Breastfeeding and breast milk are the global standard for infant feeding. The World Health Organization and many other medical bodies all support this statement. The American Academy of Paediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months and continued breastfeeding up to two years.
There are many benefits for both mother and baby with breastfeeding. Being that breastmilk provides nutrition for baby, it is important that the breastmilk mommy produces is of the highest quality. The quality of breastmilk is based on the nutritional status and intake of mommy. Therefore, nutrition during breastfeeding is very important to maintain good amounts and quality of breastmilk.
During pregnancy, women gain an average of 2- 5kg of “extra” weight that is stored in preparation for the high energy needs of producing breastmilk. Breastfeeding women require additional 2100kJ of energy as compared to non-pregnant women1.
Many woman try to reduce the amount of food they take in, to help loose the baby fat but not taking in enough energy can lead to breastfeeding failure. Breastfeeding failure is when you don’t produce enough milk. Many studies have shown that due to the high energy needs of breastfeeding, most women will gradually start to lose weight. Research has shown that maternal intake of approximately 9200kJ/day was adequate for both appropriate milk production and gradual weight loss1, 2.
The nutritional content of breastmilk can be affected by the nutrients that the mother consumes. It is therefore important to eat a variety of nutrient-dense, whole foods to meet the increased nutrient needs that accompany breastfeeding.
The protein content of breastmilk is decreased when the mother has chronic malnutrition. A healthy lactating mother requires 1.05g/kg/day of protein. The additional protein (above normal requirements) can be met by consuming protein rich foods (e.g. one egg or 25g of cheese or 175g of milk) 2, 3.
The main carbohydrate in breastmilk is lactose. Lactose is not affected by the mother’s carbohydrate intake, but carbohydrates are the main source of energy for the mother so it is important to have an appropriate intake of 160g/kg/day2.
The nutrients that make up breastmilk can be divided into two groups, depending on the amount that is secreted into the milk.
Group one nutrients are substantially reduced in breast milk if mother is deficient or doesn’t get adequate amounts from her diet. It is important for mom and baby to get sufficient amounts of these nutrients from the diet.
Below are the group one nutrients and common sources from food.
- Vitamin B1 (Thiamine): Fish, pork, seeds, nuts and bread.
- Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin): Cheese, almonds, nuts, red meat, oily fish and eggs.
- Vitamin B6: Seeds, nuts, fish, poultry, pork, bananas and dried fruit.
- Vitamin B12: Shellfish, liver, oily fish, crab and shrimp.
- Choline: Eggs, beef liver, chicken liver, fish and peanuts.
- Vitamin A: Sweet potatoes, carrots, dark leafy greens, organ meats and eggs.
- Vitamin D: Cod liver oil, oily fish, some mushrooms and fortified foods.
- Selenium: Brazil nuts, seafood, fish, whole wheat and seeds.
- Iodine: Dried seaweed, cod, milk and iodized salt4.
Group two nutrients are not dependent on intake. If mother’s intake is low, the body will take these nutrients from the mother’s own bone and tissue stores to secrete into breast milk. The baby will always get the right amount but this will deplete the mother’s stores6.
Below are the group two nutrients and some common food sources:
- Folate: Beans, lentils, leafy greens, asparagus and avocados.
- Calcium: Milk, yogurt, cheese, leafy greens and legumes.
- Iron: Red meat, pork, poultry, seafood, beans, green vegetables and dried fruit.
- Copper: Shellfish, whole grains, nuts, beans, organ meats and potatoes.
- Zinc: Oysters, red meat, poultry, beans, nuts and dairy.
Drink plenty of water, breastmilk is made with water. The hormone oxytocin which is secreted during breastfeeding can increase thirst. There are no set recommendations for water. Just use thirst as a guide.
Alcohol and caffeine
Both alcohol and caffeine can be transferred into breastmilk. Unfortunately baby takes longer to break these substances down and are generally not good for baby. Avoid taking in high caffeine beverages and avoid alcohol.
Breastfeeding is best for baby and it is important to maintain a good nutritional intake. For successful breastfeeding you need to eat enough to replenish energy that is lost through breastfeeding. Use food pyramids as a guide in selecting your daily foods to help include plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables, milk and milk products, fish, poultry, nuts, whole grains, parboiled rice, beans and lentils. Drink plenty of water and fluids, remember to add in some milk. If you eat right then your breastmilk will be liquid gold for your growing bundle of joy.