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11 Vegetables To Eat When Breastfeeding

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Breastfeeding moms are often concerned about which foods they should or shouldn't eat in order to keep their babies healthy. Although it's important to make healthy food choices, the great thing about breast milk is that it can still meet your baby's nutritional needs even if you have an occasional cheat day. One of the healthiest foods you should incorporate into your well-balanced breastfeeding diet is, no surprise, vegetables. Most veggies are rich in vitamins and nutrients, but there are particular vegetables to eat when breastfeeding that will keep your energy high and may even boost your milk supply.

Of course, breastfeeding is hard enough without obsessing over every little thing that goes into your body. While OB-GYN Emily Donelan M.D. of Northwestern Medicine urges moms to incorporate vegetables into their diets, she says there's no reason to worry that a skipped serving of kale will hurt your baby. “A lot of stuff you read is a bit crazy," she says. "If you have a healthy, well-balanced diet you don’t need to be specifically counting your macro nutrients or vitamin intake." Dana Henry RDN, a Maternal Fetal Medicine Dietitian with the University of Virginia Health System, adds that the best way to look at it is to break down vegetables by key vitamins and minerals.

Here's what you need to know about the following veggies so you can make sure you're getting all the nutrients you need to help keep you and your breastfed baby in tip-top shape.

1. Lettuce

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Lettuce is a low calorie, water-rich vegetable that is a good addition to a balanced diet for a breastfeeding mom. As Organic Facts reported, lettuce contains calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, sodium, zinc along with vitamins like thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, vitamin A, B6, C, E, and K. “Iron is essential for both breastfeeding moms and infants. It helps prevent against anemia and cognitive effects in infants that may happen as a result of not getting in enough iron,” Henry tells Romper in an email. “Term infants typically have enough iron stores until 4-6 months. Leafy greens such as spinach are a good source of non-heme iron. Non-heme iron, found in plant-based foods and fortified foods, is usually not as well-absorbed by the body compared to heme-iron (such as meat, seafood and poultry); however, you can improve the absorption by eating foods high in Vitamin C (sliced red peppers, a glass of orange juice, or kiwi) at the same meal or snack. “

2. Peppers

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Peppers are also rich in water, which is great for breastfeeding moms. In fact, according to Health, green peppers are 93.9 percent water. They're also low in calories and are excellent sources of vitamins A and C, potassium, folic acid, and fiber.

3. Tomatoes

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Another healthy veggie for a breastfeeding mom is the tomato. Yes, technically a tomato is a fruit, but according to Oxford Dictionaries tomatoes are used as a vegetable for cooking, so for this purpose they will be a veggie. Tomatoes are 94.5 percent water according to Health, and Medical News Today calls tomatoes a nutrient-dense, super-food as well as a rich source of vitamins A and C and folic acid. Tomatoes contain tons of antioxidants to help a nursing mom feel her best, including alpha-lipoic acid, lycopene, choline, folic acid, beta-carotene and lutein.

4. Okra

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Okra is one of those vegetables that you either grew up eating and loving, or are deathly afraid to try. If you've ever cooked okra, you know that it can produce a viscous mucilage (some would call slime) that is great for thickening soups and stews, but can be problematic if you just want to eat the okra as a side. According to Food Republic, the mucilage is made of sugar residues called exopolysacharrides and proteins called glycoproteins. One Green Planet suggested getting rid of the slime by soaking the okra in vinegar for 30 minutes before cooking and then rinsing and patting dry.

Now that you know more than you ever wanted about okra, what are its health benefits for a breastfeeding mom? According to Parenting Healthy Babies, okra is a good source of vitamins A B, C, and E, thiamin, niacin, and folate. It also contains minerals such as calcium, phosphorous, potassium, magnesium, phosphorous, iron and zinc which will keep you healthy as you nourish your baby.

5. Asparagus

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Eating Well noted that asparagus is a good source of fiber, vitamins A, C, E and K, chromium and folate, which works well with vitamin B12, found in fish, poultry, meat and dairy. Together, the folate and B12 act as a brain booster to help prevent cognitive impairment, which any new mom who's had "baby brain" knows is essential when caring for a newborn. Asparagus also contains tryptophan, reported Just Mommies, an essential amino acid which may stimulate prolactin, the milk-making hormone. Dr. Donelan adds that there’s some research to suggest that introducing babies to veggies via breastfeeding could help them learn to like them once they can eat solids. So consider that encouragement enough to chomp down on some vegetables.

6. Sweet Potatoes

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Sweet potatoes are a good source of vitamin A, carotenoids and potassium. According to SF Gate Healthy Eating, breastfed babies are dependent on their mother's intake of vitamin A for proper growth and development. One medium sweet potato meets almost the entire daily recommendation of vitamin A for a breastfeeding mom.

7. Avocados

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The avocado is another fruit that should be a vegetable, but is, in reality, a berry. What? Avocados are so good for breastfeeding moms and taste amazing – ask anyone who's ever eating guacamole. The previously mentioned SF Gate Healthy Eating article noted that avocados are rich in potassium, fiber and monounsaturated fat. This healthy fat is important in babies for the absorption of vitamins A, D, E and K. It helps with growth and neurological development.

8. Carrots

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Carrots are considered a galactagogue, or a food that increased milk flow. Just Mommies noted that carrots contain phytoestrogens, beta-carotene and Vitamin A, which can provide extra energy needed by lactating moms, and may also improve the supply of breast milk.

9. Spinach

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Spinach, another galactagogue, is a good source of calcium, iron, Vitamin K, A, and folate, according to Just Mommies. Vegetarian Times warned that raw spinach contains oxalic acid, which can interfere with the absorption of essential nutrients like calcium and iron. Cooked spinach will allow you to absorb higher levels of vitamins A and E, protein, fiber, zinc, thiamin, calcium, iron, beta-carotene, lutein, and 9.

10. Kale

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Another leafy green, kale is a great source of vitamins A, B1, B2, B6 C, and E copper, manganese, dietary fiber, calcium, potassium, iron, magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids phosphorus, protein, folate and niacin according to The World's Healthiest Foods by The George Mateljan Foundation. Nursing moms can eat raw or cooked kale or blend it into a smoothie to take advantage of all its nutrients. “Calcium and Vitamin D are important for bone health for both mom and baby,” says Henry. “You can get plenty of calcium by incorporating broccoli, kale, and collard greens into your diet.”

11. Pumpkin Seeds

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If you're looking for a healthy snack while you're breastfeeding, SF Gate Healthy Eating has suggested pumpkin seeds. Also known as pepitas, pumpkin seeds are a good source of protein, fiber and iron which is essential for proper nerve and brain cell development. One ounce of pumpkin seeds meets half of the daily recommendation of iron for nursing moms.

And, fun final fact: Henry says that often iodine is overlooked as a key nutrient for infants. “Infants that do not obtain enough iodine are at risk for stunted growth, intellectual delay and an underactive thyroid,” she explains. “The amount of iodine in vegetables and fruits can vary based on the soil where they are grown. It may be best to add a little bit of iodized salt to your next veggie dish!”

Experts

Dr. Emily Donelan, M.D., Northwestern Medical Group Faculty Obstetrics and Gynecology, nm.org

Dana Henry, UVA Health, Maternal Fetal Medicine Dietitian, medicalcenter.virginia.edu

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