Breastfeeding is a period for nourishing your newborn baby up to his or her first year of life. It is also a time for bonding between a mother and her child. Many breastfeeding mothers wonder what kind of diet they should follow during this period. There is no major change needed for a breastfeeding mother’s diet, just a few reminders to be aware of.
Remember that what a mother eats or drinks is secreted in her breast milk and is passed on to the baby during breastfeeding. It means that a mother’s diet is where the breast milk also gets its nourishment. So, it is important to watch what you eat and drink. It affects the quality and quantity of breast milk and it also ensures that both you and your baby are getting enough nutrients for the proper development of a healthy body.
The main thing to keep in mind for a breastfeeding mother is to eat a well-balanced diet. A well-balanced diet is beneficial to both the mother and her baby. It provides strength and stamina for a mother to take care of the baby and nourishes the growth and development of an infant. It is the main source of energy that gives strength and immunity to fight off sickness.
Feeling hungry most of the time during the breastfeeding period is normal. It means that your body is working to make breast milk for your baby and at the same time to give you the energy you need to take care of your newborn baby who needs a lot of attention. Eating small meals with healthy snacks in between – the way you may have done during pregnancy – is a good way to keep your hunger in check and your energy level high. A benefit from breastfeeding is that it burns extra calories to help you lose that weight gained during pregnancy.
What To Eat?
Calories indicate the amount of energy that foods will produce in the body. While the intelligence of the human body is supreme and it can support the baby with its nutritional needs, the mother must not spare calories and must eat wholesome and fresh food as per her body ’s demands (hunger is a great indicator). The number of calories needed may also differ depending on several factors such as your weight, how much exercise you get, how your metabolism works, and how frequently you’re breastfeeding. In general, mothers who are breastfeeding need about 500 calories more than mothers who aren’t – that is a total of 2,000 to 2,500 calories per day.
The lactating mother’s body prioritises milk production and will draw nutrition from the reserves of the mother’s body if her diet is deficient. Hence taking care to supplement the mother’s diet is essential.
Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that the digestive tract cannot break down and absorb. It is less likely to affect the makeup of breast milk and the infant’s health. Although fiber shows little benefit in breast milk, it is beneficial for a breastfeeding mother. It can help push waste products through the digestive tract, helping to prevent constipation and hemorrhoids. Some forms of fiber may also help lower cholesterol and blood glucose levels. It makes defecation easier. A breastfeeding mother should get at least 29 grams of fiber each day and must get both soluble and insoluble fibre. Attention should be paid to this only if the mother is facing issues such as constipation and bloating. The best way to achieve a balance of fibre in the diet is to eat a lot of non-starchy vegetables and whole fresh fruit.
Protein is a macronutrient essential to building muscle mass and for repair caused by wear and tear. It also serves as a backup when your energy intake is low. Each gram of protein contains 4 grams of calories and makes up about 15 percent of a person’s body weight. Proteins and calories are essential to sustain the energy needed for a mother for taking care of the baby. Pregnant and lactating mothers need 20 or more grams of additional protein every day.
Vitamins, Minerals, And EFA
Vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids are necessary for all stages of our lives. As a breastfeeding mother, you require additional vitamins and minerals to help your body cope with the proper nourishment it needs. These vitamins include vitamin A (for growth and development and maintenance of the immune system), Iron (for blood supply and oxygen), Calcium (for healthy bones and teeth), etc.
Amounts Recommended In A Well-balanced Diet
Now that we have discussed the benefits of calories, fiber, proteins and micronutrients for a breastfeeding mother and how it can help, a mother can be aware of a well-balanced diet and how it can affect her body and milk production. The table below will act as a guide for a well-balanced diet and what nutrition you can get from it and what foods to eat to increase milk production.
One mother differs from another, so experimenting is the best way to figure out what works best for you. You can try different foods that can help you increase lactation. Below you can also find a table comparing recommendations of nutrients needed during pregnancy and during lactation.
|Energy (kcal)||2,000||2,450||2,500||Carbohydrates and fats from Rice, roti, bread, potatoes, butter, ghee, vegetable oils.|
|Protein (g)||46||71||71||Paneer, cheese, eggs, pulses/lentils, legumes/beans, fish, meat, chicken.|
|Vitamin A (μg)||700||770||1,300||Carrots, sweet potatoes, paprika, tomatoes.|
|Iron (mg)||18||27||9||Green leafy vegetables (spinach, mustard greens, radish greens, amaranth greens etc.), red meat, liver, dates, beetroot.|
|Folic acid (μg)||400||600||500||Meat, cabbage, banana, moringa, nuts.|
|Iodine (μg)||150||220||290||Iodised salt, fish, cheese, yoghurt, vegetables.|
|Calcium (mg)||1,000||1,000||1,000||Milk, cheese, yoghurt.|
|Vitamin B12 (μg)||2.4||2.6||2.8||Liver, milk, whole egg, chicken, fish.|
Foods To Increase Lactation
- Fenugreek Seeds/Methi: Both fenugreek seeds and fenugreek leaves are said to improve milk supply in lactating mothers. Fenugreek seeds have properties that increase milk production in lactating mothers. It ranks high in the list of foods to increase lactation. These are widely used in Indian cooking and can be cooked and eaten whichever way you prefer them.
- Garlic – should be taken in moderation. Garlic has been found to change the odour and flavour of breast milk. The best way consume garlic is by adding more to your cooked dishes.
- Fennel Seeds (Saunf in Hindi): said to increase milk supply in lactating mothers and also aids in digestion and prevents colic in babies. Chew a spoonful of them two or three times a day.
- Lentils (dals) are a good source of protein and fiber: Dal especially the red lentils or masoor dal is said to improve lactation. Moong dal is easily digestible compared to tur dal. You can prepare sambar, rasam, sattu, kootu and many dal dishes to include a variety of dal in your diet.
- Brown rice: increases serotonin in the brain thus stimulates the production of milk in lactating mothers.
- Oatmeal: Oatmeal is known to increase milk production. Oatmeal porridge for breakfast is a good idea.
- Sesame seeds: a rich source of calcium, fiber, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, copper and manganese. You can add them to most Indian dishes and also try the tasty til laddoos made with jaggery.
- Moringa (drumstick) leaf: clinically proven to increase the production of breast milk making it instrumental in helping mothers to produce more milk. Moringa leaves are abundantly available all over India and have been traditionally eaten as a green leafy vegetable for millennia. It can be cooked like any green leafy vegetable or added to dals.
- Papaya: While raw papaya is not recommended during pregnancy, it is an excellent aid to enhanced lactation. Both raw and ripe papaya may improve lactation. Raw papaya can be cooked as a sabji or added to dals.
- Water: you may get thirstier when you are breastfeeding so you should consume more water. You can also increase hydration by eating water-dense fruit and liquids like coconut water. Water is the safest fluid a mother can drink. Avoid caffeinated or carbonated drinks though.
What To Avoid
When there are foods to eat, there are also foods to avoid especially when you are breastfeeding because it is passed through the milk. Not only should one avoid certain foods while breastfeeding, but also certain actions:
- Avoid smoking, alcohol and caffeinated drinks
- Avoid gassy and spicy food.
- Be careful with medicines/drugs, avoid them unless they are absolutely necessary.
- Resist the temptation of losing weight through diet or medication.
Caution: some foods that you consume, may tend to disturb your baby’s activities through your breast milk. When you notice your baby being colicky, you should check the food in your diet. Try to eliminate the food you suspect for 48 hours and observe if the symptoms disappear.
There is no specific diet to follow during breastfeeding. You just need to make sure that you are eating a well-balanced diet which includes lots of vegetables, some fresh fruit, nuts, proteins and dals that can help you sustain your energy during breastfeeding. Remember that breastfeeding is always best for babies and that the quality of your breast milk depends on the foods you eat.