The Benefits of Breastfeeding for You and Your Baby

The benefits of breastfeeding are vast, leading many health care providers to argue that it is the best thing you can do for your baby’s— and your own—health. Nicknamed “liquid gold,” human milk is an amazing and all-natural nutritional substance. If you are on the fence about it, here are a few points that may provide you with some encouragement:

  • Breastfeeding has been associated with lower infant morbidity (disease or illness) and mortality (death) as well as better long-term health.
  • Breastfeeding has been shown to lead to a higher intelligence quotient (IQ) in many studies, with an association between the duration of breastfeeding and an increase in IQ points at ages 7 to 8. Breastfeeding has also been shown to have long-term effects on cognitive development, with higher IQs in adults who were breastfed compared to those who were not, and higher IQs with greater duration of breastfeeding.
  • Risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is lower in breastfed infants.
  • Breastfed infants have lower rates of the following chronic diseases in later life compared to those who were not breastfed: juvenile diabetes, obesity, food allergies, atopic dermatitis, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, lymphoma, and malocclusion.
  • Breastfed infants are less likely to develop childhood diseases such as asthma, childhood obesity, and otitis media (ear infection), or get rotavirus and respiratory infections such as bronchopneumonia and bronchiolitis.
  • Breastfed infants are less likely to be hospitalized for lower respiratory tract disease in the first year of life.
  • Breastfeeding protects the baby from an excess of protein and may reduce the overall risk of obesity much later in life. Formula-fed infants get 70 percent more protein than breastfed infants; the excess protein causes increased production of insulin and insulin growth factor-1, which can result in increased weight gain by 2 years of age and increased fat tissue production, and may send them down a course for greater weight in later life.


• Breastfeeding can reduce a mother’s risk of ovarian and breast cancer and possibly the risk of hip fractures and osteoporosis after menopause.


• Breastfeeding may help lower the risk of postpartum depression.

How Many Calories Do You Need While
Breastfeeding?

Just as you did during the second and third trimesters, you also need some extra calories during the lactation period. You need even more than during pregnancy: about 500 extra calories daily. That’s roughly how many calories your body has to expend daily to make enough milk for your baby.

Five hundred extra calories may sound like a feast, but just as you did with the extra calories during pregnancy, aim to “spend” them on wholesome, nutrient-dense foods. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and low-fat dairy products are all excellent sources to obtain the extra energy you need.

500 CALORIES

What does 500 calories look like? The extra calories you need during nursing are roughly equal to one extra meal or several snacks consumed throughout the day. The following are some examples of foods that are about equal to 500 calories.

1 cup of plain low-fat yogurt (143 calories), 1 medium-size banana (105 calories), 1 tablespoon of peanut butter (95 calories), 1 glass of orange juice (117 calories), and 4 ounces of raw baby carrots (40 calories)

3 ounces of grilled salmon (118 calories), 1 cup of cooked lentils (226 calories), 1
cup of roasted brussels sprouts (56 calories), 2 ounces of raw baby kale (28
calories), and ⅓ ounce of raw walnuts (62 calories)

What Is in My Breast Milk and How Does My Diet Affect It?

Breast milk contains all the vitamins, minerals, macronutrients, and calories that your baby needs for the first 6 months of life in the correct proportions (except vitamins D and K). The composition of breast milk varies from feed to feed, between mothers, by gestational age, and throughout lactation (at 1 month, 6 months, and so on); it even diers based on time of the day as well as the length of the feed (the composition of foremilk, which is the milk you produce at the beginning of a feeding, is higher in fat than that of hindmilk, the milk you produce at the end of a feeding).

Your diet also has an impact on the contents of your milk and can particularly affect its taste and smell. For example, your baby will know if you had spicy curry for dinner, as your breast milk will contain some of the flavors of the spices that you had in your meal. Similarly, some of the flavors from the fruits and vegetables that you eat will seep into your milk, and your baby will experience them.

By being exposed to a variety of flavors early on, your baby is learning about these different tastes and smells, and later on, may be more likely to choose to eat those foods. Studies show that breastfed infants are less picky, more willing to try new foods, and consume more fruits and vegetables in childhood compared to formula-fed babies. Therefore, it is very important to consume a wholesome and varied diet while breastfeeding, because not only will your baby be consuming what you eat, by extension, but also it may influence your child’s food choices and, in turn, health later in life.

The content of some nutrients in your milk is sensitive to your diet
and maybe less than optimal if your diet is lacking them. The
concentrations of vitamins A, C, D, B1, B2, B3, B6, and B12, fatty acids,
and iodine in your milk are influenced by your diet, whereas calories,
folate, minerals, and trace elements are not. However, your intake of the
latter nutrients still needs to be higher compared to nonbreastfeeding
women so that your body stores do not get depleted in the process.
Note that, similar to your caloric needs, your needs for some vitamins,
minerals and macronutrients are even higher during lactation than they
were during pregnancy.

Just as when you were pregnant, you don’t need to stress about getting
the exact amount of each nutrient every day; as long as your average
intake over the course of several days is adequate, your nutritional status
and the nutrient content of your breast milk will be okay. In addition,
despite all the numbers for each nutrient that are given in the table, do
not worry too much about your intake of any one food or nutrient;
instead, focus on getting a regular, balanced diet. As I briey mentioned
before, some of the nutrients in your milk are not even aected by your
diet, and the ones that are inuenced by what you eat can be easily
obtained (from foods that you may already be eating regularly).

Breastfeeding Superfoods

While a wholesome, balanced, and varied diet is always the main goal, some foods are particularly beneficial during breastfeeding, as they are densely packed with the nutrients that are important at this time and that have an impact on your milk composition (vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B6, B12, C, D, iodine, and fatty acids). It is a good idea to incorporate them into your diet if you are not doing so already.

Lentils. A “food of the week” during the rst trimester of pregnancy,
lentils are also an excellent source of nutrients during lactation. They
are loaded with lean protein, complex carbohydrates, potassium,
folate, and ber and contain moderate amounts of vitamins B1, B2,
B3, and B6.

Kale. This leafy green is invaluable during lactation, especially
because of its high vitamin A, C, and K content, and moderate
amounts of the B vitamins.

Pineapple. High in vitamin C, pineapple can be a great milk
“sweetener” and give your baby early exposure to a delicious and
healthy fruit.

Wild salmon. The goldmine of omega-3s, salmon should be eaten on
a regular basis to get some EPA and DHA into your milk. As I
mentioned before, EPA and DHA levels in breast milk (especially
early on) will be aected by your diet while pregnant, but your dietary
intake of these and other omega-3s during lactation will continue to
aect the levels in your milk. Your baby’s brain will continue
developing rapidly from birth until 2 years of age (and later as well,
but the most rapid growth will occur by age 2), and omega-3s are
essential to support healthy brain development. Studies show that
babies of women who consume 8 to 12 ounces of low-mercury sh
per week have better visual and cognitive development than those
who don’t. In case that’s not enough to sway you toward the seafood
section of the supermarket, wild salmon also contains plenty of
vitamins D and B12 (one serving has nearly twice the recommended
daily amount of vitamin B12 and more than half of the daily
recommendation for vitamin D), B3, and moderate amounts of other
B vitamins. Finally, your milk is sensitive to salmon’s mono- and
polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are also crucial for your baby’s
developing brain.

Water. While water is undoubtedly a part of your diet already, make
sure you are getting plenty of it during the breastfeeding period.
Ninety percent of your breast milk is water, so keep yourself well
hydrated at all times. The recommended amount for women who are
breastfeeding is 3.8 liters (roughly 16 cups) of water per day, which is
a lot. Focus on listening to your body, and keep a glass or bottle of
water handy at all times (you can also drink water while
breastfeeding). Try not to wait until you feel thirsty; keep sipping
water throughout the day. However, don’t overdo it either, as that may
cause discomfort.

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