We all know how important breastfeeding is for new born babies and infants, with so much research showing enhanced bonding and immunity, linking it with better health outcomes for your child – for now and into future years. However breastfeeding can be harder than most people realise. Pop them on the boob and off you go right? Well for a lot of women this may not happen as easily as expected and occasionally some women may never be able to experience breastfeeding at all due to medical conditions and/ or poor instruction. Many women will struggle with breastfeeding due in part to poor information and in a lot of cases from feeling mentally overwhelmed with the first few weeks of being a mother. This being the case I often have new mums asking me for advice especially around milk supply issues, milk quality and situations such as mastitis.
There are some things that you can take control of to help breastfeeding come more naturally and be more comfortable for you.
Breast milk is only as good as the raw products from which it is made, with this in mind checking on your diet is a great place to start. Having the right amount and type of specific food groups can help your milk, your health and therefore the ease you have with breastfeeding.
Individual requirements for breasting diets will vary but below is a basic guide on which to build on.
Protein is a vital building block for breast milk and very important in maintaining a good healthy milk supply. Requirements for protein during pregnancy and breast feeding increase substantially for the growth of the baby and if not monitored carefully breastfeeding women can easily become depleted. Sticking to the same guidelines as when you were pregnant is helpful so ensuring there is quality protein with each meal including: meat, nuts, seeds, eggs, dairy if tolerated, fish, tofu etc. Ideally snacks should have a protein component as well to boost your intake. Protein will also help reduce those sugar cravings that often come while breastfeeding due to its ability to help balance and maintain blood sugar levels.
Essential fatty acids are crucial to help build good nourishing milk that has higher fat content which is great for brain, nervous system, visual, gut and cognitive development. Not only do they help with your child’s development but they may also help baby feel satiated (hopefully a more content baby!), act as natural protection against allergens and help build a strong immune system in your child. They also have an anti-inflammatory effect on your body which can help maintain mums general health while breastfeeding. So small oily fish 2 times weekly, fresh nuts and seeds, avocados and good quality cold pressed extra virgin oils in meals can help your intake.
Calcium, zinc and Iron are just some of the nutrients that are needed in higher than normal levels when breast feeding. All are essential for building healthy strong babies and all of the above nutrients will play a part in the function of milk production, breast and nipple tissue health and prevention of infection. You can absorb this from a well balanced diet however in some cases prescribed supplementation may be necessary from your naturopath.
Water accounts for 87% of breast milk so drinking more water is critical for a nursing mother. If you forget to top up your water intake breast milk supplies can reduce and it can stop the supply completely. It can also thicken your milk which will mean its less hydrating for your baby. On average your intake of water should be one and a half times the amount that you usually would be drinking. Herbal teas that help to encourage the production of breast milk (such as fennel) or relaxation for you and the baby (such as chamomile) would be a lovely and helpful addition to your fluid intake. Good quality organic and loose leaf teas are a must. Tea bags do not give a therapeutic effect and for many, there is something very nice about the ritual of making a good pot of tea.
Rest. Yes this sounds like a joke when you have a newborn! but rest will help make and ensure a steady supply of breast milk. Making breast milk takes energy so if you are exerting yourself too much it can compromise your milk production. Ensure you take rests during the day, if possible sleep when your baby sleeps, otherwise at least put your feet up and actually rest. The jobs can wait but your body needs attention to rest now.
Gut flora and Probiotics. Having a healthy tummy with healthy gut flora is important for everyone and in breastfeeding women it may mean easier breastfeeding free of infection or candida. The latest research has found that certain strains of flora can protect against mastitis, candida infections of the nipples and possibly help blocked milk ducts. This also has the added bonus that if you have good healthy flora your baby will get their share of it too which in turn has been found to protect against allergies, eczema, and linked with setting up healthy immune systems in bubs. So how do I maintain good healthy tummy flora? Ensure your diet has less refined sugar, more vegetable matter and include plain yoghurt or kefir in your diet. In some cases specific supplementation may be needed to boost your own stocks of flora which can be prescribed by your naturopath.
Breastfeeding isn’t easy for everyone but the above tips can make a difference with a little perseverance. Always ensure that you do get advice from your qualified naturopath and lactation consultant if you’re having problems to make sure you have all the support information you need.
Samantha Van Dort is an experienced and skilled naturopath and nutritionist. Experienced in treating a range of health complaints, her passion lies in women’s health, specifically infertility issues, preconception care, IVF support and natural pregnancy support. A mother herself she understands the different emotional and physical challenges that can arise when trying to conceive and is devoted to helping couples have trouble free pregnancies and happy healthy babies. Sam is available for consultation at Fertile Ground Health Group on Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday.