Posted on July 30 2021
Breastfeeding is highly beneficial for both a mother and the baby. The benefits of breast feeding have been established by doctors, health professionals and multiple research studies over the years.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that newborns should atleast breastfed for the first six months. Subsequently, the mother can introduce complementary foods along with breastfeeding for up to two years of age or beyond.
As such, it is important for the mothers to maintain a balanced diet not only to retain adequate energy, but also to fulfil the nutritional needs of the baby.
How is Breastfeeding advantageous for mothers as well as newborns?
Before we get into the details of the ideal diet for moms, it is essential to know the benefits of breastfeeding.
Some of the direct benefits include, infant's lowered risk of gastrointestinal infection and pneumonia. Additionally, mothers, too, return to their pre-pregnancy weight rapidly and carry a reduced risk of developing chronic diseases.
Breast milk carries ample and easily absorbed nutritional components, antioxidants, enzymes, immune properties, and live antibodies from the mother. It is after all, the healthiest food on the planet.
The immune system of mothers creates antibodies for germs. These antibodies enter her milk to help protect her baby from several illnesses.
For mothers especially, breastfeeding has physical as well as emotional benefits.
It promotes faster weight loss after giving birth, burning about 500 extra calories a day to building and maintaining milk supply. 500 calories would be roughly 30- 40 minutes of a running session!
It also stimulates the uterus to contract and return to standard size. Emotionally, breastfeeding produces the naturally calming hormones oxytocin and prolactin that enhance stress reduction and positive feelings in the mother.
According to a 2012 study, mothers who breastfeed seem less likely to develop postpartum depression than those who wean early or do not breastfeed.
What to eat when you're breastfeeding?
Breast milk has nourishing nutrients and hence is also called 'liquid gold.'
The fat and calorie content of breast milk changes during feeding to accommodate the baby's needs. However, producing this 'liquid gold' is no cakewalk as it takes a lot of energy and requires numerous nutrients to meet its demands. As such, mothers need to consume a wholesome, nutrient-dense diet to support breast milk production.
Specific nutrients including vitamin D, vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin C, B1, B2, B6, B12, selenium, folate (B9), calcium, choline, iodine, and zinc are also needed to meet the high energy requirements.
The following list of foods should be specifically focused by breastfeeding mothers as they are rich in many essential vitamins and minerals.
- Oils such as wheat germ, hazelnut, sunflower and soybean – Rich in vitamin E, zinc, choline.
- Nuts like hazelnut, pine nuts, almonds, peanuts, brazil – Vitamin E, selenium, zinc, calcium (almonds specifically), choline
- Seeds like sunflower and pumpkin – Vitamin E, vitamin B9 (folate), vitamin B6, zinc
- Oranges, guava, blackberries, kiwis, cranberries, raspberries strawberries – Vitamin E, vitamin C
- Beans and lentils – Vitamin B1, vitamin B9 (folate), vitamin B2, zinc, choline
- Green leafy vegetables like collard, mustard, beet and turnip greens, spinach – Vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin B9 (folate), vitamin C, calcium
- Cruciferous vegetables – Vitamin E, vitamin C, vitamin B9 (folate), calcium
- Red bell peppers – Vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin C
- Broccoli – Vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin C, choline
- Mangoes – Vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin C, vitamin B9 (folate), choline
- Carrots – Vitamin A, calcium
- Tomatoes – Vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin C
- Sweet potatoes – Vitamin A
- Lemons – Vitamin C
- Papayas – Vitamin E, vitamin C
- Whole grains – Selenium, zinc
Some recipes to include to increase the production of breastmilk.
Should cow's milk be avoided for infants who do not have access to breast milk?
Cow’s milk may not be the best thing to be consumed by infants after all.
In fact, many people now believe that there is no need for infants to be raised on cow’s milk formulas. In addition to containing colic-inducing proteins that cause difficulty for many children, cow’s milk is a common cause of allergies as well.
In a case study conducted by Norwegian researchers in 1980, they found a common link between autism and casein from cow’s milk. Casein, a protein found in milk, is also carsinogenic (cancer causing). Read the below blog to know more:
More studies now show that bovine casein may have injurious to health. Therefore, a dairy-free diet that includes other form of baby formula, may be better to mitigate some of the inflammatory gastrointestinal and health traits associated with symptoms of allergies.
In another study, researchers also found that early cow’s milk exposure appears to increase the risk of type 1 diabetes by about 50 percent. Hence, avoidance of cow’s milk protein may also contribute in reducing or delaying the onset of type 1 diabetes.
Soy based formula could be the best alternative option.
Do I need to start an iron supplement for my baby?
The iron found in breast milk is sufficient for infants through the first 4 to 6 to six months in healthy well-nourished mothers.
Subsequent to this duration, the Academy Of American Pediatrics recommends an iron supplement starting at 4 to 6 months of age. This is especially true for premature babies, whether breastfed or formula fed. Caution, iron supplements do come with side effects, and must be avoided when you can.
Full term babies are generally born with sufficient iron stores. Hence, even if breast milk is low in iron, the iron from the babies’ iron stores is enough for the first 4 to 6 months. Iron supplements are also not necessary once the babies start eating iron rich foods like lentils and green vegetables.
Consulting with your pediatrician before opting for iron supplementation is the best idea to go forward.
Should I take any supplements while breastfeeding?
Plant based diets generally provide all the nutrients required by the breastfeeding mothers. However, there are some vitamins that require extra attention and may not be available in abundance through good nutrition alone.
Vitamin B12, for instance, is an element that may be lacking in your diet even if you eat meat.
For enough Vitamin B12 in their body, breastfeeding mothers should try to get it via fortified foods and doctors prescribed supplements. The general recommendation for daily intake of vitamin B12 is 2 to 3 micrograms.
Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin, which is important for bone health, also requires the intake of a supplement. Sun exposure may not be enough for the baby’s vitamin D requirements. Exact dosage will vary based on your current levels.
Iodine is another nutrient you might have to supplement unless you use iodised salt. Iodine is essential for optimal thyroid function.
How much water to drink?
Studies show that breast milk comprises 87 percent water, 3.8 percent fat, 1.0 percent protein, 7% carbohydrate and provides 60 to 75 kcal per 100ml. Constant hydration for mothers is essential to maintain an easy-going breastfeeding journey.
During the breastfeeding period, apart from being hungrier, mothers also feel thirstier because the oxytocin levels rise as soon as the baby latches onto your breast.
This stimulates thirst and ensures that mothers stay well hydrated while feeding the baby. Drinking 12 cups or 96 fluid ounces of water each day will work for an average woman. Drinking water and clear fluids will also help reach satiety and aid in weight loss. Aim to also consume multiple servings of water loaded veggies and fruits such as watermelons, cucumbers, zuchinni, tomatoes etc.
Foods to avoid while breastfeeding.
When it comes to avoiding any food or drink, consulting your healthcare provider is necessary.
It is to make sure that mothers do not consume food that might be allergic or do not leave out any necessary foods in the name of weight loss targets. Usually, most foods and drinks are safe during breastfeeding, other than a few that should be limited or avoided.
It is good to avoid processed foods, coffee, and alcohol as much as possible. Besides this, look out for products that contain high fructose corn syrup and avoid them at all cost. Some of the products that contain HFCS are store bought:
- Salad dressing
Mothers trying to lose weight should stay away from empty-calorie foods like white bread, pasta, cookies, baked goods, or other junk food and sugary drinks.
Also, coffee and caffeinated beverages, though don’t cause harm, but may affect the baby's sleep. Therefore, it's recommended that breastfeeding women limit their coffee intake. In terms of alcohol, it is good to wait at least 2 hours after drinking to breastfeed the baby.
Alcohol and breastfeeding.
Almost all breastfeeding mothers worry about the effects of a glass of alcohol on breast milk or the baby.
Like caffeine, alcohol can also make its way into breast milk. The concentration is similar to the amount found in the mother's blood. Therefore, alcohol consumption should be avoided or consumed only in the most negligible amounts to ensure that it does not negatively impact the baby's health.
According to The American Academy of Pediatrics, the alcohol intake for breastfeeding moms who chooses to drink should only be occasional.
They also recommend drinking no more than a moderate amount of alcohol at one time, usually around 1 or 2 glasses. Additionally, they recommend that the mother waits 2 hours or more after drinking alcohol before breastfeeding the baby.
Do not miss Calcium intake.
Calcium intake is essential for breastfeeding mothers to keep up with the energy requirements during that period. Reviews point out a 3- 5 percent decrease in a mother's bone mass during the breastfeeding period, presumably because of insufficient calcium intake from diet.
Mothers during breastfeeding have a stock of calcium in their bones. But if their diet lacks in calcium, the body will remove calcium from the bones to supply it to the breastfed infant.
Supplement is not the best option to get your daily calcium stores. Instead, the requirement can be met by consuming calcium-rich foods, including dark leafy vegetables, millets, and other calcium-fortified foods such as tofu and soy milk.
Mothers can consider adding a calcium supplement to their diet only if the are not able to eat well during this period.
Avoid consuming fishes high in mercury.
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are two omega-3 fatty acids essential for brain development in infants. Although fish is a good source for these nutrients, fish and seafood are also high in mercury, which can be toxic, especially for infants.
Infants are more sensitive to mercury poisoning and its eventual effects on their central nervous system. It may further lead to delay or impairment in their cognitive skills, fine motor skills, speech and language development, or visual-spatial awareness.
Therefore, fish that are high in mercury should be avoided while breastfeeding. Mothers can instead consider including adequate amount of walnuts, olives, flaxseeds and hemp seeds.
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