Breastfeeding and Your Diet

Category: Birth & Beyond

Now that you’ve given birth, you're not finished eating for two quite yet — here's how to get the right nutrition to provide your baby with a liquid lunch and everything in between.

WORDS ANITA DAUBARA

Many women become conscious of their nutritional needs during pregnancy; this heightened awareness continues while breastfeeding and later on, as they plan toddler and family meals. We explore your nutritional needs while breastfeeding and suggest ways you can meet your dietary needs!

 

Special Diet while Breastfeeding?

You do not need a special diet to produce high quality breast milk. Several studies worldwide have shown that poorly nourished mothers continue to produce good breast milk.

 

This is because your body efficiently uses available nutrient stores to synthesize breast milk. This is nature’s failsafe to provide for babies even in times of hardship.

 

According to anthropologist and researcher Katherine Dettwyler, mothers in parts of the world make quality breast milk while eating meals consisting mostly of rice, sorghum or millet, with a tiny amount of vegetables and occasionally meat!

 

Your Diet Matters!

For greater well-being

It is still important for a breastfeeding mother to eat well for her own sense of physical and emotional well-being. A poor diet of junk food is unlikely to harm baby but will deplete your nutritional stores and lower your energy levels and resistance to illness!

 

Fatty acids in your breast milk

Bear in mind also, that the kind of fats you consume influence the kind of fats your baby receives in your breast milk. One example is docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fatty acid that is necessary for your baby’s eye and brain development. High levels of this fatty acid in the foods you eat will lead to high levels in the milk you produce.

 

Says lactation consultant in private practice and vice-president of the Breastfeeding Mothers’ Support Group (BMSG) Wendy Deshpande (www.breastfeedingsolutions.sg), “DHA levels in breast milk vary from mother to mother. Breastfeeding mothers do not need to take supplements, but they may choose to optimise their dietary intake. DHA fatty acids occur naturally in oily fish and some nuts, seeds and beans.”

 

Taste of your breast milk

The food you eat affects the taste of your milk, familiarising your baby with flavours of food he will eat when he grows older. Babies like breast milk with strong flavours from spices and foods like garlic.

 

 

What Is A Good Diet While Breastfeeding?

 

“The best diet for a nursing mother is the same as for everyone else – one that includes a variety of foods, in close to their naturally-occurring state. This would include lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, cereals, proteins, carbohydrates and calcium-rich foods. This also means avoiding highly processed food,” explains lactation consultant Deshpande.

 

There is no food you need to avoid while breastfeeding. Many breastfeeding mums believe that ‘gassy’ foods will cause gas in their babies. Gas in your intestines from food eaten does not pass into breast milk. Acidic foods such as citrus fruit do not change breast milk pH.

 

Occasionally, your baby may react to something you have eaten. If you suspect this, eliminate the food from your diet and observe if symptoms disappear. If so, stop eating the food for a while. A very young baby who is sensitive to a particular food in his breast milk may tolerate it in his milk when he is older.

 

Calorie requirements

Your body requires about 500 extra calories daily while breastfeeding. This can be obtained in the form of a sandwich, fruit or a glass of skim milk. Your exact calorie needs depend on your metabolic rate and activity level.

 

Drinking to quench thirst

You do not need to drink large amounts of water to produce sufficient milk. If you drink to satisfy your thirst, you will be drinking enough to sustain breastfeeding.

 

This could be having a drink every time you breastfeed. In our hot and humid weather, you may want to keep a bottle of water handy when out-and-about.

 

Calcium needs and bone health

You may be concerned about whether breastfeeding will affect your bone health. During breastfeeding, changes in bone density occur. However, hormones increase calcium absorption. After weaning, bone density returns to previous levels and increases further.

 

Eating ample amounts of calcium-rich foods would meet your calcium needs. You do not require calcium supplements. Your calcium intake while breastfeeding also does not affect breast milk calcium levels.

 

Examples of calcium-rich foods are:

  • dairy products

  • green, leafy vegetables

  • Chinese cabbage such as bok choy

  • enriched tofu

  • ground sesame seeds

  • almonds

  • canned fish with soft bones

 

What about drinking milk? Drinking milk and making breast milk are completely unrelated. If you do not drink milk, try getting the nutrients in milk from other sources.

 

Dietary and vitamin supplements

You do not need dietary supplements if you eat a balanced diet. However, if you have a limited diet, supplements may be necessary to fill in deficiencies in your diet.

 

Lactation consultant Wendy Deshpande shares, “Those who do not eat animal products are at risk of vitamin B12 deficiency and need to get adequate vitamin B12 from supplements or fortified foods. Those who have limited sunlight exposure need to get adequate vitamin D from supplements or vitamin D-rich foods. Mothers who smoke cigarettes may benefit from additional iodine.”

 

Traditional Advice for Eating While Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding mothers are often advised by older relatives about foods they should eat for breastfeeding or to increase milk production. Much of this advice is based on cultural beliefs, religious values, personal experiences and wisdom passed down from earlier generations of nursing mothers. These may or may not be supported by science but are definitely worth considering.

 

Mothers in different parts of the world eat different foods to increase milk supply. Mothers in Northern Europe consume Brewer’s yeast and beer while papaya soup is preferred in Southern China and Singapore. Northern American mothers eat oatmeal for increasing supply, leading to the popularity of oatmeal-based lactation cookies!

 

Mother of two breastfed babies, Denise Ng shares, “My grandmother advised me to eat fish or drink fish soup everyday so that I will produce more breast milk. I listened to her and had plenty of milk. Of course, I now realise that the fish provided DHA. Following her advice helped me feel like I was doing my best.”

 
Thanks for sharing!

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