Substantial worldwide research has established that breastfeeding is the best way to nourish your baby. Studies have repeatedly demonstrated that breastfeeding can reduce infants’ risks of allergies, infections and some diseases and may also enhance their cognitive and social skills. Breastfeeding benefits the mother too by decreasing her risks of obesity and certain cancers.
Studies indicate that women possess an astounding ability to produce adequate high quality breast milk to sustain their baby, even if the woman is malnourished. However, healthy eating during breastfeeding remains as important as it was during pregnancy. Wholesome foods will refuel your body making it easier for you to recuperate from childbirth and to take care of your baby. Moreover, a healthy diet can help you manage emotions and boost your energy levels.
I’ve heard that particular foods or diets can increase breast milk production, promote my baby’s development and even help me regain my pre-pregnancy weight – is that true?
Actually, that’s a myth just like the belief ‘you need to drink milk to make milk’ is.
A normal, healthy diet is sufficient to fuel breast milk production and support both your infant’s and your own health. However, certain nutrients are especially important to prevent fatigue and to replenish your nutritional stores which were used up during pregnancy.
Useful nutrition tips when breastfeeding:
- Eat 3 main meals and at least 1 snack daily: To prevent blood sugar fluctuations which cause lethargy.
- Refer to the Eatwell plate to keep the balance right: 1/3 of your plate from wholegrain carbohydrates, 1/3 from veggies, 1/9 from lean proteins, some healthy fats, and low-fat dairy products.
- Aim for 5 fruits a day: You can choose fresh, frozen or dried. Canned fruits (in 100% fruit juice or water) are good options. You may also drain those canned in syrup but be aware that the fruits will have already absorbed some of the syrup.
- Eat a varied diet: No need to count calories or worry about milligrams of vitamin this and that.
- Keep it simple: Making your plate as colourful as possible is enough to ensure an adequate overall intake of vitamins and minerals.Green, Red, Orange, Yellow, Purple veggies and fruits; brown rice / bread/ pasta/ cereals; white low-fat dairy products and brownish lean protein sources.
- Check food labels to make healthier choices: Choose products with less fat, saturated fats, sugars, low in sodium (or no-added salt) and trans-fat FREE.Many food labels in the UK now display ‘traffic lights’ colours so you can determine on the spot whether a product is high (red), medium (amber) or low (green) in fat, saturated fat, sugars and salt. A healthier product would have more greens and ambers.
Specific nutritional considerations when breastfeeding.
Calories: You need about 300 extra calories daily IF you are active.
If you are not very active physically, there may be no need for extra calories: the fat your body stored during pregnancy will provide adequate energy for milk production. However, if you feel unusually tired or if you’re losing more than 0.5kg per week, you may need to increase your calorie intake.
What’s in 300 calories?
- 2 slices of wholegrain bread + 2 teaspoons of peanut butter + 1 fruit
- 1 whole wheat English muffin + 1 teaspoon of low fat cheese spread + 1 hardboiled egg + 1 fruit
- A jacket potato + 50grams of low fat cheese + 1 fruit
- 1 cup of oatmeal + 6 almonds + 1 fruit
Vitamin D: The Department of Health recommends a daily 10microgram supplement.
This vitamin might not be provided in sufficient amounts in breast milk and is required for calcium absorption.
Calcium: 3 daily servings of dairy or fortified soy products to maintain your bone mass.
To meet your baby’s calcium requirements, the calcium in your breast milk will come mainly from your bones, your main stores of this mineral.
1 serving of low-fat dairy product:
- 200ml of milk;
- 1 small pot of yoghurt/cottage cheese/fromage frais.
Other calcium sources: Calcium-fortified tofu, dark green vegetables, legumes.
Protein: 2 to 3 portions daily, to build, repair and maintain body tissues.
1 portion or protein:
- 70g of well cooked beef or chicken (about the size of a deck of playing cards);
- 100 to 150g of white fish;
- 6 medium prawns;
- 2 well cooked eggs;
- 1/3 cup of tofu (70 – 80g);
- ½ cup of edamame;
- 3 tablespoons of baked beans or cooked legumes.
Omega-3: Consume fatty fish (salmon, tuna, and mackerel) not more than twice weekly.
This essential fatty acid contributes to the development of an infant’s brain and eyes.
You no longer need to limit the amount of canned tuna while breastfeeding.
Vitamin B12: Deficiencies in an infant can cause developmental delays.
Vegan mothers who completely avoid all animal products should take a vitamin B-12 supplement.
Iron: To maintain your energy levels.
Depleted iron stores during pregnancy may cause fatigue.
Tip: To boost iron absorption, accompany iron-rich foods with foods high in Vitamin C and avoid drinking tea one hour before and one hour after an iron-rich meal.
Iodine: Essential for your baby’s brain development.
Sources: Seafood, eggs, dairy foods, iodised salt.
Fluid: Drink at least 6 to 8 cups (1.5 to 2L) of water per day.
It is important that you keep yourself well hydrated to prevent constipation, fatigue and painful cracked nipples. If you are exercising, if the weather is hot or if you notice your urine is dark yellow, you may want to increase your fluid intake.
Tip: Don’t wait until you get thirsty (thirst is a sign of dehydration); keep a water bottle nearby when nursing or working.
Which postnatal supplement
Pregnacare is a well-known and trusted brand and as a result an obvious choice for many women throughout their pregnancy. As expected, it doesn’t disappoint new mums either with not one, but two different formulas suitable for the postnatal period.
Pregnacare Breastfeeding, as the name suggests, is aimed at nursing mums. It contains a combination of the most vital nutrients required for you and your newborn baby, including vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, calcium and vitamin K.
Their other formula, Pregnacare New Mum, focuses on general post-pregnancy recovery. Although it can be used while breastfeeding, it was created more with the needs of new mums in mind.
Another option is New Chapter Perfect Postnatal. It’s an organic, whole food supplement rich in high quality nutrients, including multivitamin complex and probiotic blend of three bacterial strains to support lactation and meet the needs of new mums. Although quite expensive, the supplement is very highly rated on the other side of the Atlantic and you can buy it in the UK from Amazon or small online vitamin retailers.
Foods to avoid:
- Shark, swordfish, marlin and tilefish (high mercury content).
My breasts are sore and tender due to mastitis and my nipples are cracked – can I take antibiotics?
Before you opt for antibiotics, consult your doctor first and check your diet.
Drinking enough water?
Consuming adequate B-complex vitamins and minerals?
- Vitamin B6 (from wholegrain products, green leafy veggies, lean meats) – great for sore breasts and mastitis.
- Zinc (from protein sources, green veggies, mushrooms), Vitamins A, C and E – excellent remedies that promote healing of early nipple damage.
Tip: Eating garlic (5-6 raw cloves per day), which has strong anti-fungal and antibiotic properties, may help alleviate mastitis. Studies show that it does not bother infants and may actually encourage them to nurse longer.
Do NOT diet when breastfeeding!
Dieting during breastfeeding may prevent you from enjoying this exceptional phase of life: instead, you may unfortunately witness this unique moment through a fog of fatigue. Give yourself the chance to experience it and don’t hesitate to ask for assistance!
Benn et al (2004) Breastfeeding and risk of atopic dermatitis, by parental history of allergy, during the first 18 months of life. Am J Epidemiol. 160(3):217-223.
Kramer et al (2008) Breastfeeding and child cognitive development: new evidence from a large randomized trial. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 65(5):578-584.
World Health Organization (2002) Infant and young child nutrition: Global strategy on infant and young child feeding (Accessed August 2013).