Linia Patel

Breastfeeding nutrition 101: Top tips for new mums

Breastfeeding nutrition tips

Plan to breastfeed? Or breastfeeding already? The following tips will help you understand the 6 basics of breast-feeding nutrition.

1. Increase your calorie intake

Making breast milk is hard work for your body. Infact, it is estimated that breastfeeding increases your energy needs by about 500 calories per day.  In addition, you also have an increased need for most nutrients. As a consequence, mother nature increases breastfeeding mum’s appetite so that they can hold on to fat stores for the first few months.

This can be frustrating if you are tempted to try and shed some of the pregnancy weight Weight loss is not the body’s priority after child birth. You therefore need to be patient. Restricting calories too much during the first few months of breastfeeding may decrease both your milk supply and also have a negative impact on your energy levels. The thinner you are, the more sensitive you will be to calorie restriction.

However, the good news is that after 3 - 6 months of breastfeeding you will likely experience a spontaneous ability to lose weight as your ability to lose fat increases in comparison to mums that don’t breastfeed. Losing 0.5kg per week through a combination of diet and exercise should not affect your milk supply or milk composition, assuming you have a good nutritional status to begin with.

2. Know your Group 1 and Group 2 nutrients

The nutrients in breast milk may be categorised into two groups depending on the extent to which they are secreted into the milk. The amount of group 1 nutrients in breast milk depends on dietary intake while group 2 nutrients are secreted into the breastmilk regardless of intake and nutritional status. Therefore, getting enough group 1 nutrients is very important for both you and the baby, whilst getting enough group 2 nutrients is mostly important for you.

The amount of group 1 nutrients are substantially reduced in breastmilk if you are deficient or don’t get adequate amount from your diet. If your body is low in group 2 nutrients, your body will take these nutrients from your own bone and tissue stores to secrete into your breast milk.

Group 1 Nutrients

  • B vitamins (B1, B2, B6, B12): seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy, nuts and seeds
  • Choline: eggs, liver, fish, peanuts
  • Vitamin A: carrots, sweet potato, butternut, dark green leafy veg and organ meats
  • Vitamin D: Supplements, oil fish and fortified foods
  • Selenium: brazil nuts, seafood, whole-wheat foods and seeds
  • Iodine: dried seaweed, cod, milk and iodized salt

Group 2 Nutrients

  • Folate: beans, lentils, leafy greens, asparagus and avocados
  • Calcium: dairy products, leafy greens and legumes
  • Iron: red meat, beans, dark green vegetables and dried fruit
  • Copper: shellfish, wholegrains, nuts and beans, organ meats
  • Zinc: red meat, poultry, beans, nuts and dairy

Breastfeeding nutrition diet tips for expecting mums

3. Think fluid

It is normal to be thirstier than usual when you are breastfeeding due to an increased amount of the hormone oxytocin. When your baby latches onto your breast, your oxytocin levels increase. This caused your milk to start flowing. This also stimulates thirst so that you drink enough water to meet the increased requirements for milk production.

There is no specific recommendation of how much fluid you need to drink while you are breastfeeding, however it’s important to drink frequently (preferably before you feel thirsty) and to drink more if your urine appears to be dark yellow. A good tip is to always have a glass of water nearby when you are breastfeeding your baby.

4. Be vigilant about your caffeine intake 

In general, breastfeeding nutrition is about moderation. However, there are some flavours from food and drinks that come through to your breastmilk that you may want to more vigilant about.

Caffeine for example will make it way to your breast milk (albeit in tiny amounts). It takes babies much longer to metabolise caffeine, which may affect their sleep patterns. It is therefore recommended that breastfeeding women limit their coffee intake to about 2-3 cups per day.

Breastfeeding nutrition tips for new mums

5. Limit alcohol consumption or…. time your drinks well!

The alcohol you consume is also transferred to breast milk. The amount found in the babies blood is reportedly similar to the amount found in the mother's blood.

The main problem is that babies metabolise alcohol at only half the rate of adults. It takes on average 1-2 hours for an adult body to clear each unit of alcohol.

It is therefore recommended that you wait a few hours for each drink you’ve consumed before breastfeeding your baby.

6. Before excluding anything, talk to a professional 

Allergies are on the rise and its common for mums to self-diagnose their little ones and then begin to exclude certain foods as a result.

For example, some babies may be allergic to cow’s milk protein in their mother’s diet. Typical symptoms include eczema, diarrhoea, vomiting, baby colic and even bloody stools.

The only solution for this is a supervised elimination diet. This means excluding all cow’s milk protein from your diet for 2 -4 weeks and seeing if the symptoms improve or not.

It is very important to do all elimination diets with the consultation of a health professional.

References available on request

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