There are times in everyone’s life when circumstances demand more from the body and it is vitally important that we prepare and adjust our nutrition by ensuring we not only have adequate fuel for our task, but nutrient dense fuel to sustain our health and thrive in times of high demand. Breastfeeding is one of these times and it is about ensuring that both mother and baby are given the best possible nutritional status to grow, thrive and enjoy these precious early years and beyond.
Is there a recipe for the best breast milk? Well we like to think that there is a basic recipe you can follow that can be adapted according to mother and baby’s needs. It doesn’t need to be complex if you already have a good diet but what is a good diet? Read on for some guidelines for you to consider when making your food and lifestyle choices during breastfeeding.
It may be a little ironic, but breast milk production is often compromised by sleep deprivation & exhaustion. Obviously, this is largely dictated by your circumstances, but try to get as much rest and sleep as you can and aim for 8 hours in every 24 hours. If your baby is particularly restless or difficult to calm, there may be some deficiencies or aggravating factors in the milk itself. If you are concerned at all seek advice from your naturopath who can assess your nutritional status and supplement where necessary.
It may be difficult to find time to exercise, but a good walk every day or two can really improve your mood, energy levels, sleep quality, stress adaptation, and therefore breast milk quality & production.
The more relaxed you are the better your breast milk will flow. To help you settle we recommend listening to the Be Fertile Guided Relaxation for breastfeeding while you’re feeding. Start to do this in the hospital and continue at least once daily until a routine has been well established.
What should I be eating?
Breast milk is enriched by a mother’s diet. A healthy, well balanced maternal diet will ensure that all the necessary nutrients are present to facilitate growth and well-being in your baby. Breast feeding definitely increases your appetite and you need to make sure you are getting enough good quality, nutrient rich food to support yourself and your baby.
It is also important to keep your blood sugar and energy levels balanced. We recommend plenty of protein and complex carbohydrates, as your milk supply and baby require both! Try to eat organic produce as much as possible, as pesticides, hormones and drug metabolites can be passed through breast milk and into baby.
- Protein – ensure you eat protein at every meal (such as red meat, chicken, fish, eggs, nuts, coconut, legumes including chickpeas, beans & lentils, yoghurt, goat or sheep milk dairy, tofu).
- Healthy snacks – eat at least two snacks each day. Nuts and seeds are full of protein, fibre and essential fatty acids and are a great quick and easy snack for during the day. Have a bag sitting next to you while you’re feeding bub.
- Calcium – eat plenty of calcium containing foods such as salmon & sardines with bones, broccoli, buckwheat, eggs, figs, green leafy vegetables, almonds, sesame seeds, natural yoghurt, soy beans, tofu. Most women also benefit from supplementing with calcium during breastfeeding (talk to your naturopath about your requirements).
- Iron – eat plenty of iron-containing foods, including red meat, eggs, lentils, white beans, brown rice and dried apricots.
- Good fats – eat plenty of foods containing essential fats (including sardines, mackerel, salmon, nuts & seeds, avocados, cold-pressed nut oils, extra virgin olive oil, virgin coconut oil, organic butter) which are essential for babies’ brain and nervous system development. Most women & bubs benefit from supplementing with omega 3 oils during breastfeeding.
- Complex carbohydrates – eat plenty of whole grains especially brown rice, quinoa, amaranth, spelt, oats & brown rice.
- Fresh fruit & vegetables – we recommend 2 pieces of fruit per day & 5 or more serves of vegetables (1 serve = 1 cup raw or ½ cup cooked veg) for fibre and a wide range of vitamins. You may also want to juice your vegetables or make smoothies.
- Garlic – as long as your child doesn’t suffer from colic, garlic is very good for promoting lactation and the mother & babies health. It helps to reduce bacterial & fungal infection and promotes good gut health, potentially reducing the incidence of mastitis & thrush infections.
- Hydration – Drink plenty of water (3 litres daily) and always have water available while breast feeding – the oxytocin release with letdown can make you thirsty. Herbal teas, fresh fruit & vegetable juice and soup broths are also excellent for breastfeeding mum’s hydration requirements. Slow-cooked bone broths are wonderful if you have lost a lot of blood during the birth.
- Milk promotion – some culinary herbs and spices can be useful for lactation. These include- caraway, fennel, dill, aniseed, cumin, coriander & fenugreek. Warm porridges and thick, grain-based soups are used traditionally to support milk production.
- Sugary & refined carbohydrate foods- yes they do give you short bursts of energy when you are feeling exhausted from lack of sleep, but consuming sugar and processed carbohydrates decreases your protein consumption, increases the likelihood that you will have hypoglycaemic episodes, and also increases the risk of nipple thrush & mastitis (as the sugar directly feeds the bacteria). And they reduce post-natal weight loss! Ever wondered why some women lose the weight easily and others not so much?? Sugar is usually the answer….
- Caffeine – caffeine affects babies, even at low levels. In adults the half-life of coffee is 4 hours. In infants it is 19 hours. It only takes 1 coffee a day to cause caffeine to be in your babies system ALL OF THE TIME! This of course affects their sleep, mood, weight gain and stress adaptation. Caffeine also increases the excretion of nutrients from your body, leading to increased deficiencies.
- Alcohol – ideally we recommend no alcohol during the bubs first 6 months of breast feeding. After this time no more than 2 drinks per week and wait at least 2-3 hours before the next feed to ensure the alcohol is clear from your blood stream and the breast milk. Alcohol causes babies to become drowsy and they are unable to feed properly when affected. It also affects milk production by compromising oxytocin levels along with increased risk of possible neural and liver damage to bub.
- Any foods that you may be allergic to (see section below for further information)
- We recommend nutritional supplements for breastfeeding mums, as nutritional requirements increase for both you & your baby after the pregnancy (amazing!). For example, iron deficiency can cause poor milk supply and lead to anaemic babies (causing sleep issues & developmental delays). Consult with your naturopath after your birth and ensure you maintain your supplement regime, despite your tiredness and focus on bub. It is our goal to support you as best we can so you can do the same for your baby.
Colic or restless baby
If your child is prone to colic or restlessness, you can try to minimise or avoid certain foods that can be irritating to baby. It is also advisable to seek professional advice before eliminating whole food groups to ensure you replace these foods with nutritionally equivalent foods.
Avoid or minimise:
- Onions, garlic
- Spicy foods
- Dairy – including cow’s milk, cheese, ice cream, cream, yoghurt etc.
- Wheat and gluten-containing foods (e.g. bread, cereal, pasta, biscuits etc.)
- Alcohol and caffeine
- Brassica family of foods: cabbage, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, turnips, radishes, kale
- Capsicums, eggplants, beans, lentils, chickpeas
A baby may react to only one or two foods from the above list. Some babies may have no issue with any of the foods.
If your baby is intolerant or allergic to certain foods, baby will react to them via your milk. This may cause your baby:
- Skin rashes e.g. eczema
- Digestive upset e.g. colic, constipation, diarrhoea, explosive bowel movements
- Red ring around the anus (this is a classic sign of a food reaction)
- Runny nose, frequent blocked/snotty nose
- Irritability, difficulty settling
Removing the offending food from your diet will help reduce your baby’s exposure to the problem food and often results in an improvement in their symptoms (however, please note it is also possible the above list of symptoms may not be related to allergies or intolerances). If you are uncertain you should always check with your health care provider or naturopath.
How long should I cut out the suspect food?
If you suspect a food is causing problems for your baby, then discuss this with your naturopath. It is important to make sure that your diet is nutritionally adequate particularly if you are removing a large food group (e.g. wheat or dairy). It is often the case that you need to remove the offending food for 2-3 weeks to ascertain if it is contributing to problems like eczema. However, removing foods that are causing colic for your baby often provides results within 1-2 days.
If you need further support we recommend a consultation with your naturopath for nutrition, digestive upset or suspected allergy issues. Our osteopath Pria Schwall-Kearney is a certified breastfeeding counsellor and can counsel you through any tough times with positioning, postural considerations and attachment issues. Other helpful resources include the Australian Breastfeeding Association or an appointment with an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) who can offer expert advice.