New mothers need to know that breastfeeding will affect their diet. Although no major change need be made in their eating or drinking while breast feeding, few important considerations need to be borne in mind.
The Question of Calories
Of utmost importance is a well balanced diet for your health. Breast milk meets your baby's nutritional needs even when you are not eating perfectly. However, if your diet is too low in calories, this could affect the quality and quantity of breast milk.
It is often noticed that many breast feeding mothers are extra hungry and the body is working round the clock to make breast milk for the baby.
In general, women who breastfeed need about 500 calories more than mothers who are not and a total of 2000 to 2500 calories per day. The exact quantity depends upon a number of individual factors such as weight and how much exercise you get and how your metabolism works, and how frequently you breastfeed.
Eating small meals and healthy snacks in between is a good way to keep your hunger in check and keep your energy level high.
Variety and balance in diet
Variety and balance are vital to a healthy diet. A good mix of carbohydrates, protein, and fat can keep you feeling full longer and supply essential nutrients. Whole grains and cereals and fresh fruits and vegetables are complex carbs that provide nutrition and long-lasting energy. Perhaps the most important thing about healthy breastfeeding diet is to avoid foods that dry up milk, like sage, parsley, thyme, amongst others. You need strength and stamina to meet the physical demands of caring for a new baby
Mono-unsaturated fats that include canola oil, and fatty fish like salmon, avocados, olives, nuts and seeds can be taken.
You need to limit saturated fats and avoid trans-fats which are unhealthy. High-fat meals, whole milk, tropical oils, butter and lard are saturated fat. Getting too much of unhealthy fats can alter the fat composition in the breast milk and this can affect the baby's health in turn. As in adults unhealthy fats can negatively affect the cardiovascular health by raising bad cholesterol – LDL, it can also have long-term effects on infant cardiovascular health.
For the first month or so, you can take prenatal vitamins while breast feeding, after which you can switch to regular multivitamin and mineral supplements or stay on prenatal vitamins depending upon individual needs. Although a supplement cannot take the place of a well balanced diet, it can provide extra insurance especially on those days when you do not eat as healthily as you would like to.
Vitamin D is important for bone growth and overall health. It also helps your body absorb calcium. Research suggests that it may lower the risk of osteoporosis, high blood pressure, diabetes and other autoimmune diseases. While sun exposure helps body produce vitamin D, many women do not get enough sun and the small amount found in food might not be enough. The best way to know whether you are getting enough vitamin D is to have your blood tested. According to the 2010 US Dietary Guidelines, all women get 15 mg of Vitamin D daily but no more than about 100 – 110 mg daily. Very large amounts of vitamin D may cause kidney and tissue damage.
You need to have at least three daily servings of calcium rich foods like milk and other dairy products, canned fish, calcium fortified foods like cereals, juices, soy and rice beverages and breads. The recommended dose before and after pregnancy is 1000 mg daily and 1300 mg for teenage mothers. But you need not exceed 2500 mg daily as exceeding this upper limit can lead to kidney stones, Hypercalcemia and renal insufficiency syndrome. It can also interfere with your body's absorption of iron, magnesium, phosphorus and zinc. Be sure to supplement calcium with vitamin D.
It is imperative for you to get protein from a variety of sources including fish. The American Heart Association recommends fish for a heart-healthy diet. However, some fish, especially cold water ones, also contain DHA (DocosaHexaenoic Acid), EPA (EicosaPentaenoic Acid) and omega -3 that play an important role in brain and eye development and continue to give your baby these omega-3's from breast milk.
Some studies have found that Omega-3 fatty acids, specifically EPA and DHA are essential for proper fetal development and in controlling inflammation and peripheral artery disease. EPA and DHA are good in improving metabolism and cognitive function as well.
DHA not only helps the baby, but the mother too. Research shows that lower level of DHA can develop post partum depression in mothers.
Consume about 12 ounces of most types of fish and seafood in a week including shrimp, salmon, canned light tuna, lake trout, tilapia, catfish, crab, Pollack and scallops. If you do not like sea-food, go for omega-3 supplement, after consulting your healthcare provider on the dosage.
A word of caution – some types of fish do contain contaminants that can be harmful to pregnant and nursing women and children. Solid white or albacore tuna also tends to be higher in mercury than other types of canned tuna. The Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Agriculture advise against eating shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish because they contain high levels of mercury.
Drinking Water and limiting Caffeine
A breast feeding mother needs a total of 16 cups of fluid a day. But there is no need to keep a record of how much water you drink. Follow the rule – to drink to satisfy thirst, that is, drink whenever you feel the need. If your urine is clear and light yellow, it is a good sign that you are well hydrated. In a breast feeding mother dehydration can happen quickly and it can wreak havoc on her milk supply. So, it will be good to sit down with a glass of purified water.
It is okay to have a morning cup of coffee while breast feeding but do not overdo it. A small amount of caffeine winds up in the breast milk and it can accumulate in your baby's system because he/she cannot easily break it down and excrete it. Most doctors suggest that nursing mothers limit their consumption of caffeine and tea, soft drinks, energy drinks, chocolate and coffee ice cream, to no more than 300 mg per day.
Babies enjoy and get to know the taste of garlic, vegetables and spicy food as the flavors of food that a mother consumes are transferred through the milk. If a baby is particularly irritated or colicky, then it is worth finding what foods are causing an issue as every baby is different - some mothers swear that foods like Broccoli, Cabbage, Brussels sprouts, Dairy products, Chocolate, Citrus, Garlic, Chilli pepper cause discomfort to their babies.
A food journal can be maintained when associating problematic food during breast feeding. This is one way of finding if the baby is consistently uncomfortable after he/she eats a particular food Then you can avoid it after seeing if the baby is happier.
A vegan or vegetarian diet can be healthy while breastfeeding as long as special focus is given to meeting iron, protein, essential fatty acid and calcium needs. A mother with dietary restriction or limitation can work with her doctor or dietician to ensure that she and her baby are getting all the nutrients required.
It is essential to minimize your exposure to contaminants in food and environment while nursing. Pesticides, insecticides and other chemicals can ingest their way into breast milk. Some environmental chemicals can affect your baby's long term health. Some tips to limit the exposure include:
Eating a variety of food – as eating large quantities of one food high in pesticides can cause more harm.
Always wash veggies and fruits well and better still, peel them.
According to an Environmental Working Group in the US in 2011, some tested highest for pesticides and these include – apples, celery, strawberries, peaches, spinach, imported nectarines, and grapes, sweet bell peppers, potatoes, blue berries, lettuce and kale and collard greens.
Some fruits and vegetables that tested lowest amounts of pesticide – onions, sweet corn, pineapples, avocados, asparagus, sweet peas, mangoes, egg plant, cantaloupe, kiwi, cabbage, watermelon, sweet potatoes, grapefruit, and mushrooms.
Choose lean meats and remove the skin and extra fat before cooking. Chemicals are stored in fat.
Drink filtered water while breastfeeding as small amounts of many chemicals may be found in tap water.
It is all right to have an occasional drink as it will not harm your breast feeding baby but in general it is better to hold off drinking alcohol while breastfeeding. Alcohol does enter breast milk and even having a little may affect milk letdown reflex.
Research indicates that babies consume less milk in the four hours after the mother has had an alcoholic beverage. The baby may be drowsy and fall asleep more quickly after you have had a drink and also sleep for a shorter duration. Heavy drinking also makes it unable for you to care for your baby safely.
If you have had an alcoholic drink, then wait for at least two hours before breast feeding, or safer still, express milk first and store it for later. Yet another option would be to wait till the baby goes down for the night before you drink. Also, it is recommended to drink water with alcoholic drink and eat before drinking to help lower the amount of alcohol in the blood and in the milk.
Slow and steady weight loss is the key
While in some new mothers the weight just seems to fall off; there are others who do not lose much. It depends on your body, food choices, activity level and metabolism. The best plan is to lose pregnancy weight gradually. Take up a year to get back to pre-pregnancy weight. Do not try to lose weight by dieting at least two months after the baby is born. A reduced calorie diet in the first couple of months could sap energy and diminish milk supply.
If overweight and obese, you should be trying to shed weight earlier but under doctor's advice. Staying hydrated is important as sometimes dieters cut back on water when they eat less food. A sudden large drop in calories can affect milk supply so it is better not to go on a crash diet and lose weight quickly.