When you breastfeed, you not only provide the necessary protein, sugar and fat to keep your baby healthy, but you also give your baby protection from earaches, common colds and potentially serious diseases. As illnesses such as measles continue making headlines, breast milk can play an important role in shielding babies until they are old enough to get vaccinated.
So how long should you breastfeed? The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies breastfeed at least until their first birthday. Breast milk is the suggested food of choice for the first six months, and during the latter half of baby’s first year, a combination of breast milk and solid foods defines good nutrition.
In some cases, breastfeeding isn’t possible. If you are unable to breastfeed due to a medical condition or because you are taking certain prescriptions, ask your doctor which type of formula is best and don’t feel discouraged or guilty. Studies have shown that breastfed babies have an easier time in school and perform higher on IQ tests. But a 2013 study revealed that these benefits likely occur because breastfeeding moms respond quickly to their child’s emotional distress and are more likely to read to their babies at younger ages, not because of breast milk’s nutrition.
Most breastfeeding moms need an additional 480 to 500 calories per day. But it’s important to remember that not all foods are created equal. Make sure to include the following nutrients in your diet:
- Calcium—Breastfeeding moms need 1,000 milligrams of calcium daily. Enjoy fortified orange juice, cheese, milk, yogurt, broccoli and other leafy, green veggies, or an occasional bowl of ice cream.
- Vitamin D—Fortified milk and whole grains are among the best sources of dietary vitamin D, but the American Academy of Pediatrics warns that most babies don’t get enough vitamin D from breast milk. Talk with your family’s pediatrician to see if your little one could benefit from a vitamin D supplement.
- Folic acid—Spinach, fortified whole grains, cantaloupe and citrus fruits can help you get the recommended 500 micrograms of daily folic acid recommended for breastfeeding moms.
Above all, emphasize balance. Enjoy a serving of protein, fruits, vegetables and whole grains at each meal, and drink a glass of water or low-fat milk after each feeding to make sure you’re well hydrated.
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