Breastfeeding mothers spend extra calories. Though what a mother eats does not affect the quality of milk as the body is deft enough to make right nutrition for the baby but diet for a breastfeeding mother should be rich enough to fulfill nutritional needs of the mother and not render her deficient in any manner by providing nutrients to the child at her cost.
There are many other questions as well which affect the decisions of diet for breastfeeding mothers.
What food items increase milk production?
Are there any specific food items that a breastfeeding mother should avoid?
These are the common questions that come to the mind of any new mother. Breast milk is the best food for your baby. To ensure that you produce sufficient breast milk, it is very important that you take good care of your diet. In this article, we will discuss all the aspects related to nutrition in a breastfeeding mother.
As a breastfeeding mother, you don’t require a ‘special diet’ during breastfeeding. A nutritionally balanced diet is all that is required. Healthy food that is available locally and part of the normal cuisine of your family should be eaten.
Even women who aren’t well fed are able to feed their babies well. If the mother does not consume sufficient calories or nutrients to produce milk, her body will utilize the nutrients stored in the body to maintain milk production.
Having said that, it is very important that a feeding mother takes an adequate and balanced diet. Else it can affect the mother’s health in the long run. Poor diet is more likely to affect the mother negatively as compared to the baby. Nutritional deficiency and neglect during pregnancy and lactation affect the quality of mother’s and baby’s lives well beyond delivery. Therefore, mothers must make sure that they eat a nutritionally rich and healthy diet during this critical period.
What should be in Diet for Breastfeeding Mothers?
Plenty of fluids
You should drink plenty of fluids (such as water, fresh juice, soups, buttermilk, lime water, milk, etc). However, there is no need to force liquids. Drinking to satisfy the thirst is sufficient. Forcing yourself to drink fluids will not increase the milk supply.
Artificially sweetened drinks and drinks containing caffeine should, however, be avoided.
Sufficient calories and nutrients
The average daily calorie requirement of a woman is about 1800-2000 Kcal. A mother’s body consumes lots of calories in making milk. During breastfeeding, a mother’s body needs about 500 additional Kcal. This means that you should consume about 2,500 Kcal per day during breastfeeding.
However, it is not a good idea to eat by counting calories. Instead, you should listen to your body and follow your hunger as a guide to how much needs to be eaten. Ideally, you should have small, frequent meals, 3 major meals and 2-3 minor snacks per day.
Foods from all food groups
Your diet should consist of a variety of foods from all food groups (cereals, pulses, milk and milk products, fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, oils, nuts, etc)
You must eat cereals and whole grains in all your major meals. It is better to include different cereals like rice, whole wheat, broken wheat, ragi, jowar, bajra and oats in your diet. This variety not only prevents boredom but also ensures that you enjoy the health benefits of all the cereals.
Whole grain products provide essential vitamins and minerals along with fibers. Refined sugars and carbohydrates should be restricted.
Fruits and vegetables
Seasonal fruits and vegetables must be included to provide you with daily dose of vitamins and minerals. Fruits are also an excellent choice for mid-meal hunger pangs.
While all fruits have health benefits, certain fruits are especially beneficial for feeding mother. These include papaya, apricots, watermelons, grapefruit, pineapple, custard apple, pomegranate, etc.
Vegetables beneficial for breastfeeding mothers include green leafy vegetables, carrots, asparagus, bitter gourd spring onion, broccoli, dry lotus stem, sweet potato, etc.
These are an excellent source of proteins, calories, vitamin B 12 and iron.
Non-vegetarian mothers should include beef, lamb, pork, organ meats, such as liver, turkey, chicken, seafood including fish, etc to their diet.
They are also a rich source of proteins and fats.
Pulses and legumes
They are a rich source of proteins and various vitamins and minerals, Chickpeas, beans, lentils, tofu, etc must be added in your diet. Their consumption is especially important for vegetarians as they are a rich source of non-animal protein and iron.
Milk and milk products
Milk, cheese and other dairy products should be consumed in large amounts to fulfill the increased calcium requirement.
Dry fruits and nuts
You should consume at least one portion of dry fruits (almonds, walnuts, cashew nuts, raisins, figs, etc.) each day. One portion is roughly equal to a fistful of any item.
Olive oil, oily fish, seeds, avocados
They provide healthy fats which are essential for the mother’s health and baby’s development.
Foods Which Increase Milk Production
Various food products which are known to increase milk production (also called galactagogues) including various spices and herbs should also be added to your diet. These include fenugreek seeds, fennel seeds, garlic, cumin seeds, pumpkin seeds, etc.
Foods Rich in Protein
Non-vegetarian foods: Chicken, meat, fish, eggs
Milk and milk products: Curd, paneer, cheese
Soya products: Soya milk, tofu, soya beans
Nuts: Groundnuts, almonds, walnuts
Pulses and legumes: Red kidney beans, chickpea, Bengal gram, black gram, green gram, split gram, sprouts, peas
Meat: Red meat, chicken, liver and other organ meats
Seafood: Shellfish, clams, oysters, fish (sardine, anchovies, salmon, tuna)
Vegetables: Green leafy vegetables (spinach, mustard green, kale, lettuce), broccoli, cabbage, beetroot, potato, mushrooms
Legumes: Beans, peas, lentils
Whole grains: Amaranth, spelt, oats, brown rice
Seeds and nuts: Pumpkin, sesame, hemp, and flaxseeds, almonds, cashew nuts
Miscellaneous: Jaggery, blackstrap molasses
- Include foods rich in vitamin C like oranges, grapefruit, Indian gooseberry, guavas, tomatoes, citrus fruits, kiwi fruit, etc to increase iron absorption.
- Avoid drinking tea, coffee, hot chocolate, and caffeine-containing cold drinks, (colas) with meals as it decreases the amount of iron that the body can absorb.
Foods Rich in Calcium
Milk and milk products: Curd, cheese
Cereal grains: Finger millet (ragi)
Pulses and legumes: Bengal gram, black gram, chickpeas, kidney beans, soya bean
Vegetables: Lettuce, kale, mustard greens, broccoli, okra, carrots, tomatoes, dry lotus stem
Nuts and oilseeds: Almonds, walnut, dry coconut, pistachio
Fruits: Orange, apple, banana. apricot, dates
Foods To Be Avoided During Breastfeeding
No food needs to be restricted by the mother just because she is lactating. You can eat whatever you like and whatever is available locally unless the food item is causing an obvious reaction to your baby.
Certain foods and drinks, however, should be taken in moderation. These include
It is better to avoid or at least reduce alcohol intake. The mother should wait for roughly 2-3 hours after each alcohol serving before feeding the baby. Alcohol does not stay in the milk and is removed as the level of alcohol in the blood goes down.
Caffeine in mother’s diet enters the milk. However, it usually does not affect the baby much. In case, your baby is not able to sleep and is irritable, you need to curtail or even completely avoid caffeine. It is better that its intake is reduced in the initial days as newborns are more sensitive to caffeine as compared to older infants.
Spicy and gas-producing foods
Most babies easily tolerate spicy and gas-producing foods.
Certain foods especially gas-producing ones like cabbage, broccoli, onions, cauliflower, beans or Brussels sprouts when eaten by the mother may lead to fussiness, irritability, colic or diarrhea in some infants.
Although this has not been confirmed by any scientific study, some mothers claim this to be true. If you feel so, it is best to avoid that food for a few days. The baby should be watched for symptoms to disappear. The food can then again be added to your diet to see if it causes the same symptoms and needs to be avoided until you are feeding the child.
It is a good idea to maintain a diet journal to look for the association of baby’s symptoms with a particular food item.
Some infants are allergic to cow’s milk protein present in their mother’s diet. In such cases, milk from other sources may be consumed by the mother.
Fish high in mercury
Certain fish which are known to have high mercury content should be avoided by the mother. These include shark, tilefish, mackerel, and tuna.
Peanuts or other allergens
Rarely some babies may develop an allergy to food product eaten by the mother, eg., peanut. The allergy may manifest as watery loose motions, vomitings, eczema, hives, wheezing or nasal discharge. Dietary modifications can be made depending upon the family’s history of allergy to food items. It is best to have a record of food items consumed and their association with symptoms if any.
In case the baby is tolerating these food items well, there is no need to avoid them. In fact, new research indicates that if a mother consumes peanuts during breastfeeding and these are added to child’s diet during the first year, there are lesser chances of the baby developing these allergies later in life.
Foods that contain a large quantity of preservatives like ready to eat foods, soft drinks, packaged juices, etc should be curtailed if not completely avoided. The more you consume natural food products, the better it is for both you and your baby.
Do Breastfeeding Mothers Need Health Supplements?
Health supplements available in the market that claim to increase milk production may contain a variety of herbs, stimulants or other substances which may be passed on to breast milk. Many of these substances may actually be harmful to the baby. Certain nutrients and supplements, however, may be beneficial to the mother. It is always a good idea to have an idea about the nutritional composition of the supplements.
Some mothers may be deficient in certain vitamins. Taking these may benefit the breastfeeding mother.
Omega-3 fatty acid
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) which is an omega-3 fatty acid is important for brain development and function in babies. It is also known to improve vision. It is naturally found in seafood.
Low intake in mother leads to low levels of this essential nutrient in breast milk. Hence breastfeeding mothers are recommended to have DHA as an additional supplement.
Vitamin D is present in breast milk in sufficient quantity only when maternal levels of this vitamin are high. Level of vitamin D of many women, especially those having little exposure to sunlight, is low. Supplementation of vitamin D for mothers as well as vitamin D drops for infants are recommended to compensate for the deficiency.
Can a Mother Diet During Breastfeeding?
Strict weight loss programs including dietary restrictions should be completely avoided during the first few months. It is more important to take adequate nutrients and calories during this time.
The fat accumulated during pregnancy is used to make breast milk. So breastfeeding will actually help to lose the extra weight gained during pregnancy.
If a breastfeeding mother notices drastic weight gain or weight loss ( more than 1 kg per week) during lactation, she needs to review her diet. Healthcare professional may be consulted to find out the cause of such a drastic change in weight.
Does Being Vegetarian/ Vegan Affect Breast Milk Production?
Mothers on vegetarian diets can produce sufficient milk as long as they are consuming sufficient calories and all the vital nutrients including carbohydrates, protein, fats, vitamins, and minerals.
Vegetarian diets are poor in vitamin B 12, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids. So to compensate for these, additional food supplements may be taken by the mother.
Those on a vegan diet who don’t eat any animal product including milk or milk products, need to take adequate calcium supplements in addition to the above-mentioned supplements.