Breastfeeding and Nutrition

Pregnancy and breastfeeding are two significant periods in a woman’s life where nutrition plays a crucial role. There are several important considerations to ensure both the mother and baby receive the necessary nutrients. In this article, we will explore various recommendations for maintaining a healthy diet during breastfeeding.

Why is it important to eat differently when breastfeeding?

During breastfeeding, your diet becomes doubly important as the nutrients you consume not only meet your own physiological needs but also contribute to the quality of breast milk, which serves as your baby’s exclusive food.

Breast milk is the best food for your baby. It contains all the necessary nutrients for optimal growth and development. It provides an ideal balance of vitamins, minerals, trace elements, carbohydrates, lipids, and proteins to ensure your baby’s good health.

Breast milk evolves continuously to adapt to your infant’s changing needs throughout the breastfeeding journey. Its composition, especially the lipid content, may vary over time, even within a single day. This adaptability is a significant advantage over formula milk.

In general, a breastfeeding mother’s diet does not differ significantly from a regular diet, but it should be well-balanced and of good quality. It’s also helpful to know which foods to prioritize or avoid, as well as the important nutrients for breastfeeding.

What foods are best during breastfeeding?

Since breast milk is the primary source of nutrition for newborns, it’s crucial to focus on consuming a balanced and varied diet. This ensures that breast milk provides all the necessary nutrients for your baby while meeting the increased energy demands of the mother. Breastfeeding requires a substantial amount of energy, and fatigue can make feedings challenging. For instance, iodine requirements…

While it’s essential to consume a wide range of foods and nutrients, particular attention should be given to lipids, especially omega-3 fatty acids. Three types of omega-3s are particularly important for nursing mothers and human health in general: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

Consuming foods rich in DHA during breastfeeding contributes to the better eye and brain development in breastfed infants.

Sources of dietary omega-3s include both animal and plant-based foods. Opt for small fish low on the food chain, such as sardines and mackerel. Additionally, flax and chia seeds, walnut, rapeseed, and linseed oils, and walnuts are good plant-based sources of omega-3s.

In case of a temporary reduction in lactation, it may be beneficial to explore and consume galactogenic foods or herbs. These are known to stimulate milk production. Fennel, fenugreek, green aniseed, black caraway (or meadow cumin), and galéga officinale are considered galactogenic substances and can be consumed when the milk supply starts to decrease. They help sustain breastfeeding and minimize the need for infant formula.

However, it’s important not to overconsume galactogenic substances as excessive intake can have counterproductive effects and potentially clog milk ducts.

What foods should be avoided during breastfeeding?

Unlike during pregnancy, breastfeeding is less restrictive when it comes to food choices. There are still a few foods that are not recommended and should be avoided, although the list is much shorter. Let’s address some common misconceptions.

In addition to discussing galactogenic substances in the previous section, we can include anti-galactogenic substances in this category. These substances have the potential to decrease or halt milk production.

Sage, for example, is largely advised against during lactation. It contains phytoestrogens, which are similar to the female hormones secreted by the ovaries called estrogens. Estrogens play a role in suppressing lactation by blocking the mammary gland’s response to prolactin. Consequently, sage can reduce breast milk production and hinder breastfeeding. To maintain breastfeeding, it is advisable to avoid dishes and drinks containing sage, such as herbal teas.

Soy contains isoflavones, which are part of the phytoestrogen family mentioned earlier. Similar to sage, soy is not recommended during breastfeeding for the same reasons.

While it’s advised to reduce soy consumption during breastfeeding, it’s not necessary to eliminate it completely. Opting for fermented soy products, which have lower isoflavone content, can be a viable option. Additionally, soy’s allergenic properties may not be ideal for infants.

Parsley and mint are also believed to decrease milk production, but their galactogenic properties are not well-established. It is recommended to consume these herbs in moderation.

The good news is that raw milk and foods made from raw milk, raw meat, and raw fish are no longer off-limits during breastfeeding. These foods should be avoided during pregnancy due to hygiene and contamination concerns. However, bacterial contamination does not apply to breastfeeding as bacteria cannot pass into breast milk. Breastfed infants cannot be contaminated by their mother’s milk. Nonetheless, it is still important to prioritize the freshness and quality of products as usual.

For raw fish, there are no specific contraindications either. However, certain fish species at the top of the food chain, such as salmon, tuna, sea bream, swordfish, or shark, may be heavily contaminated with methylmercury, a derivative of the heavy metal mercury. This substance is harmful to human health and can pass into breast milk. It is advisable to moderate the consumption of these fish. If in doubt, consult your fishmonger for guidance.

Regarding other foods, individual digestive systems can vary in sensitivity. If you notice any digestive issues in your baby, such as gas, it may be helpful to maintain a food diary to identify potential problem foods.

Do I need extra calories while breastfeeding?

Yes, breastfeeding is an energy-intensive period for women. The body requires additional energy to produce and secrete breast milk. Consequently, the energy requirements for a lactating woman are higher compared to those of an adult woman.

These energy requirements are equivalent to those of pregnant women during the third trimester, which means an increase of approximately 500 calories per day.

For instance, if an adult woman typically requires 2,000 calories a day, while breastfeeding, she would need around 2,500 calories per day to support her and her infant’s needs.

Can I go on a diet while breastfeeding?

No, it is not recommended to go on weight-loss diets, especially when breastfeeding. Weight-loss diets have significant consequences on various aspects of your health, and they are even more problematic during breastfeeding.

Dieting can lead to inadequate and incomplete nutrient intake for both the mother and child, resulting in various physiological issues. During pregnancy, the weight gained serves as energy reserves during breastfeeding, helping regulate weight naturally.

However, it’s advisable to seek guidance from a professional nutritionist to understand the specific nutritional needs during breastfeeding. This support can lead to a balanced diet, which may facilitate weight loss after pregnancy (depending on the pre-existing diet).

In summary, it is always recommended to focus on “eating better” rather than “eating less.” This, combined with a healthy lifestyle encompassing physical activity, quality sleep, and stress reduction, promotes overall well-being.

Should I increase my fluid intake while breastfeeding?

Hydration is crucial for successful breastfeeding. Breast milk consists of approximately 90% water, emphasizing the importance of maintaining adequate hydration.

Water requirements increase in parallel with energy needs. As mentioned earlier, breastfeeding women require an additional 500 calories per day. Therefore, water requirements also increase by approximately 500 milliliters.

It is important to note that the human body particularly benefits from natural still water, preferably filtered depending on the region you reside in.

When it comes to teas and coffee, it’s essential not to overconsume them. Caffeine and theine can pass into breast milk and potentially make your baby more restless, particularly in the evening as they prepare for sleep. It is recommended to limit coffee/tea intake to two or three cups per day, consumed at least 1 hour and 30 minutes away from meals to avoid interference with iron absorption.

There are also breastfeeding herbal teas available, specifically designed to stimulate milk production and facilitate breastfeeding while providing hydration to the mother.

Consuming alcohol is permissible during breastfeeding; however, moderation is key. It is recommended to avoid consuming alcohol close to breastfeeding sessions as the alcohol content in breast milk mirrors that in the mother’s blood. Alcohol levels peak around 30 to 60 minutes after consumption. Ideally, breastfeeding should take place before or after alcohol intake to allow the alcohol to metabolize. If necessary, a bottle of infant milk can be used instead.

Are vegetarianism and veganism compatible with breastfeeding?

Certainly, it is possible to combine vegetarianism or veganism with breastfeeding!

However, it’s important to note that excluding certain animal products can have consequences for both the mother and the baby. The diet must be balanced, and varied, and provide sufficient nutrients and energy, which is often the missing element.

In the case of a vegan diet, breastfeeding women, like any other individual following this dietary pattern, should supplement with vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is not naturally found in the plant world but is present in meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products. Therefore, a vegan diet inherently lacks sufficient vitamin B12.

If you are breastfeeding while following a vegetarian or vegan diet, it is not necessary to strive for perfection and strict control in every aspect of your diet. The key is to consume a balanced, varied diet and make informed food choices, focusing on nutrient-rich whole foods.

Ultimately, the most important consideration is to ensure that both you and your baby receive the necessary energy and nutrients for optimal health and well-being.

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