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Your breastfeeding diet

Confused about what you should eat while breastfeeding? Despite what you may have heard, your diet doesn’t require loads of extra calories, gallons of water, or many dietary restrictions, says Ellen Desjardins, a registered dietitian and public health nutritionist with the Waterloo Region Community Health Department. Here are some common breastfeeding myths, debunked.

MYTH: Coffee, alcohol, spicy foods, garlic and cabbage are off-limits.

REALITY: Traces of caffeine and alcohol do turn up in your breastmilk, so moderation is the key. One cup of coffee is not significant, but if you drink coffee or strong tea throughout the day, you may end up with an irritable baby. An occasional glass of wine is okay too — though nobody looking after a baby should drink to the point of being impaired. As for strong flavours, they can affect the taste of breastmilk, but some infants actually like the taste of garlic. In general, babies become accustomed to the flavours that are common in mom's diet, so don't assume that foods like cabbage will cause your baby to reject your breastmilk or become more gassy. The time to eliminate specific foods is when your baby is consistently irritated by them.

MYTH: Breastfeeding drains your bones of calcium so you need to drink more milk.

REALITY: According to the most recent recommendations, there's no need to increase calcium intake during lactation. Some calcium is taken from your bones during breastfeeding, but it's replaced once the baby is weaned. Breastfeeding women aren't at greater risk for osteoporosis, either. Just make sure you have about three to four daily servings of dairy products or soy drink (calcium and vitamin D fortified) in order to get the recommended 1,000 mg of calcium per day.

MYTH: Breastfeeding requires lots of extra calories.

REALITY: Not always. Breastfeeding women need to add two to three extra servings, each day, according to Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide. That translates to an extra fruit and a yogurt for a snack, or an extra slice of toast at breakfast and an extra glass of milk at dinner. Unless you're underweight, your body uses calories efficiently for milk production. Be sure to follow Canada’s food guidelines (http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/food-guide-aliment/index-eng.php) and keep moderately active. But avoid drastic diets or excessive exercise, which can decrease your milk supply.

That said, there are a couple of important nutrients you might want to pay attention to. Orange-coloured vegetables and fruits are an excellent source of beta carotene, which the body turns into vitamin A and is necessary for healthy growth and development—so go wild with these foods! The fats in breastmilk also vary according to your diet, so choose fat sources like plant oils and some fish oil, which make your breastmilk rich in healthier polyunsaturated fats. In addition, a daily multivitamin with folic acid (at least 400 micrograms or 0.4 mg) and iron is important, even if you are eating well. There are several multivitamins designed for pregnant women with the appropriate amounts of recommended supplements. Your Pharmacist can help you select an appropriate multivitamin.

Overall, enjoy a balanced diet rich in whole grains, legumes, fruit and vegetables, don't go overboard with the calories, exercise moderately and drink plenty of healthy fluids (such as water, milk or fortified soy beverage).