Diet for breastfeeding mothers

Breastfeeding Diet

Breastfeeding provides optimal nutrition and bonding for both mother and baby. Many new mothers often wonder about their diet and how it affects their breast milk. While breastfeeding mothers don’t need to follow a strict diet, certain foods can enhance lactation and benefit both mother and baby. In contrast, others may cause discomfort or affect the baby negatively. In this guide, our development expert, Dr. Clara Guru, will inform us about what breastfeeding mothers can and cannot eat, providing tips for a healthy and balanced diet.

breastmilk composition

A healthy diet is crucial for both the well-being of breastfeeding mothers and the optimal development of their babies. Breast milk contains all the necessary nutrients (except for vitamin D) for a baby’s growth in the first 6 months. However, if a mother’s diet lacks essential nutrients, it can impact the quality of breast milk and her health.

Breast milk composition includes 87% water, 7% carbohydrate, 3.8% fat, and 1% protein, providing 65–75 calories per 100-milliliter serving. Unlike formula, breast milk’s calorie content and composition vary, adapting to meet the baby’s changing needs during each feeding and over time.

During feeding, the initial milk is more watery, satisfying the baby’s thirst, while hindmilk, which comes later, is richer in fat and nutrients. Research suggests hindmilk may contain 2–3 times more fat and 7–11 more calories per ounce compared to the initial milk.

To ensure the baby receives the most nutritious milk, they need to empty milk from one breast before switching to the other. This ensures they receive both the hydration and essential nutrients needed for healthy development.

What Can Breastfeeding Mothers Eat?

Fruits and Vegetables

Incorporate a variety of fruits and vegetables into your diet while breastfeeding. These provide essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that support overall health. Leafy greens like spinach and kale and fruits like berries and citrus fruits are particularly beneficial. Fruits like banana, muskmelon, mango, and orange are great sources of potassium and vitamin A. Vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, tomatoes, mushrooms, garlic, broccoli, cabbage, red bell peppers, and spinach are rich in vitamin A, antioxidants, iron, and potassium. 

Whole Grains

Whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, oats, and whole wheat bread are rich in fibre, which aids digestion and helps regulate blood sugar levels. Quinoa is high in proteins and is a really good option for breastfeeding mothers.

Proteins and Healthy Fats

It is important to include protein sources such as chicken, turkey, fish, tofu, lentils, peas, nuts, seeds, and beans in your meals. Protein is crucial for tissue repair and muscle growth, both of which are important for postpartum recovery. Seafood is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which can support healthy brain development in babies. Mothers need to be mindful when eating seafood, especially fish, as it may contain mercury, which is extremely harmful to the baby. Salmon, sardines, and trout are excellent choices because they are high in omega-3s but low in mercury. Incorporate sources of healthy fats, such as avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil, into your diet.

Nuts and Seeds

Almonds, walnuts, chia seeds, hemp seeds, and flaxseed are excellent sources of healthy fats, particularly omega-3 fatty acids. These fats are essential for various bodily functions, including brain health, heart health, and inflammation regulation. Additionally, they provide other nutrients such as protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals, making them valuable additions to a balanced diet.

Dairy Products

Dairy foods like milk, yoghurt, and cheese are excellent sources of calcium and vitamin D, which support bone health. Opt for low-fat or non-fat varieties to keep saturated fat intake in check. Breastfeeding mothers should consume at least 3 cups of dairy products daily for numerous health benefits.

Hydration

Drink plenty of water throughout the day to stay hydrated. Breastfeeding can increase your fluid needs. When babies latch onto their mother’s skin, oxytocin levels increase, causing the milk to flow smoothly. This process also stimulates thirst in mothers. Aim for at least eight glasses of water daily, or more if you’re feeling thirsty.

Herbal Teas

Certain herbal teas, such as fenugreek, fennel, and blessed thistle, are believed to boost milk supply. However, consult with a healthcare professional before incorporating these teas into your diet, especially if you have any underlying health conditions or concerns.

What foods should breastfeeding mothers avoid?

Caffeine

Limit your intake of caffeine, as it can pass into breast milk and affect your baby’s sleep patterns and behaviour. Moderate consumption, equivalent to 2-3 cups of coffee per day, is generally considered safe for most breastfeeding mothers.

Alcohol

While the occasional glass of wine or beer is unlikely to harm your baby, it’s best to avoid alcohol or limit consumption to special occasions. If you do choose to drink, wait at least 2–3 hours before breastfeeding to allow alcohol to metabolise. Feeding your baby after drinking can decrease your baby’s milk intake and cause agitation and poor sleep.

Fish High in Mercury

Certain types of fish, such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish, contain high levels of mercury, which can be harmful to your baby’s developing nervous system. Instead, opt for low-mercury fish like salmon, trout, and sardines.

Allergenic Foods

If you have a family history of food allergies, you may want to avoid or limit common allergens such as peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, eggs, wheat, and soy. However, if there’s no history of allergies, there’s generally no need to restrict these foods from your diet.

Spicy Foods

While some babies may be unaffected by spicy foods in breast milk, others may experience discomfort or fussiness. Some babies may become gassy or have an upset stomach if the mother consumes spicy food. If you enjoy spicy cuisine, monitor your baby’s reaction and adjust your diet accordingly.

Gas-Inducing Foods

Certain foods like cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, onions, and beans can cause gas in some babies. If you notice that your baby becomes gassy or fussy after breastfeeding, consider reducing your intake of these foods.

Artificial Sweeteners and Additives

Limit your consumption of foods and beverages containing artificial sweeteners and additives. While they’re generally considered safe in moderation, some babies may be sensitive to these substances.

Final thoughts by Dr. Clara Guru

Maintaining a healthy and balanced diet is essential for breastfeeding mothers to support their well-being and provide optimal nutrition for their babies. According to Dr. Clara Guru, incorporating a variety of nutrient-rich foods into your meals and being mindful of potential dietary triggers can ensure a positive breastfeeding experience for both you and your baby. It is important to consult with a healthcare professional if you have any specific dietary concerns or questions. Happy breastfeeding!

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