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healthy eating while nursing

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Whether or not you’ve already had children, you’re probably familiar with pregnancy cravings. We all know (or have experienced) the stories of wanting pickles with peanut butter or ice cream with Fritos. My mom was a vegetarian until she became pregnant with me, and then she couldn’t stop craving Taco Bell while she carried me. She never returned to vegetarianism after that and “lost her figure,” as she puts it. This is a story she will remind me of from time to time to reestablish the power dynamic — and maybe make me feel a little guilty. Noted, mom.

Yup, pregnancy cravings can be all over the place, but what you don’t hear a lot about is what to eat in the days and months after giving birth. Your body has been through a lot – one of the biggest things a human body can go through. As a result, it’s been depleted of a lot, too. A woman’s body needs specific foods after giving birth and when nursing to be replenished.

It’s important to gather your village after having a baby, and when they ask, “Is there anything I can do for you?” take them up on it. One of those favors could be running to the store for some of these foods. If you don’t make special requests, you’ll wind up with a lot of frozen casseroles and lasagnas. Those are great, but they may not contain the nutrients a post-baby body needs. Here are foods a new mom should eat after giving birth.

healthy eating while nursing

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Chicken breast

Protein is an important part of any woman’s health and being low on it can lead to some health issues. While the recommended intake of protein for an adult woman is around 50 to 60 grams a day, a pregnant woman should have a bit more, and nursing moms need at least 65 grams a day according to Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Of course, as a new mom, you don’t have time to eat six small meals a day. You’re exhausted and busy, and when you do make time to eat, you need to get a lot of your nutrient needs filled in one sitting. So high-protein foods like chicken breast are a good choice. One six-ounce serving offers 54.5 percent of your daily protein needs.

healthy eating while nursing

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Lean beef

Iron is one nutrient that new moms are often low on. Though post-partum anemia isn’t quite as common in America as it isn other countries, it’s still important to be aware of since heavy bleeding during labor and postpartum can mean a long-term iron deficiency. To give you some idea of how important iron is for pregnant women, the daily requirement of iron jumps from just around nine milligrams a day for non-pregnant women up to 27 milligrams a day for women carrying a child. Fortunately, lean beef crosses two nutrients off of the post-delivery list: iron and protein. With that in mind, it’s an excellent food to keep on hand. A roughly three-ounce serving of sirloin tip can offer 27 grams of protein, and over 12 percent of your daily iron needs.

healthy eating while nursing

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Lean pork chops

Lean pork chops are another great source of protein for nursing moms, with a three-ounce serving offering 23 grams of protein. It’s also a good source of magnesium, which helps repair tissues – something important for nursing mothers. Pork is also an excellent source of B vitamins for pregnant women, which growing babies need for the development of their brains. Studies have found that low levels of vitamin B-6 can lead to suboptimal quality of breastmilk. Riboflavin levels are also high in this meat, a deficiency of which can result in poor quality breast milk. There are several reasons to add this food to your grocery list.

healthy eating while nursing

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Pears, kiwis, and figs

As if your body isn’t going through enough after having a baby, you might also deal with constipation. In fact, researchers have found that 40 percent of pregnant women and 52 percent of postpartum women struggle with constipation. That’s one reason that having fiber-rich fruits in your diet is especially important. There are a few that stand out as being particularly high in the stuff, with half a cup of dried figs offering over seven grams of fiber, over two grams in a small kiwi, and over five grams in a medium-sized pear. But of course, if you prefer other fruits, you can’t go wrong in this highly nutritious food group after having a baby.

healthy eating while nursing

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Leafy greens

Leafy greens such as kale, spinach, beet greens, and collard greens are excellent additions to a nursing mom’s grocery list because they address several issues and deficiencies in a postpartum woman. First off, they are all high in iron, which we’ve already discussed as an important nutrient to have plenty of during this phase of life. They’re also good sources of calcium. Keep in mind that nursing moms need 1,300 milligrams of calcium per day. And while we may not usually think of vegetables as calcium-rich foods, one cup of spinach contains 250 milligrams of the stuff, kale offers about 100 milligrams per cup, and collard greens serve up to 84 milligrams of calcium per cup.

healthy eating while nursing

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Dairy products

Of course, if we’re going to talk about calcium needs, we need to look at dairy products. Your baby needs calcium and, they’ll get it one way or another. Research shows that if a baby isn’t getting enough calcium from a mother’s milk, he’ll get it from her bones, which is why bone health is such a major topic of discussion in the medical community when it comes to pregnant and nursing moms. So let’s look at cheese. About an ounce of parmesan cheese offers 331 milligrams of calcium. Lactose-sensitive moms can stick to hard cheeses, which tend to be lower in lactose than soft cheeses and easier to digest. Getting some cottage cheese in there is a good choice, too, since it’s also high in that all-important protein.

healthy eating while nursing

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Did you know that a small can of sardines offers nearly 35 percent of the daily recommended intake of calcium? Canned salmon is up there, too. Because you can eat the tiny bones in this canned variety of fish, they offer up a good amount of this important nutrient. But seafood, in general, is great for a postpartum mom – good news for those who were desperately missing their sushi during pregnancy. Seafood is, of course, also a good source of protein so if you’re a pescetarian who doesn’t touch the meats listed earlier, you can turn to fish and get what you need. It’s also high in omegas, which a baby needs for healthy development.

healthy eating while nursing

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More on omegas

If you are a vegetarian and can’t get your omegas from fish, we have other options to share. Experts recommend between 300 and 600 milligrams a day for pregnant and lactating women, as a deficiency of this nutrient has been found to correlate with cognitive issues in babies. So don’t skip on it, even if you don’t eat fish. Flaxseeds as well as flaxseed oil are very high in omegas, and can be easily incorporated into both solid and liquid food recipes like oatmeal, smoothies, and muffins. Chia seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, and seaweed are also excellent sources of omega fatty acids.

healthy eating while nursing

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Beans and lentils

Beans and lentils are pretty magical foods for a postpartum woman. Think kidney beans, pinto beans, red lentils, navy beans, brown lentils, and green lentils. For starters, beans and lentils are high in fiber. One cup of cooked pinto beans can offer 15 grams of fiber, and a cup of cooked lentils can offer about the same, so this food group can help prevent or alleviate the constipation with which so many nursing moms struggle. These foods are also high in protein, so if you’re trying to meet your protein numbers without eating too much meat or seafood, these items should be on your grocery list. Finally, this is another food group that’s surprisingly high in calcium.

healthy eating while nursing

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Crackers and soup

It’s no secret that nausea is a part of pregnancy, and it can continue after giving birth. Keeping starchy foods like crackers and toast on hand is a smart idea because the starch absorbs gastric acid and can alleviate queasiness. What do crackers go well with? Soup! And having a broth-based soup like chicken noodle on hand is also smart for the days immediately after delivery. Between sweating and crying and bleeding, a new mom loses a lot of fluids during delivery. The IV at the hospital was meant to help with that but you can’t take it home, so a hydrating food like chicken noodle soup will be useful.

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