Breastfeeding can be one of the most profoundly intimate and loving exchanges between you and your baby. It can support a gentle transition from carrying your baby inside you and adjusting to the physical separateness that occurs naturally as a result of the birth.
Eating the right diet throughout the breastfeeding months will provide maximum nourishment for you and your baby.
Supporting breast milk production
Making breast milk is an energy-depleting process for your body so it needs the support of a healthy diet. During breastfeeding, you will need to consume an extra 500 calories (150 more than you needed in your third trimester) per day for the first six months.
Eating a diet that keeps your blood sugar stable will support this milk production as well as your energy. When blood sugar drops too low from not following a balanced diet low in refined sugars or refined carbohydrates, not eating enough or leaving long gaps in between meals, eating will trigger stress hormones. This, in turn, reduces the production of hormones that initiate milk supply and the ‘let-down’ reflex when your baby is brought to the breast. Eat little and often, preferably three main meals and two snacks per day.
Eating a wholesome breakfast will replenish your reduced stores of glucose from feeding at night. You will also need to make sure that you are drinking enough water, around 6–8 glasses a day, which can include herbal teas, such as ginger, caraway or fennel (these can also be especially supportive if your baby is experiencing colic or reflux or you want to increase your milk supply).
It is thought that the diet you eat during breastfeeding is the first stage of weaning for your baby. The breast milk changes in flavour and consistency according to the foods that you eat – garlic, for example, has been found in breast milk just an hour after the mother consumed it.
Your key nutrients for breastfeeding
The diet for healthy breastfeeding remains the same as that during pregnancy but requires 500 more calories per day than your pre-pregnancy levels. If you have been eating a nourishing diet throughout your pregnancy your breast milk will be nutrient-rich. The UK Department of Health, however, recommends specific nutrients that are required in higher amounts during breastfeeding.
- Vitamin D: it is recommended that all breastfeeding mothers take a supplement containing 0.1mg of vitamin D.
- Calcium: requirements increase considerably during lactation, almost doubling that needed in pregnancy. Adding a cup of cooked greens to your meals, a tablespoon of tahini on oatcakes or eating 25g of hard cheese each day can support this.
- Omega-3: it is recommended that women who are breastfeeding have a daily intake of at least 400mg of the omega-3 fatty acid, DHA, per day. An intake of 400mg daily is the equivalent of 2–3 portions of oily fish per week and as the advice is to limit your intake of oily fish to two portions a week during pregnancy and breastfeeding, taking an omega-3 supplement in addition to eating fish may be the most effective way for you to ensure you are getting enough DHA, especially if you are vegan or vegetarian.
- Selenium: although this trace mineral is needed in small amounts, it becomes especially important during breastfeeding and needs to increase from 0.06mg to 0.075mg daily. This can be achieved by adding 150g of wholegrain rice to a meal or snacking on as little as 10g of Brazil nuts a day.
- Magnesium, B2, Vitamin K and Iodine: these also remain important but don’t need to be increased to meet the intake required during pregnancy.
What you eat matters…
A wholesome diet needs to be the starting point for all of these nutrients and if you choose to supplement on top of this, choose a good-quality brand.
Getting into the habit of having snacks readily available for when you sit down to breastfeed is a good tip for breastfeeding mothers. Find a comfy chair that you can hijack as your feeding chair for the next few months. Have a table by the side of it on which to put a large glass of water, a pot of mixed nuts/seeds or another healthy snack, a book or magazine and a radio.
More nutritional information, meal planners and recipes to support pregnancy and breastfeeding can be found in my book Your Pregnancy Nutrition Guide: What To Eat When You’re Pregnant.
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