In a previous article on breastfeeding, we looked at the advantages of breastfeeding to newborn infants, and factors that promote milk production.
In this article, we will consider dietary changes that are required for good breastfeeding.
Lactation can make considerable demands on the nutrition of the mother, as will become evident below. However, the old idea that you must "eat for two" during pregnancy and when breastfeeding is incorrect and excessive intakes of energy may contribute to weight gain after the birth of a baby.
A lactating mother needs to increase her energy intake by 2100 kJ/day. In other words, a woman of normal weight, who would usually require 9 200 kJ a day when not breastfeeding, needs to increase her energy intake to 11 300 kJ on a daily basis to provide energy for her own needs and for those of her growing infant.
Women who were overweight or obese before their pregnancies, or gained excessive weight during pregnancy, need not increase their energy intake to such an extent. A slight increase of 600 to 1000 kJ per day should be more than adequate for overweight and obese mothers.
Breastfeeding and weight loss
On the other hand, those mothers who were underweight or undernourished in their pregnancies will not have any fat reserves to produce milk for their babies.
In addition, any mother who uses a strict weight-reduction diet in an attempt to rapidly lose weight after the birth of her child, will not be able to produce sufficient milk for her infant's needs.
If you are contemplating going on a strict diet after the birth of your baby, please wait until you have stopped breastfeeding. Breastfeeding your baby is the single most important gift you can give your child, which will influence his health for the rest of his life and even prevent him from suffering from obesity in years to come.
Don't put yourself and your own weight first at this crucial stage. Rather allow breastfeeding to become well established while you eat a normal, balanced diet that provides enough energy for your milk production.
For every 100ml of milk a mother produces, she uses up 360 kJ of energy. Remember that to produce plenty of milk, you need to encourage your baby to suck as regularly as possible. Once your milk production is well established, you can reduce your energy intake modestly by about 1100 kJ down to 10 000 kJ per day.
It is always advisable for breastfeeding mothers who want to or need to lose weight to consult a clinical dietician who will work out how much energy and other nutrients you and your baby require to stay healthy and thrive.
Breastfeeding mothers need about 15g of extra protein a day, especially for the first six months of lactation. Eat slightly more lean meat or fish or fat-free cottage cheese or yoghurt to ensure that you ingest sufficient protein for you and your baby's needs.
The fats in breast milk are directly influenced by the fats the mother eats. It is desirable for breastfeeding mothers to try and cut down on their intake of saturated fat, and rather eat mono- and polyunsaturated fats and oils (soft tub margarine, olive and canola oils) and, if possible, to take an omega-3 supplement.
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for the normal development of the infant's brain, nervous system and eyes. If you have not been taking an omega-3 supplement like salmon oil tablets during pregnancy, start taking omega- 3 during breastfeeding, because babies continue to develop their brain and nervous system for at least a year after birth.
In addition to salmon oil capsules, you can use foods enriched with omega-3 such as specially produced eggs and milk (check in the supermarket).
Vitamins and minerals
If you are eating a well-balanced diet, you should be ingesting sufficient vitamins and minerals for your own and your baby's needs.
Such a diet would contain plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, whole and unprocessed grains and cereals, low-fat milk and dairy products, lean meat, fish (at least 2-3 times a week for the omega-3 content), 4 eggs per week, legumes, and poly- or monounsaturated oils and fats.
In some cases, mothers who are breastfeeding may need to take supplements, but discuss this with your dietician or paediatrician. For example, a woman who was malnourished or underweight, or who did not eat healthy foods during pregnancy, could be deficient in iron, zinc, selenium, calcium, the B-vitamins and other important nutrients.
Your doctor will prescribe the necessary supplements such as iron or vitamin B complex to help you provide for your baby.
What to avoid during breastfeeding
Many chemicals and substances pass from the mother into breast milk. Avoid all medications and over-the-counter products, including herbs and diet pills, when you are breastfeeding, unless medications have been specifically prescribed by your doctor. Also avoid alcohol as this can pass into breast milk.
If your baby is colicky, you may have to cut out all spicy foods (pickles, curry etc.), and some vegetables which may lead to gas production. This includes the cabbage family, raw onions, garlic, cucumber, sweet peppers, and legumes (dry cooked beans, peas and lentils). You will soon notice if your diet is making your baby uncomfortable.
Breastfeeding should be a natural and rewarding experience and give your baby the very best start in his or her life. – (Dr Ingrid van Heerden, DietDoc)
- Mahan LK & Escott-Stump S (2000). Krause's Food, Nutrition & Diet Therapy. 10th Ed, WB Saunders Co, Philadephia, USA.
The bumpy road to breastfeeding
Breastfeeding – the first few days