Does eating an extra 500 calories a day
without gaining weight sound like a dream? For most people, it is. But
for a special group — mothers who breast-feed their babies — it is a
dream that can come true. But don't start dreaming about 500 calories
worth of just anything. While a Breast-feeding diet allows for extra
calories, those calories should come from nutritious foods. Both the
mother's and the baby \'s health depend on the mother s choice of food.
Breast-feeding mothers can eat those
extra calories because milk production requires so much energy. In fact,
sometimes the energy demands of milk production are so high that even
those 500 extra calories are not enough. Fortunately, most mothers can
still meet these energy demands from fat stored during pregnancy.
While they are pregnant, women who eat
a healthy diet and stay within the number of calories recommended by
their doctors usually gain about eight to 10 pounds of fat. This may add
about a third more body fat than the mother had before she became
pregnant. The body sets in this supply of fat as insurance that calories
will be available to produce enough milk after the baby is born.
Exactly how many calories should a
Breast-feeding mother eat? The National Academy of Sciences recommends
that a woman who is 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighs about 120 pounds eat
2,600 calories a day while nursing. This is in comparison to a
recommended 2,400 calories a day while pregnant and 2,100 calories a day
when neither pregnant or nursing.
Yet a mother can have a poor diet —
either nutritionally inadequate or too low in calories, or both — and
still produce enough milk for her baby. This is especially true during
the first few months of Breast-feeding when the extra fat from pregnancy
is available. But as those fat reserves are depleted, the amount of milk
produced may decrease.
With a poor diet, any milk production
will take its toll on the mother. Lack of protein may cause the
breakdown of lean body tissue (muscle); not enough calcium could cause a
loss of that important mineral from her bones. And because an inadequate
diet can cause a decreased sense of well-being, there is a greater
chance that a mother will give up Breast-feeding. As Julie Stock of the
La Leche League, an international Breast-feeding support and educational
organization, explains, a mother who is not t eating properly
"simply is not in any shape to accept the stress of a tiny, nursing
A mother should do everything she can
to keep Breast-feeding her baby. Human milk is the ideal nourishment for
human babies. Its protein content is particularly suited to a baby s
metabolism, and the fat content is more easily absorbed and digested
than the fats in cow s milk. Breast milk — because it contains
antibodies from the mother — also can provide immunologic protection
against certain diseases, infections and allergies. Formula can t do
A healthy breast-feeding diet is
basically the same nutritionally sound and varied diet recommended
during pregnancy. The main differences are in the needs for extra
calories, fluids and certain vitamins.
Ten to 12 eight-ounce glasses of fluid
per day preferably milk, fruit juices, or water — are necessary to
make enough milk and prevent dehydration in the mother. Drinking
something every time the baby nurses, in addition to drinking with
meals, is one way to be sure to get enough.
Getting enough calcium requires special
attention. Breast milk contains approximately 300 milligrams of calcium
per liter. Since daily milk production averages 850 milliliters,
approximately 250 milligrams of calcium are needed each day just for the
breast milk. To ensure that the calcium for the breast milk is not t
drawn from the mother s bones, which could contribute to osteoporosis
(weakened bones) later in life, the National Academy of Sciences
recommends 1,400 milligrams of calcium a day for Breast-feeding women.
A breast-feeding mother's need for iron
is about the same as before she got pregnant. Iron loss from lactation
is one-half to one milligram per day. Over a month, that amount adds up
to approximately the same amount lost during a menstrual period. And
menstruation frequently does not t resume until after Breast-feeding
stops. However, many physicians recommend that a Breast-feeding mother
take an iron supplement to replenish iron lost during pregnancy.
Although extra amounts of vitamins,
such as A and C, are needed while Breast-feeding, a well-balanced diet
should make supplements unnecessary. What makes up a well-balanced diet?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following for
Dairy Products — These contain not
only calcium, but also protein, fats, vitamins and other minerals. The
diet of a breast-feeding woman should include five servings of milk or
milk products every day. While milk is an excellent way to meet the
requirements for liquids and calcium, there are plenty of other sources
of calcium. One cup of yogurt, two cups of cottage cheese, or
one-and-a-half ounces of cheese contain about the same amount of calcium
as an eight-ounce glass of milk.
Protein Foods — Necessary for
building muscle and other body tissue in both mother and baby, protein
is found in animal products such as meat, fish, poultry, milk and eggs.
Some vegetables also are good sources of protein. Four servings of
protein should be part of the nursing mother s daily diet. For lean
cooked meat, fish or poultry, without bones, two to three ounces is the
usual serving size. Good sources of vegetable protein include dried
beans such as kidney and lima (one cup), dried peas (one cup), and
peanut butter (four tablespoons).
Fruits and Vegetables — Fruits and
vegetables provideimportant vitamins, minerals and fiber. Breast-feeding
mothers should have several servings daily of fruits and vegetables, at
least one from each of three subgroups:
Foods rich in vitamin C include
cantaloupe (serving size: half of a medium-sized melon) and strawberries
(three-quarters of a cup) and, of course, citrus fruits such as oranges
(one medium) and grapefruit (one half). Tomatoes, potatoes, and green
peppers are also good sources of vitamin C.
The dark-green vegetables subgroup
includes greens, asparagus and spinach. These vegetables are excellent
sources of vitamin A, which is important to babies for bone growth,
tooth formation, good vision, and resisting infections.
Dark-yellow fruits and vegetables are
another good source of vitamin A. Examples of these are carrots
(one-half cup per serving), sweet potatoes (one medium-sized), winter
squash (one-half cup), and apricots (two medium-sized).
Breads and Cereals — Carbohydrates
from breads and cereals are a quick and efficient source of energy.
Grain products also supply essential vitamins and minerals for the
development of a baby s muscles, nerves and brain cells. Products made
from whole grains provide more fiber than refined grains. Good choices
for one of the four servings of these foods needed every day include
whole-wheat bread (one slice), oatmeal (one-half cup cooked), spaghetti
(one-half cup cooked) and brown rice (one-half cup cooked).
Knowing what to eat is only part of the
battle. The demands of a baby may leave a mother with very little time
or energy for cooking. But there are plenty of healthy foods that are
quick and convenient. Fruits such as apples and bananas are good
choices. Other quick and nutritious foods include ready-to-eat cereal, a
glass of milk, cheese, rice cakes, yogurt, and fresh vegetables.
Nursing mothers usually can eat most
foods. (Some drugs and certain other substances must be avoided or used
with caution.) If a nursing mother has to give up a certain food or
group of foods (if she or her baby has an allergy, for example), she
should be sure to eat other foods that have a similar nutrient content.
Physicians rarely recommend weight-loss
diets to Breast-feeding mothers. Instead, until breast-feeding stops,
the best thing to do is sit back and enjoy those extra calories.
Adapted from the FDA Consumer and
written by Dori Stehlin, a member of the Food and Drug Administration's
public affairs staff.
Reviewed July 2003