Start thinking about your post-pregnancy diet now. You'll need more healthy calories for breastfeeding.

Colorful fruits and vegetables
Credit: Levi Brown

A nutritious diet is especially important after delivery if you breastfeed. During breastfeeding, you'll need to consume enough healthy food for you and your baby. Breastfeeding women need about 200 calories a day more than during pregnancy, or 500 calories a day more than before pregnancy. Resist the temptation to go on a diet after delivery. If you don't eat enough, your body will make less breast milk. You'll have plenty of time in future months to lose weight.

Healthy ways to increase calorie consumption. The best way to increase your calorie intake during breastfeeding is to add nutritious foods such as fat-free milk and yogurt; lean meats, poultry, fish, and eggs; and whole grains. Some excellent 200-calorie diet additions include half a turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread; a bowl of whole grain cereal with milk; a scrambled egg and a slice of whole wheat toast; and leftover chicken and a glass of milk. Legumes, fruits, and vegetables will continue to serve a crucial role in your diet because they provide a wealth of nutrients for you and your baby.

Getting the right nutrients. While you're nursing, your body requires more of most vitamins and minerals than it needed before or during pregnancy, including vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, riboflavin, folic acid, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, pantothenic acid, biotin, choline, chromium, calcium, copper, iodine, manganese, selenium, and zinc, among others.

Your body puts your nursing baby first in line for vitamins and minerals; if you don't get enough nutrients in your diet for both you and your baby, your body's stored nutrients will go into the breast milk, leaving you without them.

Ask your doctor whether you should continue to take your prenatal vitamins; some doctors recommend it, particularly if you're planning on conceiving again within a year or two. Or your doctor may recommend an ordinary multivitamin rather than a prenatal vitamin. Food is the best way to get the nutrients you need, but vitamin supplements serve as a good insurance policy in case you fall short in any areas of your diet.

Plan meals now for the first few weeks postpartum. After you bring your new baby home, you will probably feel too tired to put together nutritious meals. If you can, make some dinners now and freeze them. Better yet, ask family and friends to help out with meals after your baby is born. If someone asks, "How can I help?" tell her you'd love a huge fruit salad or a platter of ready-to-eat vegetables delivered every couple of days for the first few weeks. Washing, peeling, and cutting produce will be the last thing you'll want to do during your baby's first few weeks of life.

Originally published in You & Your Baby: Pregnancy.

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