Breastfeeding Nutrition

Breastfeeding Nutrition

Breastfeeding is equally beneficial for both the baby and the mother. And while it is equally important that every human being has healthy eating habits, a breastfeeding mother should pay even more attention to her nutrition. Not only that healthy eating will help her meet a newly-increased demand for nutrients, but it will also give her the energy she needs to take care of herself and her baby. A well-balanced diet can even help her lose some weight she gained during pregnancy. However, it is also possible not to lose any weight, or even gain some, during the first few months after the delivery.

Overview of General Dietary Habits While Breastfeeding

If the overall diet does not provide all the nutrients that breastfeeding mother needs, it can affect the quality of her breast milk as well as her own health. It is estimated that a breastfeeding mother needs about 500 calories more each day. The general rule is that with some moderation, any food is allowed during breastfeeding. However, small quantities of foods and drinks can pass through breast milk to the baby and make her feel unsettled. Before making any significant changes to the diet, a doctor or registered dietitian/nutritionist should be consulted.

Foods and Drinks to Avoid

These are a few things that should only be consumed occasionally or cautiously during the breastfeeding:

Alcohol - Any alcohol mother drinks is transferred to breast milk, and the concentration resembles the amount found in the mother's blood. If you still want to drink, you should wait for a few hours before breastfeeding your baby, since an average adult person needs about one hour to eliminate each unit of alcohol (one unit equals 10 ml or 8 g of pure alcohol).

Caffeine - Just as alcohol, a caffeine is also transferred to breast milk, and babies need more time to metabolise it. As long as you are breastfeeding, you should not drink more than 2-3 cups of coffee or caffeinated beverages per day. However, even the moderated amount of caffeine intake can affect your baby's sleep. You should also pay attention to hidden caffeine sources, such as chocolate, some soft and energy drinks, as well as some ice cream flavours. Even some cold and flu remedies have it.

Cow's Milk - And while there is nothing wrong with cow milk per se, some babies might be allergic to its protein. If your baby has developed rashes or eczema, has diarrhoea or bloody stools, and starts vomiting, after consulting with your doctor, you may find you need to exclude all cow's milk protein from your diet. Your baby might outgrow its intolerance to cow's milk protein, but it is also possible that her symptoms will return, and that you will have to eliminate cow's milk from your diet.

Fish - Eating fish is good for your overall health and the development of your baby, there are some types of fish that all pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers should either avoid or limit the amount they eat. Shark, swordfish and marlin, as well as oily fish, usually contain high levels of mercury and pollutants that can damage a developing baby’s nervous system.

Nutrients That Breastfeeding Mothers Need More

Nutrients in breast milk can be categorised into two groups - a group 1 nutrients are the ones that depend on your dietary intake, while a group 2 nutrients are the ones that are transferred into breast milk regardless of your health status or intake. Hence, getting enough nutrients from group 1 is essential for both you and your baby, while nutrients from group 2 are mostly important for you. If your intake is low, these nutrients will be secreted into breast milk from your own bone and tissue stores, which will ensure that your baby always gets the right amount, even though your body stores might eventually become depleted. To avoid potential nutrient deficiency, you should make sure you get enough these nutrients from your diet or supplements.

Group 1 nutrients - vitamins B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B6, B12, choline, vitamins A and D, selenium, and iodine.

Group 2 nutrients - folate, calcium, iron, copper, and zinc.

Breastfeeding and Supplements

Breastfeeding mothers should always be sceptical when it comes to supplements, but there are still some supplements that breastfeeding mothers may benefit from.

Omega-3 (DHA) - Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is a long-chain omega-3 fatty acid that is essential for the healthy growth and development of the infants' brain, as well as for maintaining a normal brain function in adults. Its primary source is seafood, including fatty fish and algae. An omega-3 deficiency in early life has been linked to several behavioural problems, such as ADHD, learning disabilities and aggressiveness. Since the amount of omega-3 acids in breast milk depends on mother's intake, it is recommended that breastfeeding mothers take at least 100–300 mg of DHA and 2.6 grams of omega-3 fatty acids per day.

Vitamin D - Vitamin D is essential for overall health, especially for bones and immune function. Its primary sources are fatty fish and fish liver oils, as well as fortified foods. Breast milk usually contains low amounts of Vitamin D, especially if there is no much sun exposure. A vitamin D deficiency in early childhood may cause seizures, rickets, and muscle weakness, and it is also linked to the development of several diseases. Hence, a vitamin D supplementation of breastfeeding mothers and infants is recommended. Breastfed babies from birth to one year of age should take 8.5 to 10mcg of vitamin D per day.

Multivitamins - Due to pregnancy-related nausea, food aversions or a chronic lack of variation in the diet, some women may lack key nutrients. All these vitamins are present in relatively large amounts in standard multivitamin tablets, so some breastfeeding mothers may benefit from taking those supplements.

Scientifically Proven Foods and Nutrients That Can Boost Lactation

First of all, make sure that you are getting enough water, since dehydration may lower your milk supply. Keep a bottle of water with you, especially when you are breastfeeding, and try to eat more foods that contain higher amounts of water, such as fruits and vegetables. Certain herbs and foods, such as fenugreek, blessed thistle, oats, fennel seed, and brewer's yeast, are traditionally used worldwide to stimulate milk production.

Breastfeeding - Best for Everyone

Breastfeeding is free, convenient, and eco-friendly. It is also good for a mother, too. It helps her uterus return to its normal size after the delivery, and it usually delays the return of periods. Breastfeeding also reduces a mother's risk of developing osteoporosis (brittle bones), as well as some types of cancer (breast cancer, ovarian cancer, cervical cancer, and uterine cancer). The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that infants are exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life to achieve optimal growth, development and health. After that period, babies should continue nursing for up to two years of age and beyond, alongside complementary foods. No matter how long a mother breastfeeds, it is always good for her and the baby. However, when it comes down to it, fed is best - breastfeeding is not always successful and that's ok too.

Breastfeeding in the UK

Even though more mothers are breastfeeding, continuation rates in the UK are still among the lowest ones worldwide. The figures from the 2010 Infant Feeding Survey show some significant improvements from the 2005 survey.

The percentage of babies who were breastfed at birth in the UK has increased by 5% (from 76% to 81%).

The initial breastfeeding rate in 2010 was 83% in England, 74% in Scotland, 71% in Wales, and only 64% in Northern Ireland.

Solids are introduced later, with a significant fall in the number introducing solids by four months from 51% of mothers were introducing solids by four months in 2005, while in 2010 that percentage has lowered by 21%.

Breastfeeding Support

First-time parents need time to adjust to their new roles, and, sometimes, even an experienced mother might feel like she is unable to satisfy everybody's needs. Many mothers do not receive enough support after the delivery, and just try to do too much. All mothers need skilled help and practical support, and this is where they can find it:

La Leche League GB

The Association of Breastfeeding Mothers (ABM)

The Breastfeeding Network (BfN)

The National Breastfeeding Helpline


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