Are you currently breastfeeding, and if so, do you have a careful breastfeeding diet that you follow? Breastfeeding not only provides your child with a host of crucial nutrients and protective compounds, but it can also assist in strengthening the bond between mother and child. As an extra bonus, breastfeeding actually benefits you as well as your baby. Studies have shown it can reduce the risk of various chronic diseases later in life, including diabetes.
However, while breastfeeding is beneficial for mothers and their children, it’s not without its challenges. It takes significant energy to produce the high-nutrient milk your child needs, which means you’ll need to ensure you’re eating the right kind of healthy breastfeeding diet. Here’s what you need to know about building a breastfeeding diet.
Breastfeeding Diet and Your Dietary Changes: Your Nutritional Needs While Breastfeeding
A healthy diet is crucial for breastfeeding mothers, as it ensures you get the nourishment your baby needs, and the energy you need to look after your little one, while supplementing the quality of your milk. In general, breast milk naturally contains everything your baby needs for excellent development (aside from vitamin D).
However, if your diet is lacking in certain nutrients, or you’ve already discovered a nutritional deficiency when checking out your DNA test, this can lead to problems for you and your child.
The first thing to keep in mind when you’re building your breastfeeding diet, is you’re going to need to eat more calories than usual. According to studies, breastfeeding in itself is an activity that burns around 300 to 500 calories every day, regardless of whether you’re actively nursing. This means you may be hungrier than usual, and probably won’t have to worry as much about counting calories to lose weight.
Your need for specific nutrients can also increase during breastfeeding, creating a higher demand for protein, vitamin A, E, C, and B12, selenium, zinc, and more.
The core of a good breastfeeding diet should always be nutrient-rich and high-energy foods, along with plenty of water. Be wary of juices and sugary drinks however, as too much sugar can sabotage any weight loss efforts you may be using following pregnancy.
Notably, if you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, you may need extra help to ensure you’re getting the nutrition you need. Pregnant and breastfeeding mothers generally need to work harder to consume higher levels of iron, protein, and calcium. You can get iron from lentils, leafy greens, and dried fruits, protein from legumes, soy and whole grain, and calcium from enriched cereals.
Depending on your typical diet or health, you may also need some additional supplements, such as a regular B12 and Vitamin D supplement, if you’re low on these substances naturally.
Nutrients You’ll Need For Your Breastfeeding Diet
Most experts recommend a nutrient rich diet for breast-feeding. However, it’s important to note that different types of nutrients fall into various categories. The nutrients which influence the quality of your breastmilk are usually split into two groups. If you’re depleted in “group 1” nutrients, you won’t secrete these into your breast milk as regularly, which could have an influence on your baby’s health.
Alternatively, the nutrients in “group 2” generally don’t affect the quality of your breast milk, but they can impact your health and wellness when you’re looking after your child.
The Group 1 Nutrients You’ll Need
The group 1 nutrients you’ll need for a breastfeeding diet are usually available to access either via supplementation, or adjusting your food intake. Some of the most crucial substances you’ll need to stock up on include:
· Iodine: Crucial for creating thyroid hormones and improving metabolic rate, Iodine is a must-have substance for you and your baby. You can find this in dried seaweed milk, and certain animal products such as chicken and beef liver.
· Selenium: Selenium is a powerful antioxidant which helps to support mental function and protects against issues such as heart disease. You can find selenium in Brazil nuts, whole wheat, seeds, and certain seafoods, such as shellfish. Eggs are also a great choice.
· Vitamin D: Your breastmilk unfortunately doesn’t include excellent amounts of Vitamin D naturally, which means you may need to increase your intake. You can try a supplement, or spend more time outdoors to increase your Vitamin D. Alternatively, add cod liver oil, and certain fortified foods and cereals to your diet.
· Vitamin B: Various forms of vitamin B are essential to the healthy development of you and your child. Vitamin B1 (Thiamin) can be found in pork, seeds, beans, and nuts. Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) is common among oily fish, eggs, almonds, and cheeses. Vitamin B6 is usually found within poultry, bananas, and potatoes.
· Vitamin B12: Crucial enough to require its own section, vitamin B12 helps with cell formation and bone development. This substance is usually found mostly in animal products such as eggs, seafood, liver, and yogurts. However, you can also get B12 from nutritional yeast and supplements if you’re vegan or vegetarian.
· Vitamin A: Essential for immune system development, growth, and normal vision, Vitamin A is something your child desperately needs. You can find this product in dark leafy greens, carrots, sweet potatoes, and eggs.
· Choline: Choline protects the liver and brain, promoting healthy development of these organs and making sure the mind can function properly. You can stock up on choline by eating more peanuts, egg yolks, salmon, tilapia, and chicken.
The Group 2 Nutrients You’ll Need
Group 2 nutrients don’t directly secret into your breast milk, so they’re unlikely to have an impact on your baby’s health. However, they’re important for avoiding various post-partum conditions and health problems. Here’s what you’ll need:
· Zinc: Critical for immune system protection, wound healing, and thyroid function, Zinc is something many people struggle to get enough of. You can find zinc in read meat and poultry, or legumes (chickpeas and lentils), seeds and nuts (pine nuts and almonds).
· Copper: Beneficial to the creation of red blood cells and maintaining overall health, copper is great for preserving a healthy body after pregnancy. This substance appears in a lot of nuts and beans, shitake mushrooms, tofu, and oysters.
· Iron: The body needs iron for growth and development, as well as to support the health of red blood cells throughout the body. Red meats are a great source of iron, but vegetarians can also try options such as kale, broccoli, and dried fruit.
· Calcium: Essential for healthy bones and nerves, calcium isn’t just available from dairy products. You can find it in leafy greens such as kale, and legumes such as lentils. It’s also possible to find calcium fortified plant milks.
· Folate: One of the top B vitamins required during pregnancy, Folate helps with DNA synthesis, and produces red and white blood cells. Stock up on lentils, asparagus, avocados, and beans to increase your intake.
Foods to Avoid While Breastfeeding
Just as there are certain foods which can improve the quality of your milk for your child, and enhance your health, there are also foods you’ll need to stay away from. While it’s safe to eat most products during breastfeeding (providing you don’t have an intolerance or allergy) there are some things you may need to cut down on.
The most common substance to avoid at all costs is alcohol. Although research is ongoing into how much alcohol can secrete into breast milk, it’s best not to take the risk. One study found nursing after just a couple of drinks can decrease the milk you produce by 23%.
Another critical substance to avoid is caffeine. While you can have small amounts of caffeine to help you with sleepless nights, around 1% of all the caffeine you consume is transferred into your breast milk. While this may not harm your child in any way, it could reduce the quality of their sleep.
One other problematic substance to be aware of is cow’s milk. Some babies can have an allergy to cow’s milk, and dairy products in your diet could lead to outbreaks for your child. Around 1% of breastfed children are allergic to cow’s milk, and can end up with rashes, diarrhoea, vomiting, and colic if you consume the substance before nursing.
Breastfeeding Diet Tips to Avoid Colic
Colic is a widely misunderstood condition for babies, but also quite a common one. The exact reasons why babies suffer from this issue is unknown, but scientists theorize it may have something to do with gut bacteria, overstimulated senses, and an underdeveloped digestive system.
Colic could also be a potential response to a food sensitivity your child has. This is why most physicians will recommend staying away from dairy products, in case your child does have an allergy, until they can be properly tested. For the most part, however, avoiding colic simply means following a healthy diet rich in nutrients, fresh produce, and lean proteins.
There have been some studies which show certain probiotics can help to reduce the risk of colic by giving infants a more complete protective “gut barrier” and stronger immune system. One report found colic improved by around 95% in babies given a course of probiotics. While you shouldn’t automatically try to give your child probiotics yourself, you can consider adding certain foods with natural probiotics to your diet, such as yogurt, kefir, kombucha, and tempeh.
Choosing the Best Diet While You’re Breastfeeding
The right breastfeeding diet for you and your baby will often depend on your situation. Mothers with specific dietary restrictions (such as those on a vegan diet) or nutritional deficiencies may need to take extra supplements or adjust their diet in certain ways to benefit their baby.
However, for the most part, the key to success is focusing on a highly nutritious, vitamin and mineral-rich diet, packed full of healthy substances for you and your baby. Make sure you stock up on the nutrients above, and speak to your doctor if you have any specific concerns.