13 Best Foods for Breastfeeding Parents

If you're a nursing parent, adding these healthy breastfeeding superfoods to your diet can help you (and your baby!) get the nutrients you need.

As a breastfeeding or chestfeeding parent, there isn't a moment in the day that your body isn't active­ly making milk for your baby. Many nursing parents report feeling constantly hungry—a result of the extra calories their bodies use to make each ounce of milk. It's vital to consume nutrient-dense foods that help refuel your body.

So what are the best foods to eat while breastfeeding? Check out this list, excerpted from Boost Your Breast Milk: An All-In-One Guide for Nursing Mothers to Build a Healthy Milk Supply, by Alicia C. Simpson. It includes foods to increase milk supply, healthy foods to support your nursing success, and more.

Though these foods have not been clinically proven to be lactogenic (foods that help produce breast milk) or galactagogue (foods to increase breast milk supply), many have been used for centuries all around the world for these purposes, and they can provide breastfeeding parents with a nutrient-rich mix of healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, phytonu­trients, and antioxidants.

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Keep reading to learn more about the best foods for breastfeeding.

1. Avocados

Avocados are a nutritional powerhouse for nursing parents. A common complaint during those early weeks and months of breastfeeding is nagging hunger due to the increased caloric demands of nursing, which is often exacerbated by the fact that parents of newborns often have very little time to prep and eat meals.

Avocados are nearly 80% fat, which can help maintain a feeling of fullness in addition to providing your body with heart-healthy fats. Avocados are also a good source of B vitamins, vitamin K, folate, potassium, vitamin C, and vitamin E.

2. Oats

Oats are a commonly-consumed food among breastfeeding parents to help support milk supply. But aside from the potential milk-boosting properties, oats have a lot of benefits for nursing parents too: They're a great source of carbohydrates (making milk takes tons of energy!), fiber, and vitamins and minerals. Plus, they can help relieve constipation, lower blood sugar levels, and help fill you up.

3. Nuts

Another nutritional powerhouse, nuts are high in essential minerals such as iron, calcium, and zinc as well as vitamin K and B vitamins. They're also a healthy source of essential fatty acids and protein. Beyond their phenomenal nutritional makeup, nuts are regarded as lactogenic in many parts of the world (which means they might be foods that help produce breast milk).

What's more, nuts have been used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine for generations. This is especially true of almonds, which are not only written about extensively in Ayurvedic literature, but are also one of the most widely used lactogenic foods in the world.

4. Beans and Legumes

Beans and legumes are good sources of protein, vitamins, minerals, and phytoestrogens. Chickpeas have been used as a galactagogue (something that increases breast milk supply) since the time of ancient Egypt. They're a staple food in North African, Middle Eastern, and Mediterranean cuisine, making them one of the most highly accessible galact­agogues.

Although chickpeas are the most traditionally used lacto­genic legume, there's no need to limit yourself to one type of bean or legume for its lactogenic properties. For instance, soybeans have the highest phytoestrogen content of all beans. Eating a variety of beans and legumes is good not only for your general health, but also for helping to ensure that you have a healthy milk supply.

5. Mushrooms

Mushrooms aren't typically regarded as a lactogenic food, but certain types of mushrooms are good sources of the polysaccharide beta-glucan, thought to be the principal lactogenic agent responsible for the galactagogue properties of both barley and oats. Because barley and oats have proven lactogenic power, it's not a stretch to deduce that other foods high in beta-glucans (such as mushrooms) could have the same lactogenic effects.

In my own clinical practice, I've found that lactating parents who increase their intake of beta-glucan-rich foods such as oats, barley, certain types of mushrooms, yeast, and algae/seaweed have seen an increase in milk production. Reishi, shiitake, maitake, shimeji, and oyster mushrooms have the highest beta-glucan content in the mushroom family.

6. Green Leafy Vegetables

In Thailand, a breastfeeding person's first line of defense against low milk supply is the consumption of vegetables. While there's no current published research on the lactogenic prop­erties of green leafy vegetables, consuming more vegetables will only benefit your health and that of your baby.

Green leafy vegeta­bles contain phytoestrogens, which have been shown to have a positive effect on milk production. This may be the key to understanding their lactogenic power. Parents who are nursing might worry that consuming green leafy vegetables such as broccoli or cab­bage will increase gassiness and fussiness in their infant. However, this is not true: The carbohydrate portion of these vegetables, which is what can cause gas, cannot transfer into breast milk.

7. Red and Orange Root Vegetables

While red and orange vegetables have yet to be studied specifically for their galactagogue properties, they have been used as lactogenic foods in many cultures around the world for hundreds of years. Red and orange root vegetables such as car­rots and yams have also been used for generations in the traditional Chinese zuoyuezi diet (zuoyuezi means "sit the month" and is a time of resting for new parents) with the belief that they not only nourish the birthing person, but help nourish the child by increasing the quality and quantity of the breast milk.

Any lactogenic properties that red and orange root vegetables might have are likely similar to those of green leafy vegetables. The phytoestro­gens in these plants in addition to their high-nutrient density may play a role in improving breast milk.

8. Seeds

Seeds are a nutritional gift! They are the very beginning of life for every plant on earth. They provide a concentrated source of all the nu­trients found in the mature plant as well as the nutrients needed to grow the tiny seed into a beautiful blooming plant. Seeds are high in protein and essential minerals such as iron, zinc, and calcium, as well as healthy fats.

Like nuts, seeds are not clinically proven to have lactogenic properties, but they have been used for centuries to help breastfeeding parents thanks to their high vi­tamin and mineral content. Every seed has its unique nutritional makeup, so choose a variety in­cluding sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds.

9. Chia Seeds

While chia seeds might seem like a new phenomenon, they have been widely consumed for centuries and were a staple food of the Aztecs and Mayans. Chia seeds are not only a rich source of fiber, protein, calci­um, and magnesium but also have a high omega-3 fatty acid content. Due to their high fiber and protein content as well as their favorable fatty acid concentration, chia seeds help you feel more satisfied and fuller longer after a meal. Chia oil is also an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids and has a neutral and pleasant flavor.

10. Hemp Seeds

Like chia seeds, hemp seeds have found their way onto this super­food list due to their high level of omega-3 fatty acids and healthy nutrient composition. Hemp seeds have a favorable omega-3 to omega-6 ratio of 3:1 and are a complete protein, meaning they contain all of the essential amino acids needed by the human body in perfect proportions.

While hemp seeds are high in many vitamins and minerals, they are es­pecially high in iron and zinc, which are important for infant growth and maternal health. They're one of the best foods for breastfeeding parents!

11. Flaxseeds

Flaxseeds are an excellent source of protein, fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids, but in order to unlock their benefits, they must be ground—whole flaxseeds can't be digested in the body and are excreted un­changed.

Flax oil is also an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids and has a sweet and light taste that pairs well with veggies and blends seamlessly into smoothies. The studied health benefits of flax­seeds are far-reaching, from weight loss and blood glucose control to reduced risk of certain types of can­cers, cardiovascular disease, and inflammation.

12. Turmeric

Although turmeric is used through­out the world by breastfeeding parents as a galactagogue, there's no clinical evidence to sup­port that the herb has any effect on the volume of breast milk a person produces.

However, clinical studies have demonstrated that the anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric are important to the health and well-being of breast­feeding parents for the prevention and treatment of mastitis as well as to ease the symptoms associat­ed with breast engorgement. In several communities throughout Asia, turmeric is also believed to help boost the immune system of not only parents, but babies too, helping to ward off coughs and colds.

13. Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha is an herb that is traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine. It goes by many other names, including Indian ginseng and winter cherry. Ashwagandha is considered a multipurpose herb that works on several body systems at once, including the neurologic, immune, endocrine, and reproduc­tive systems. Though it hasn't been shown to have any specific lac­togenic properties, it's a godsend to breastfeeding parents who are experiencing stress.

In clini­cal studies, 300 miligrams of ashwagandha extract taken twice a day significantly reduced stress in study partici­pants. Not only did the participants who received ashwagandha feel a greater relief from their overall stress and an increase in their quality of life, but their cortisol levels were significantly lower. Ashwagandha also seems to have an effect on en­durance and energy, although the reasons for this are still unknown.

Ashwagandha is a well-studied herb, but the exact mechanism by which it works is still unknown. When you think of the many ways that stress affects every system in your body, it's easy to see how ashwagandha's effect on stress hor­mones could influence the rest of the body as well.

Excerpted from Boost Your Breast Milk: An All-In-One Guide for Nursing Mothers to Build a Healthy Milk Supply

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