Everyone seems to be talking about breastfeeding at the moment, and I was actually sent a nutrition bar specifically for breastfeeding mothers the other day. When I was breastfeeding I seemed to be starving all day long, and I did a lot of research into what was the best thing to eat, and things to steer clear of. We asked expert Gwyneth Archer to give us the low-down on what healthy nutritious things you should be thinking about if you’re breastfeeding.
For many mums their hard won efforts to eat as healthily as possible go out of the window once their baby arrives. A combination of sleepless nights, exhaustion and never having more than 5 minutes to yourself all conspire to have you reaching for the biscuit tin. However, post-birth is a time in which you also need to focus on looking after yourself, and a big part of that is nurturing your body with the right foods. If you’re breastfeeding, this is extra important as the right diet not only fuels you for the difficult job of looking after your baby but also ensures you have plenty of good quality milk to help your baby grow and develop.
First things first, what shouldn’t you eat whilst breastfeeding? Well, thankfully a lot of those pregnancy restrictions are lifted so feel free to indulge in sushi, soft cheeses and pate. Alcohol should still be kept to a minimum, with a maximum of 1-2 units once or twice (just a bit more than a small glass of wine) a week recommended, so not time to bring out the shots just yet! Even foods like peanuts and cows milk are ok to eat unless you or someone in your immediate family has an allergy (check with your GP if you’re unsure).
Making sure you’re eating a nutritionally balanced diet is extra important whilst breastfeeding, as these nutrients are passed onto your little one through your milk helping to ensure they’re getting everything they need to grow up healthy. A diet that focuses on plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean sources of protein (think chicken, fish and beans) along with wholegrains such as quinoa and brown rice, will ensure you’re getting enough nutrients and keeping your energy levels up. Healthy fats are also crucial, think nuts, seeds and avocados along with making sure you’re getting sufficient omega-3 oil from oily fish. Limit this to two portions a week if you’re choosing larger fish such as salmon and fresh tuna, as they contain higher amounts of toxins such as mercury, which could pass into your milk if eaten in large amounts. Alternatively, a good quality omega-3 supplement is another option.
In order to keep your energy levels up despite the sleepless nights it will help to make sure all your meals and snacks have a balance of protein, carbohydrate (from starchy veg or wholegrains) and healthy fats, in order to keep your blood sugar balanced and stop energy dips. Some easy to prepare snack ideas include, vegetable cruditÃ©s with hummus and chicken, brown rice cakes with nut butter and a berry smoothie made with live natural yoghurt. Drinking plenty of water is also crucial as breastfeeding can make you super thirsty and feeling dehydrated will sap your energy fast. Try to avoid relying too much on caffeine or sugar for an energy boost, as in the long run this can leave you feeling more tired. If you do find yourself craving something sweet then fruit and nuts or dates filled with nut butter are a great option.
It’s also worth remembering that your body will prioritise producing good quality milk over your needs, so if you’re not taking care to eat a balanced diet then you could become depleted or even deficient in some key nutrients. For these reasons restrictive dieting whilst breastfeeding is not to be advised! If you’re keen to lose that baby weight then focus on eating good quality, whole foods, and incorporating some gentle activity into your day (once you’ve had the all clear from your doc you can get back to a more structured exercise routine) and comfort yourself with the fact that breastfeeding burns plenty of calories! In fact, you probably need to eat an extra 400 to 500 calories a day while breastfeeding, so try to make sure you get this from healthy sources as much as possible.
By Gwyneth Archer