in general, and protein will help encourage the use of fat as fuel for breastfeeding, rather than muscle.
Protein is going to aid in repairing cells, maintaining muscle and keeping blood sugar stable. Protein helps with satiation, which can be an issue for during breastfeeding. Breastfeeding often increases appetite, which is really your body asking for more nutrients. In turn, if we don’t give our bodies the right micro and macro nutrients it needs, it will keep signalling hunger (despite calorie consumption).
Protein is going to help set off our “full hormones.” It also takes longer to digest, and it keeps our metabolism running higher. A faster metabolism is always a good thing. It allows us to eat more nutrients and use them more efficiently, rather than store them.
Eating more protein should be fairly obvious in terms of what to eat. Plants even have protein in them, but there are some amino acids we need from animal foods. Unfortunately for new mamas, whipping up some meat, or snacking quickly on protein isn’t always easy. A protein shake is a fabulous way to add in protein and vitamins and minerals quickly, and one-handed.
Your body, especially your brain, needs carbs. With the low-fad diets and keto craze, carbs can seem a bit scary in terms of weight gain. Carbs are not going to make anyone gain weight. Too many calories will. Breastfeeding mamas need carbohydrates in their bloodstream for baby to have energy and for the energy to live, produce breast milk and think. Our brains prefer glucose to function best, and attempting to deprive our brains of glucose and force it to use ketones isn’t always the best idea with a new baby, lots of stress, lack of sleep and the other demands of motherhood.
Ideally, eating plenty of carbohydrates from fruits, veggies, quinoa, nuts and beans is the way to go. Carbohydrates that are packaged and processed basically do nothing for you, but give you a glucose jolt followed by a crash. Eat plenty of whole, healthy foods whether they are carbs or protein with the goal of getting enough nutrients for your body. Many of the nutrients discussed here are found in meat and vegetables (which are carbohydrates). Sticking to meats, veggies, fruits, nuts and beans is a wonderful diet for a breastfeeding mama interested in consuming as many nutrients as possible.
With those 7 important nutrients for lactation, that doesn’t mean all the other nutrients can be ignored.
The goal is to inform you on 7, with the hopes it will encourage you to make nutrient-dense choices at every meal and snack. Getting in every nutrient in the perfect amount every day is not possible, but eating a whole, balanced and nourishing diet can be! Nutritional supplements like Majka, that taste amazing and blend up fast are great resources that we have today to help us as we get busier and busier.
And remember, 80% is a great number to shoot for. Eat 80 - 90% meat, lean protein, veggies, fruits, nuts and beans, and then enjoy a few of your favorite snack or foods a little each day. This will help with emotional well-being, not feeling deprived, and overall enjoying life! A few pieces of dark chocolate, a slice of cake or a few french fries are not going to inhibit nutrients from being absorbed. Eating well is so much more than losing weight or being healthy. It is connected to emotional healthy, mental health, hormonal health and physical health for both mamas and babies together.