If you are a nursing mother, you do not only eat for the sake of your own health but also for the health of the breastfeeding baby. Good nutrition is therefore just as important for your baby as it is for you. While there are educational materials everywhere, the best possible diets for new breastfeeding moms are those that advocate a balanced nutritional eating plan. While breastfeeding, your body will automatically put the baby first. If the nursing mother lacks sufficient nourishment, her body will make milk production its first priority and her own needs may go unmet.
The importance of breast-feeding kick starting a baby’s immune system is well-known. But did you know that it could help your immune system too? Scientists suggest that higher levels of blood prolactin stimulated by breastfeeding was related to more positive mood, greater immunity to infection, and decreased stress.
A common nutrient in breastfeeding diets is B12. B12 is extremely important in nursing mothers for the formation of red blood cells, among other things. Foods that contain B12 are fish– both shellfish and other seafood; liver; fortified breakfast cereal and yogurt.
Breastfeeding diets should contain iron. Iron stores are depleted during pregnancy, so it is important that you rebuild your iron stores with iron-rich foods. Breastfeeding diets should also contain lots of calcium. Calcium is an essential mineral for protection of bone strength. A nursing mother will need about four servings of calcium rich foods per day. Part of a well-planned breastfeeding diet is to keep you well hydrated. Breastfeeding mothers release a hormone called oxytocin, which causes milk to be ‘let down’ and available for the baby. This hormone makes you thirsty, so keep a drink of water nearby when you breastfeed. When it comes to alcohol in your breastfeeding diet, the safest option is to avoid alcohol altogether, as alcohol does pass on to your baby through the breast milk. But if you do want to drink alcohol while breastfeeding baby, do not have more than one or two standard drinks once per week. Also, try to time your drinking accordingly, allowing time for your body to metabolize and clear the alcohol before breastfeeding baby.
In a breastfeeding diet, you really can eat anything in moderation. The following are some guidelines when thinking about a breastfeeding diet:
- More calories: You’ll need an extra 500 calories per day as a breastfeeding mother: you can even eat more if you are planning to continue breast-feeding for more than three months. But again, be careful: avoid processed foods, simple carbohydrates, fats, especially trans and saturated fats. Sunflower, corn, rapeseed, and olive oil provide the fatty acids that are essential for building the baby’s nervous system.
- Light frequent meals: Spread your caloric intake over five “meals,” breakfast, lunch, after- noon snack, dinner, and an extra snack during the evening. Each snack time is also an opportunity to drink water, eat a low-fat dairy or soy product, and a piece of fruit. As your body is continually producing milk, it needs your caloric intake to be consistent.
- No smoking: Nicotine passes directly through breast milk to the baby. Babies of smokers are prone to colic and respiratory infections and smoking can increase the risk of SIDS in newborns. If you cannot control yourself, build in a gap of at least an hour between your last cigarette and your next feeding session, so that the nicotine in your system has a chance to decompose at least partially.
- No or limited alcohol: Alcohol passes through milk in less than an hour and if the baby consumes it in large quantities, it can retard his growth. If you must drink an occasional glass of wine or beer, save it for after a feeding session.
- Be careful of prescription medication: Take no medication without first consulting a doctor. Most antibiotics, sulfa drugs, chemical laxatives, and all products containing large amounts of iodine are contraindicated while you are breast-feeding. Other medications, taken over a long period, can also be dangerous.
- Beware of pollutants: Like nicotine, pesticide residue easily passes through mother’s milk. If you are nursing, stay away from insecticides (especially in airborne forms such as aerosols or coils). Try to use natural insect repellents such as citronella.
- Eat more folic acid: Eat food that contains vitamin B 9 (folic acid). During pregnancy, folic acid is vital to the development of the baby’s nervous system. Folic acid also can be found abundantly in asparagus, cabbage, corn, chick- peas, and spinach. Many other foods, such as wheat and orange juice, have been enriched with folic acid. Check the package labels. (Related Article: The Importance Of Folic Acid During Pregnancy, How Folic Acid Helps You During Pregnancy)
- Wind/restlessness: some food may cause wind or restlessness of your baby. While these symptoms are sometimes inevitable with a young baby, if it is becoming difficult, try taking note of what you are eating and how the baby responds. Every baby is different, and some foods may cause a reaction in one but have no effect on another. Spicy foods, dairy products, cabbage, onion, garlic, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and turnips are some of the more common foods that cause wind or restlessness.
- Rash/hives/sniffles/diarrhea/vomiting: If your baby is having any of these symptoms, he or she may be allergic to what you are eating. Make a note of what you are eating, the time eaten and the baby’s symptoms. Try cutting the offending food from his or her diet. If unsuccessful, try approaching an allergist or nutritionalist.
- More milk: Dill, ground fenugreek, borage, raspberry leaves, garlic, nettles, fennel seeds, anise, vervain, and cinnamon are all safe for your baby, and can be used to boost the milk supply.
- Less milk: Sage, mint and parsley. Some mothers find that these herbs less or dry up their milk supply. Eat in moderation, unless you have too much milk or if you are trying to wean your baby.
A balanced healthy diet, and light frequent meals are the most important principles of a breast-feeding diet. Remember that each baby reacts differently to the foods his mother consumes so if your baby is having gas/restlessness, or an allergic reaction, make a note of the foods that you are eating and try to eliminate them. Herbs and herbal supplements may increase or decrease the amount of milk you produce. While your body will automatically screen what you ingest to prevent toxins from entering your baby’s body, a nutritious diet will keep you and your baby strong and healthy.