DIANA CASSAR-UHL, MPH, IBCLC, USA
Originally published June 2012, updated January 2016 and republished with the express permission of the author.
Now that your baby is here, you may be wondering what you can eat … or, more likely, you’re wondering how you’ll ever be able to eat again, especially if you’re home alone with your baby most of the day.
You have to pack lots of nutrition into meals and snacks that don’t require a lot of concentration, preparation time, or effort to eat. As well, you want to make sure you’re eating right for postpartum healing, energy, and robust milk-making.
Do I need extra calories when I’m breastfeeding?
If you’ve been eating a diet of wholesome, nourishing foods during pregnancy, you probably don’t need anything extra for breastfeeding. Your baby’s suckling is what stimulates your milk production, not how much or how little you’re eating, so eat to satisfy your appetite.
You may have heard that your body will take whatever it needs to make your milk exactly right for your baby’s nutritional needs, and this is correct. So you want to make sure the foods you are eating will sustain you!
Try not to worry in the first few weeks about losing the “baby weight” you gained in pregnancy; focus on keeping yourself and your baby nourished and satisfied.
What about vitamin D?
Vitamin D is the one nutrient that most mothers are not able to pass along to their babies in adequate amounts through breast milk alone. If you are hesitant to give your baby the recommended 400 IU/day of supplemental vitamin D, talk to your healthcare provider about your own levels. Unprotected sun exposure (in moderation) and maternal supplements are two options to inquire about.
Read more information about vitamin D here.
Will what I eat make my baby gassy?
This is an extremely common concern, but since milk is made from what’s in your bloodstream, not what’s in your digestive tract, it is highly unlikely that broccoli, cabbage, or other “gassy” foods will cause distress in your baby. However, babies can be sensitive to food proteins from the mother’s diet that make their way into her milk.
You may have met a breastfeeding mother who chose to avoid dairy, soy, eggs, wheat, and/or corn because her baby was uncomfortable when she ate them. If you find yourself in this situation, remember that any dietary restrictions you might undertake are not forever—eventually, either your baby will begin to tolerate those foods or he will grow up and wean! Many mothers discover that they feel better than they have in years when they give up the food that was offensive to their babies; this is a likely sign that mom had an unknown food sensitivity. I have a blog post on this topic: So What Can I Eat.
Start the day right
Breakfast is still the most important meal of the day, and getting your morning off to a good start is vital if you’re going to keep up with your baby. Luckily, breakfast is also really easy to prepare ahead of time, or to have family and friends prepare for you when they offer to help you.
Here are a few breakfast ideas:
- Oatmeal can be cooked ahead of time, in a large batch, and stored in individual servings. Heat a serving and top with your favorite fruits, spices, nuts or sweeteners. Apples, bananas, berries, chopped almonds, and cashews (or a spoonful of almond or cashew butter), cinnamon, nutmeg, and maple syrup are all delicious over oatmeal. A serving of oatmeal offers a hearty dose of fiber, and is inexpensive. Additionally, studies have demonstrated that oats may be lactogenic, helping you to sustain robust milk production (Jacobson, 2004).
- Muffins are another terrific grab-and-go breakfast that can be made ahead of time and frozen (or brought to you by friends and family who ask, “What do you need?”), so they’re always on hand. Rather than sweet, cupcake-like muffins that are available at bakeries and coffee shops, make yours with vegetables like zucchini and carrots, and experiment with flours other than wheat; oat flour and almond flour each make a moist, delicious muffin. Fruits and fruit purees add sweetness and texture with less sugar. See the recipe for apple-bran muffins in Feed Yourself, Feed Your Family.
- Hard-boiled eggs are a terrific protein source and can be prepared ahead of time. They can be eaten on their own, and one-handed!
Can I have my morning coffee?
While every mother metabolizes caffeine differently, and very young babies take a long time to break down caffeine (so any that passes to baby has the potential to accumulate), a cup of coffee is not likely to have a negative effect. Give it a try and watch your baby (and yourself) closely for signs of irritability or sleeplessness. If caffeine causes trouble at first, wait a few weeks and try it again when your baby has grown a bit.
More on caffeine here.
Whether you’ve had a busy morning at a moms’ group, taken a nice walk outside, or stayed at home snoozing and nursing the hours away with a snuggly newborn, you’re going to get hungry again at lunchtime.
If you’re like many new mothers, you’re on your own at home for lunch, and the amount of time you have to throw something nourishing and satisfying is limited. Like breakfasts, lunches are easy to prepare ahead of time. Family and friends who offer to help you in the early weeks can chop raw veggies, assemble a variety of cold salads, or give you soups in individually stored servings, so all you have to do is heat and eat.
- Now that you’re not pregnant any more, foods like soft cheeses and deli meats are convenient and back on the menu.
- Sandwiches are always easy, or “roll-ups” of meat and cheese are quick and easy to eat. Toddlers love “pinwheels,” made from slices of rolled deli meats and cheeses.
- Raw veggies are inexpensive, easy to prepare ahead of time (or ask a helpful visitor to bring), and can be used in everything from soups to salads, and as vehicles for a protein-rich, flavorful dip.
- Hummus can be purchased or easily prepared and don’t feel limited to chickpeas as your base!
- Canned white or black beans can also be pureed with some olive oil, garlic, lemon, and herbs and made into a delicious dip. See the microwave eggplant dip recipe on page 95 of Feed Yourself, Feed Your Family.
- Don’t forget guacamole! You can dip vegetables in it or use it as a sandwich condiment.
- Salads are super easy, too. Have someone chop lettuce, bell peppers, carrots, celery, whatever you like in a salad and store them in the refrigerator. At lunchtime, grab a bowl and pile in the vegetables. Prepared salsa makes a unique and flavorful “dressing” instead of bottled dressings, which tend to be nutritionally empty.
- Nut butters make a great quick stuffing for celery, a spread for apple slices or an easy sandwich.
Snacks will help you keep your energy up throughout a busy day with your baby. Be sure to choose foods that will provide good nutrition and save “junk” foods like candy, sugary baked goods, and chips for once in a while.
Focus on snacks like nuts (a handful is a serving, be careful not to overestimate because they are very calorie dense), fruit, one-ounce cheese cubes (or “string cheese”), and raw vegetables like snap pea pods or grape tomatoes. If you’ll be snacking on the go, prepare a small container of trail mix (a few varieties of nuts, raisins, and/or other small dried fruits, a few chocolate chips or other small chocolate candies), and have a handful. Smoothies can be another quick, delicious snack. Consider including leafy green vegetables, coconut milk or other nutritious foods in your smoothies.
What’s for dinner?
After a long day with your baby, preparing a meal may feel like the last thing you want to do, especially if evenings are “fussy” for your baby, you have a tired toddler, or you just want some adult conversation. Again, if you have family and friends asking how they can help you, ask them to bring you dinners!
The best meals are the ones you can eat more than one time from, that take minimal preparation on your part (put it in the oven and forget it until it’s ready), or freeze for a later date. Baked pasta dishes, soups, stews, and roasts are all easy to heat and eat.
Once the parade of food-bearing visitors wanes and you’ve eaten all the treasures in your freezer, turn to the crock-pot! A crock-pot meal can be prepared in advance, then started first thing in the morning and forgotten until dinnertime.
When your baby reaches about nine months of age or so, you might want to streamline your meal preparation time so that he’s eating what you’re eating. You can prepare soups like lentil, chicken, beef, or bean and add diced vegetables. Before seasoning or adding ingredients like tomatoes or spicy items (sausage, bacon), remove a portion for your baby. You might choose to lightly mash or puree his meal, leaving small chunks for him to grab with his fingers. Small alphabet pasta or rice are nice additions to soups that you’ll share with your baby.
Take-out is always an option! Try for foods that are as close to their natural state as possible—they will be much better for you than fast foods or convenience foods with lots of salt, sauces or other empty ingredients.
Keep in mind that your main job is to keep yourself and your baby fed, on demand! With a little advance planning, you can stock your refrigerator and pantry with foods that will nourish and satisfy you through this wonderfully demanding period of your life.
FOODS YOU CAN EAT WITH ONE HAND
- Wraps, pitas and sandwiches. Self-contained—no tomato slices sliding out onto baby’s head and just about crumb-free. Fill as you wish—lean turkey, calcium-packed cheeses and fiber-rich vegetables are best picks.
- Presliced vegetables. Try carrots, bell peppers and celery with healthy dips. Try hummus, tahini or tzatziki (yoghurt-cucumber dip).
- Easy-to-eat fruit. Apples, cantaloupe cubes, bananas, grapes and berries, orange slices (peel before you get comfortable).
- Baked goods to go. Choose whole-grain muffins and bagels, slices of multigrain bread.
- Smoothies. Start with low-fat yoghurt and fruit. Add ice if desired, thin with skim milk and give it an omega-3 kick with a tablespoon of ground flax-seed.
- “Bar” food. High-quality granola or energy bars. Read the labels!
- An ice-cream cone. Go ahead, you deserve it. Adapted from Feed Yourself, Feed Your Family. pages 65–66.
Behan, E. (2006) Eat Well, Lose Weight While Breastfeeding: The Complete Nutrition Book for Nursing Mothers New York: Ballantine Books.
La Leche League International (2012) Feed Yourself, Feed Your Family New York: Ballantine Books.
Diana Cassar-Uhl is a mother of three who became a La Leche League Leader in 2005 and an IBCLC in 2009. She spent 17 years on active duty as a professional clarinetist in the U.S. Army. Since then, she has earned her Master of Public Health in Behavioral Science and Health Promotion and is a Maternal and Child Health doctoral student, a graduate teaching and research assistant. Diana originally wrote this article for Breastfeeding Today in 2011.