Breast milk is the best source of nutrition for infants. It meets all your baby’s nutritional needs as it contains all the essential nutrients, vitamins and minerals for your baby’s optimal growth and development. Beside that, breast milk is more easily digested and your baby is less likely to develop constipation, diarrhea and stomach upset.
There are many other benefits of breastfeeding to babies including reducing risk of developing infectious disease such as respiratory and ear infections; allergies such as asthma as well as obesity and other chronic diseases later in life. As for mothers, they can return to pre-pregnancy weight faster, have closer bonding with their babies and reduce risk of developing breast and ovarian cancers as well as osteoporosis. World Health Organization (WHO) and Health promotion board (HPB) recommend exclusive breastfeeding (no other food or drink) for the first 6 months of a baby’s life.
While you are breastfeeding your baby, you might wonder what are the best foods for you to ensure adequate supply of breast milk for your baby. First of all, you need to eat a balanced diet to meet your baby’s nutritional needs. When you do not get the nutrients you need from your diet, your body draws on its reserves, which can eventually become depleted.
The amount of food you need to eat depends on your pre-pregnancy weight, how much weight you gained during pregnancy and how active you are. In general, most mothers who are breastfeeding require additional 500 calories per day to give you the energy and nutrition to produce milk. You can easily get these extra 500 calories from 1 slice of multigrain bread with 2 tablespoons of Mummy’s Nutmond Butter, 1 medium banana or apple and 1 cup of milk or yogurt. In most cases, your appetite will adjust to meet your body’s needs, so you would not need to count calories.
It is not recommended to attempt any slimming diet during breastfeeding as it may compromise the nutritional value of the breast milk particularly for some vitamins and minerals such as Vitamin A, Thiamine, Riboflavin, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, selenium and iodine. In fact, breastfeeding will help you to lose 0.5-1kg per month in the first 4-6 months after baby is born.
Your protein requirement is much higher during breastfeeding. You need extra 20-25g protein per day which is equivalent to extra 1 palm-sized (100g) of fish, chicken, or meat; or 9 heaped tablespoons (225g) of boiled beans or lentils. If you are unable to do so, you can consider using Naked Nutmond Butter (7.2g protein per serving) as a spread on your toast or biscuits to boost your protein intake. Naked Nutmond Butter has less than 1g of sugar as it is made from 100% almond with no sugar, no salt, no flavouring and no colouring. Other protein sources include eggs, nuts and seeds, soy products and dairy products.
Your requirements for certain micronutrients increase during breastfeeding. These include
- Calcium (1000mg/day)
Studies have shown that women often lose 3-5% bone mass during breastfeeding although they recover it quickly after weaning. This bone loss may be caused by the growing baby’s increase need for calcium which is drawn from the mother’s bones. You should consume a minimum of 1000mg calcium a day. The primary sources of calcium in the diet are milk and dairy products such as cheese and yogurt; calcium-fortified food (orange juice, tofu, plant-based milk, cereals), fish with bones (sardines, anchovies), green leafy vegetables (spinach, bok choy, kale etc) as well as nuts.
- Iodine (290mcg/day)
Iodine is particularly important for thyroid function as it is a crucial component of thyroid hormones. These hormones are essential for proper physical growth and mental development. The recommended iodine intake during lactation is 290mcg per day. Iodine can be found in seaweed, seafood, dairy products, egg, and iodized salt.
- Zinc (12mg/day)
Zinc supports brain and cognitive development in growing babies. It is also important for immune function, wound healing and sense of taste and smell. Zinc is abundant in seafoods, meat, fish, dairy, seeds and nuts, eggs, legumes and wholegrains.
- Vitamin D (10mcg/day)
Vitamin D is important to absorb calcium and maintain bone health for you and your little one. You require 10 mcg Vitamin per day from diet or supplements. Vitamin D fortified milk is a good source of dietary Vitamin D, providing 2.5 mcg Vitamin D per cup. Other food sources rich in Vitamin D include fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, trout), fish liver oil, egg yolk, beef liver and cheese. Do not forget that your skin is able to generate Vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. Try to get at least 15 minutes of sunshine a day between 10am to 3pm.
- Omega 3 (300mg DHA/day)
Omega 3 fatty acids particularly DHA is remains critical for your baby’s brain development.
Fatty fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel and herring; nuts and seeds like flaxseeds and walnuts are high in Omega 3. You can get 2.4g from a serving of Caramelised Walnuts or a serving of Mummy’s Walnuts. You can meet your Omega 3 requirement by taking 2 servings of fatty fish per week.
- Potassium (2800mg/day)
Getting enough potassium during pregnancy is important because it helps to maintain the fluids and electrolytes balance, supports nerve signals, regulates muscle contraction and helps to maintain our blood pressure. Generally, fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of potassium. Avocado, bananas, potatoes, spinach, broccoli are among the richest source.
You must continue to eat a balanced diet consisting of the wholegrains, good sources of the proteins as well as plenty of fruits and vegetables to provide you with all the nutrients needed during breastfeeding. If you are unable to get enough of the vitamins and minerals from diet alone, you may consider taking supplements to ensure good quality of milk.
Eating a variety of foods while breastfeeding will change the flavour of your breast milk. This will help your baby to accept different foods once he/she starts eating solids. However, some babies are more sensitive to certain foods (such as cow’s milk and soy). You may need to avoid food that are upsetting your babies. When this happens, the main symptom is blood in the baby’s stool or sometimes persistent diarrhea or vomiting.
Adequate fluid intake is also important to ensure adequate supply of breast milk because breast milk consists of more than 80% of water. You need at least 1.5-2L per day to produce sufficient breast milk. The best is water, you can include milk, juices, and soups as part of your fluid intake. It is generally sufficient to drink when you are thirsty and watch out for signs of dehydration like dark-coloured urine, infrequent urination and dry mouth. Roasted Almom Milk is a good choice of fluids as it gives you additional protein (more than 20% almonds) without added sugar with some milk boosting ingredients such as medjool dates.
What about caffeine and alcohol? Caffeine can be transmitted to the baby through breast milk. You will need to limit your intake of caffeinated beverages to no more than two cups per day as it may cause restlessness in baby and affect your baby’s sleep. Alcohol should be avoided as it may be transmitted through breast milk to your baby. It has been shown to prevent oxytocin release and reduce the production of breast feeding. Alcohol also has adverse effect on your baby’s growth and development.