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The Best Diet for Nursing Mothers

By Jill Corleone ; Updated June 13, 2017

Nutrition for the nursing mom is just as important as it is for the pregnant mom. The nursing mom needs to get enough nutrients to support the growth of the baby while meeting her own nutritional needs, according to the Ohio State University Extension. Women do not need to eat a special diet while breast-feeding, but there are some nutrition basics to help ensure both mom and baby's needs are met.

Calorie Needs

Calorie needs for nursing mothers are greater than they are during pregnancy. Women produce about 25 ounces of breast milk a day during the first six months. They burn about 85 calories for every 3 ounces of milk produced, translating into about 700 calories a day, according to the book Krause's Food, Nutrition and Diet Therapy. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's recommended daily allowance, nursing mothers should consume an additional 500 calories a day to support breast-milk production, with the remaining calories coming from maternal fat stores.

Fluid Needs

Nursing mothers are encouraged to drink plenty of fluids to replace the fluids lost through breast-feeding. Women should drink enough to satisfy thirst, explains the National Institutes of Health MedlinePlus. Sixty-four ounces of fluid a day is recommended. Fluids should include water, juice, milk or soup. Drinking more fluids does not increase milk volume, notes Krause's Food, Nutrition and Diet Therapy. Only the frequency of infant feeding can increase milk production.

Diet Basics

The best diet for nursing mothers is a balanced diet. The diet should contain a variety of nutrient-dense foods from all food groups, according to MedlinePlus. It suggests at least four servings of milk, three servings of lean meats and protein, three to five servings of vegetables, two to four servings of fruits and six to 11 servings of starches a day. The nutrient composition of the milk is dependent on the mother's diet, and choosing wholesome foods from all food groups will ensure mom and baby's needs are met. Specific nutrients affected by the mother's diet include fatty acids, selenium, iodine and B vitamins, according to Krause's Food, Nutrition and Diet Therapy.

Important Nutrients

It is important for nursing mothers to eat a balanced diet, but certain nutrients are essential to meet the needs of both mom and baby. Nursing mothers need to eat foods high in vitamin A, iron, vitamin E and potassium, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's My Plate for Pregnancy and Breastfeeding. It recommends carrots, spinach and apricots for vitamin A. Good sources of iron include meats and legumes. Almonds and wheat germ are sources of vitamin E. Oranges, tomatoes and milk contain potassium.

Foods to Avoid

Nursing mothers need to avoid, or limit, some foods for the baby's safety. According to MedlinePlus, alcohol can pass to the baby through breast milk and it recommends mothers avoid drinking alcohol while nursing. Moderate amounts of caffeine are safe for a baby, according to MedlinePlus. However, caffeine in excess can cause the baby to become agitated and restless. MedlinePlus recommends nursing moms limit caffeinated drinks to one serving a day.

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