With National Breastfeeding Week commencing this week, we decided to ask nutritional therapist Louisa Dowling what food you should be eating when breastfeeding, and the foods you need to and avoid.
Breast is best – what a mother should eat when breastfeeding and why:
Healthy eating for nursing mothers is just as important as eating well during pregnancy. Eating nutrient-rich foods and staying well hydrated throughout the day will maximise energy levels which are vital for a new mother! If breast feeding mothers aren’t getting the vital nutrients needed from their diet, their body will provide the baby with the nutrients it needs from the mother’s stores leaving the mother depleted. During the first month of breastfeeding, mothers will produce about 600ml of milk daily, which increases to one litre by the time the baby is four to six months old. Good nutrition when breastfeeding positively affects breast milk quantity, nutrient levels and quality.
You should aim to get the following servings of nutrient-rich foods as a regular part of your diet:
- Protein: 3 servings – grass fed beef, pastured chicken and eggs, fish, nuts, seeds, etc.
- Calcium: 5 servings – dark leafy greens, broccoli, spinach, kale, collard etc.
- Iron-rich foods: 1 or more servings – grass fed beef, spinach, etc.
- Vitamin C: 2 servings – green vegetables, citrus fruits, red bell pepper, etc.
- Green leafy greens and low sugar fruit: 4-5 servings
- Whole-grain and complex carbohydrates: 3 or more servings – gluten free grains like brown rice, quinoa, millet, oats. etc.
- High-fat foods: small amounts – avocado, nuts, coconut oil etc.
- At least 8 cups of water, juice, coconut water or other non-caffeinated, non-alcoholic beverages
- DHA-rich foods to promote baby’s brain growth (i.e. wild salmon, sardines, and DHA-enriched eggs)
- Prenatal vitamin (daily)
- Fermented foods – sauerkraut, water kefir, fermented pickles etc. for the beneficial bacteria.
The most important micro-nutrients found in breast milk needed for healthy growing infants is calcium, iron and zinc. Adequate levels of these nutrients are also vital for mum’s health post pregnancy.
- Calcium is vital for growing babies to build strong bones and teeth. It is needed for healthy functioning of the nervous system and muscles. If the mother has low calcium levels, calcium will be leached from her bones, putting her at risk of developing osteoporosis later in life.
- Iron is required for the production of red blood cells. Infants need iron to build a healthy immune system and for the production of white blood cells and antibodies. Iron is also essential for brain development and for the production of neurotransmitters required for normal brain function. It is important that mothers irons levels are adequate during pregnancy and for the post partum period, as a deficiency will reduce their babies iron stores for the first year of life, which can result in immune deficiencies and increased susceptibility to infections.
- Zinc is needed for the production of white blood cells and a healthy functioning immune system, which protects your baby from colds and infections. Baby’s with adequate zinc levels are less likely to suffer from skin rashes, colic, regurgitation, recurrent infections and oral thrush. Zinc is also very important for mums as it helps to prevent stretch marks, help heal post birth and prevention of cracked nipples.
Foods to avoid whilst breastfeeding are;
- Potential food allergens: Some babies may develop colic or an allergic reaction when mothers eat certain allergenic foods such as dairy, wheat, eggs or soy.
- Avoid caffeine as it is a stimulant and will make your baby agitated, constipated, unsettled and irritable and increases the excretion of nutrients. In nursing mothers it appears that caffeine can reduce milk supply and may be implicated in recurrent mastitis. If you are going to have a couple of coffees once in a while, have it after breastfeeding and drink plenty of water.
- Alcohol is a depressant and is transmitted through the breast milk to your baby, making them drowsy and unable to feed properly. It is toxic to their brains and liver and can lead to psychomotor problems.
- Limit foods with saturated or trans fats and reduce sugary foods.
By Louisa Dowling, Nutritional Therapist