When you have a new baby, remembering to take care of yourself can be tough. But if you're nursing, it's especially important to get the extra nutrients you need for both you and your little one (breastfeeding burns an average of 500 calories per day!). "When we're breastfeeding, our bodies take fat, carbohydrates, immune cells, and thousands of other components from our blood to create breast milk," Helen Anderson, RN, MSN, lactation expert for Fairhaven Health and creator of the Milkies Milk Saver, told POPSUGAR. "If your body has to choose between taking nutrients to make milk for your baby or leave them for your body, baby will win every time."
To make those calories count, try working these top 10 breastfeeding "superfoods" into your daily meal plan, while also avoiding the worst foods to eat when nursing.
Inexpensive and easy to dress up, old-fashioned oats top the list. "Oats — packed with whole grain fiber and protein — keep you feeling full for a long time," Anderson explained. "They also digest slowly and keep your blood sugar stable, which could have a big influence on your milk supply."
Just another great reason to make an omelet for breakfast! "Eggs are a complete protein (aka filled with all the amino acids you and your baby need), and can increase your daily intake of choline, an essential nutrient that helps your health as well as the baby's development," said Elizabeth Shaw, MS, RDN, CLT, and author of Fertility Foods. Choline has also been shown to specifically improve brain development and health.
A heart-healthy fat — with 75 percent coming from the unsaturated kind — avocado is a naturally awesome food to eat when breastfeeding. "It's a nutrient-rich choice that contains fiber, folate, and protein," said Shaw. "Avocados act as a 'nutrient booster' by helping increase the absorption of fat-soluble nutrients like vitamins A, D, K, and E." Healthy fats can also improve your baby's brain health, so you can have as much avocado toast as you want.
A bowl of Greek yogurt is perfect for breakfast or a snack. "Filled with probiotics (aka gut-friendly bacteria that helps strengthen yours and baby's immunity), protein, calcium, and vitamin B-12, it will introduce better bacteria to support good health and digestion," said Shaw.
5. Beans and Legumes
Beans might make you gassy, but they're good for you and your baby. "Fiber, protein, iron, folate, zinc, and calcium are all abundant in the legume family! Adding these to your diet will not only help increase your plant-based proteins, but also help keep you regular, too," Shaw continued. "The iron helps your body deliver oxygen to your cells to keep your energy high and reduce your risk of anemia, which can sap your energy. Legumes have often been used in recipes to aid in lactation in eastern countries for many years," Anderson adds. "Fenugreek is another legume that has a powerful effect on milk supply, and it's available in capsule form from several suppliers."
"Milk contains essential vitamins and minerals like calcium, vitamin D, potassium, and vitamin A that are great for not only your health, but the health of your baby, too," said Shaw.
7. Fruits and Veggies
Seriously, eat the rainbow when you're breastfeeding. "Just make sure to properly wash and rinse all produce to prevent food-borne infection from harming your baby," explained Shaw. "[Carrots] especially are filled with beta-carotene. This crucial nutrient is converted to vitamin A in the body and important for vision and eye health, immunity, and skin elasticity. It easily passes through your breast milk to your baby and gives them all these wonderful benefits."
While you probably avoided fish during pregnancy, you can reintroduce it to your meal plan while nursing! "These fatty acids convert to DHA in your baby's body," said Shaw. "DHA helps build strong cell walls and creates a protective coating on nerves in the eyes and brain. Eating salmon or tuna at least twice a week will provide the beneficial effects of omega-3."
9. Brown Rice
Anderson said that in addition to being rich in fiber and stabilizing blood sugar, brown rice can also increase serotonin levels — the feel-good chemical that helps us manage stress. Plus, serotonin has also been shown to increase prolactin levels, a key hormone in milk production.
Packed with good fats, nuts are another food that can help your milk supply. "Nuts contain tryptophan, which converts to serotonin, a natural mood stabilizer that helps you manage stress, sleep better (when you can!), and boost prolactin," said Anderson. "Those good fats transfer through your milk to your baby, which means more nutrition with each swallow."