It is often said that a breastfeeding mother needs about 300 to 500 extra calories per day to successfully breastfeed her baby. Whilst the verdict is still out on the exact number of extra calories or servings of food that is actually necessary, it is clear that it is important to maintain a healthy well-balanced diet to ensure that your diet supplies the nutrients you need during breastfeeding, such as protein, calcium, iron and vitamins. This is essential for your own wellbeing as well as to ensure that your body can produce enough milk for your growing baby.
Fluids, Fluids and More Fluids!
It is paramount that you drink plenty of fluids when you are breastfeeding. A glass of water or juice before each feed helps to ensure adequate fluid intake and helps trigger the let-down reflex. It is also important to drink according to your thirst throughout the day to make up for the fluid used in the production of milk. Avoid tea, coffee and soft drinks (which are usually high in sugar and often contain additives) and drink plenty of water. Fresh unsweetened fruit juices, clear soups and soya bean milk are also healthy alternatives.
When I realised just how much my fluid intake could materially influence my milk supply, I made sure that I had many “drinking points” in various parts of the house like the kitchen, the bathroom, the bedroom and all my favourite nursing corners to remind myself to drink. This does not have to be elaborate and need only consist of a jug of water and/or a cup next to the tap. I found that having water easily accessible in the parts of the house where I would often settle down to feed baby meant that I could conveniently reach out for a drink before or during the feed without having to trouble my husband or interrupt the feed to get that much needed drink.
It is important to include plenty of protein in your diet including meat, fish, chicken, eggs, cheese and yoghurt, nuts, seeds and legumes for example, lentils, baked beans and split peas.
Good sources of calcium include milk and its by products such as cheese and yoghurt, fish whose bones are eaten like ikan bilis and sardines, seeds (like sunflower and sesame seeds), soyabean products (especially soya milk fortified with calcium – look for a brand that includes around 120mg calcium per 100ml soymilk), green leafy vegetables and dried fruit.
Pregnancy uses up your iron stores. During breastfeeding, you need to rebuild your iron stores with iron-rich foods such as red meat, liver, green leafy vegetables, sesame seeds, nuts, and legumes (eg baked beans), dried fruit, egg yolk, wholegrain breads and cereals.
Folate and vitamins
Breastfeeding also increases your need for:
Folate – present in wholegrain cereals, lentils, beans, peas, green leafy vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, cabbage and brussel sprouts, mushrooms, egg yolk, oranges and bananas.
Vitamin C – present in citrus fruits, berries, tropical fruit, tomatoes, capsicum and potatoes
Vitamin A – present in dark green and yellow vegetables such as broccoli, carrots and pumpkin.
Whilst it is important to know your foods and be mindful of what you eat when you are breastfeeding, you should not get carried away and overeat by trying to adhere to a “recommended” food pyramid that consists of 5 - 7 servings of vegetables & fruits, 4 servings of milk & milk products, 3 servings of animal/vegetable proteins etc. The Breastfeeding Answer Book, LLLI states that a lactating mother should "follow a basic approach to good nutrition by eating a well balanced diet of foods, in as close to their natural state as possible. As is true for the rest of the family, the breastfeeding mother should eat fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grain breads and cereals as well as calcium rich and protein rich foods".
Thus, you will do well just by following a few basic guidelines without having to worry overmuch about counting the calories or subjecting yourself to too many restrictions.
• Grill, steam, bake or casserole rather than fry your food
• Eat vegetables as fresh as possible and eat them raw or lightly cooked to preserve nutritional value
• Eat a wide variety of fruit
• Choose fresh or frozen foods over tinned and processed foods which often contain high levels of preservatives and additives
• Limit your intake of sugary or high fat foods, such as soft drinks, fruit juices, sweet biscuits, cakes, desserts, chips and takeaways and substitute them with raw vegetables, fruit, dried fruit and nuts
Foods to Avoid When Breastfeeding
Although there is little research evidence on how the alcohol in breastmilk can affect the baby, it has been reported that consuming alcohol even in relatively small amounts may reduce the production of milk. Alcohol may also affect the taste and smell of breastmilk and may therefore cause irritability and have an impact on the baby's feeding and sleeping patterns. Alcohol has also been said to inhibit the “let-down” reflex and may cause the baby to be drowsy and prevent the baby from feeding well. It is thus prudent to strictly limit your intake of alcohol and perhaps best to avoid consuming it altogether when you are breastfeeding.
Nicotine from cigarette smoke can be passed to a baby through breastmilk. While the long term effects of this is unknown, it is best not to smoke while you are breastfeeding. Smoking poses a health hazard to your baby and may reduce milk production. It may also increase the incidence of nausea, colicky symptoms, and diarrhea in the baby and decrease the vitamin C content of the milk.
You should speak with your doctor, pharmacist or your child's paediatrician before you take any medication to ensure that they are safe for you and your baby. These include any prescribed or over-the-counter medications. If you intend to use oral contraceptives, it is also best to discuss this with your doctor so that he can advise you on the different options available. Certain oral contraceptives may also reduce milk supply so you may want to consider alternative methods of contraception such as natural family planning, barrier methods or intra-uterine devices while you are still nursing your baby.
Some studies suggest that drinking too much cow's milk may cause colicky symptoms in some babies. If this is a problem for your baby, try eliminating milk and its by-products from your diet for 5 to 7 days to see if the symptoms disappear. As your baby grows older, you may want to reintroduce milk into your diet because babies often outgrow this reaction to milk. If you eliminate dairy products from your diet over the long term, you need to talk with your doctor about a calcium supplement.
Other foods that may cause fussiness in the breast-fed baby include those that contain food additives and dyes, certain gas-producing foods (such as baked beans), foods containing caffeine (such as tea, coffee, cola and chocolate), garlic, and food heavily laced with spices. To decide if a particular food upsets your baby, eliminate that single food from your diet for 5 to 7 days and see if the symptoms disappear.
The article above is meant to provide general information and does not replace a doctor's consultation.
Please see your doctor for professional advice.