The Pregnant and Breastfeeding Woman’s Optimal Diet

Eating for Two: Some Basics

Before we delve into looking at the optimal pregnancy and breastfeeding diet, here are some basics you should keep in mind. During the period that you are carrying a child inside you and nursing that child, you are eating for two: and no, that does not just mean eating twice the amount of food you are used to eating.

Eating for two does mean that you slightly increase your normal caloric intake, but more importantly, eating for two means that you need to have optimal nutrition, getting adequate amounts of all vitamins and nutrients that are essential for the growth and proper functioning of the human body. Because what you eat is feeding the tiny person growing inside you, and helping their whole body form and grow, it is essential to get enough of the following elements in your diet:

  • Protein
  • Iron
  • Calcium
  • Folacin (folate, folic acid)
  • Calories

Basically, pregnant and nursing mothers should eat with the same guidelines in mind that are commonly recommended to anyone wishing to be in optimal health: eat moderate amounts of a variety of whole foods. Read on to learn about which foods, and categories they represent, are most important to eat during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Best Foods for Pregnant and Breastfeeding Women

Here are some of the best foods for pregnant and breastfeeding moms, given with an explanation of why they are so healthful:

1. Eggs – Eggs are a great source of protein. Proteins are the essential building blocks of every cell in the human body. Protein is important for the development of the baby’s body, and also important for supporting the changes going on in your body. Although meats are a good source of protein, there are also many other excellent sources of protein, including eggs. You should get 30 grams of protein, daily, above your normal requirements. Some food combinations that provide these 30 grams are: 1/2 cup cottage cheese with 6 tablespoons pumpkin seeds; 2 large eggs and 2 ounces cheddar cheese. Dairy products, peanuts, cooked beans, rice, millet, oats and broccoli are all good sources of protein.

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2. Spinach – Spinach is a wonderful source of iron, which is essential for the production of hemoglobin, the substance in blood that carries oxygen. Because you make so much extra blood during pregnancy, your iron needs increase dramatically. During pregnancy, you should be getting between 48 and 78 milligrams of iron, far more than the 18 milligrams usually recommended to women of childbearing age. How can you get so much iron? First off, remember that iron from natural sources is easier for the body to absorb than iron from supplements; also, keep in mind that caffeine inhibits your body’s absorption of iron, while vitamin C helps your body absorb iron better. Some of the best sources of iron include: spinach, blackstrap molasses, pumpkin seeds, lentils, kidney beans, split peas, chard, peas, bulgur wheat, garbanzo beans, pinto beans, navy beans, lima beans and potatoes. And, although it may sound strange, you can also healthfully increase your iron intake by cooking your food in an iron pot.

3. Milk – Milk, other dairy products, and other sources of calcium, should make up a significant part of your diet during pregnancy and breastfeeding. The need for calcium is especially crucial during the last three months of a baby’s in utero development, when the bones are developing–although the baby will draw the calcium it needs from your body, if you lack the calcium you need, your own bones can weaken, increasing your risk of osteoporosis. Get the 1200 milligrams of calcium you need daily from the following foods: milk, buttermilk, yogurt, blackstrap molasses, collard leaves, swiss cheese, broccoli, kale, okra, turnip greens, bok choy, cottage cheese, and acorn squash.

4. Asparagus – A cup of asparagus provides many important vitamins and nutrients for your body, including 200 micrograms of folacin (also known as folic acid), an essential nutrient for making DNA and RNA. You should get about 800 micrograms of folacin while pregnant. The following foods are also rich in folacin: spinach, green beans, peas, legumes, nuts, oranges and whole wheat products.

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5. Brown Rice – Brown rice is a wonderful source of dietary fiber, which can help you keep an active and healthy digestive tract (important during pregnancy and the nursing time). Other sources of dietary fiber include: whole grains, high-carbohydrate vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables.

6. Tomatoes – A good source of vitamin C, tomatoes can be incorporated into your diet easily. Eat one whole, slice it and put it on a sandwich or in a salad. Or make a big tomato soup or some tomato sauce to put over whole wheat pasta. If you don’t like tomatoes, there are many other sources of vitamin C as well: citrus fruits, melon, berries, green vegetables and potatoes.

7. Carrots – Carrots are an excellent source of vitamin A. Although excessive doses of vitamin A may be associated with fetal malformations, the only likely reason you would ever get too much vitamin A would be from supplements that offer excessive doses of the vitamin. Instead, get your vitamin A from natural sources, and you will reap many health benefits. The following foods are also rich in vitamin A: sweet potatoes, spinach, pumpkins, all orange squash, turnip greens, beet greens, apricots, and cantaloupe. A helpful tip to keep in mind is "leafy greens and deep orange fruits and vegetables." These items are often a great source vitamin A.

8. Bananas – Bananas contain potassium, the main electrolyte inside all your body cells. For a potassium-rich breakfast that is healthy all around, slice a banana and mix with 1 cup of low-fat yogurt. If you don’t like bananas, simply make sure you eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, as most of them contain a good amount of potassium.

9. Olive Oil – Cold pressed, extra virgin olive oil is a wonderful source of the fat you need during pregnancy. Rather than getting harmful fats or more fat than you need through processed foods and fast foods, focus on naturally healthy low-fat foods like fruits and vegetables and be purposeful about getting healthy fats. Olive oil and safflower oil are two good sources of healthy fat.

10. Water – Water is decidedly the most vital element of the daily intake of a pregnant and breastfeeding mother. Try to drink 6-8 tall glasses of water a day, to keep yourself hydrated and all of your systems running their best. Especially when breastfeeding, getting enough water is essential to ensuring that you will have a strong milk supply.

Drinking water and eating a variety of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, eggs, legumes, nuts and lean meats can help you maintain your health while pregnant and breastfeeding, as well as helping insure the health of your little one.