Breastmilk provides perfect nutrition for optimal development of your baby. So, as you exclusively breastfeed your baby for the first six months of life, and then continue to breastfeed with complementary foods for upto as long as you and your baby desire, here is your guide to well-nourished breastfeeding diet.
1. Eat a Well-Balanced Diet: As a breastfeeding mother, you need little more calories (400-500 kcal/day) to keep up your energy but you don't need any special breastfeeding diet to produce breastmilk. Your body is efficient at producing nutrient dense breastmilk even with a diet that is not ideal. So, follow a healthy breastfeeding diet plan as best as you can, and you and your baby will reap the rewards. A balanced breastfeeding diet that has foods from all food groups helps in body building, boosting immunity and providing the extra energy required by a breastfeeding mother:
a. Complex Carbohydrates: You need 6-11 servings of starch from roti, bread, cereal, rice and pasta. Choose wholegrain varieties for added fiber, vitamins and minerals.
b. Fruit and vegetables: Eat plenty (5-8 servings) of fruits and vegetables, as these are rich in vitamins, minerals and fiber. Dark leafy green vegetables and dried fruits are especially rich in iron and calcium.
c. Proteins: Eat 3-4 servings of lean protein from pulses, beans, peas, nuts and seeds. If, non-vegetarian choose lean meats, poultry and fish. Also choose low fat dairy products.
d. Healthy Fat: Fat is an essential nutrient in the diet, as 50% of the calories of breastmilk come from fat. So include healthy fats from nuts and seeds. Flax-seeds and walnuts are good source of omega-3. If, non-vegetarian eat oily fish and eggs.
2. Choose a Variety of Healthy Foods: Most mothers experience an increase in appetite and hunger pangs during breastfeeding. So, be careful that you do not gain too much weight during the process. Choose a variety of nourishing, wholesome, natural foods to snack on in between meals and maximise the overall nutrient quality of your diet. As an added benefit, eating variety of food changes the flavour of your breastmilk, which will expose your baby to different tastes that help in easy acceptance of solid foods, when they are introduced later.
3. Drink Enough Water at Frequently Intervals: Breastmilk is 88% water by weight, so this is the most critical nutrient required to meet the demands of a suckling baby. Drink at least 1.5-2 litres of water each day at frequent intervals. You may need more water, if your urine appears dark yellow or smells strongly or you feel lethargic. During breastfeeding, your body releases oxytocin hormone, which makes you feel thirsty, so keep a bottle of water next to where you nurse your baby. You can also drink coconut water, as it is loaded with electrolytes and low in sugar.
4. Aim for Slow and Steady Weight Loss & Don't Count Calories: You might be planning to lose that added pregnancy weight but with a newborn, you need plenty of energy. So, aim for slow and steady weight loss, as breastfeeding helps you in doing just that. Eat healthy foods throughout the day and do some gentle exercise to maximize your energy as a new mom rather than going on a very strict low-calorie diet, while breastfeeding.
5. Continue taking your vitamins: To make sure you and your baby are getting all the vitamins, you need to continue a daily prenatal vitamin until you wean your baby. Vitamin D helps bones and teeth to grow, and is made by our bodies when our skin is exposed to sunlight, so regular sun exposure for 15-20 minutes is a must for you and your baby.
Foods to avoid while Breastfeeding
In moderation, you can actually eat anything you like while breastfeeding. However, traces of what you eat and drink gets into the breastmilk, so be watchful of your baby. Certain foods or drinks can make your baby irritable or cause an allergic reaction (such as a rash, diarrhea or congestion), soon after nursing. If you suspect, something in your diet is affecting your baby, stop eating or drinking it for a week or so, to see the difference it has on your baby. Then, try the food again to see how it affects the baby. If you find they're unsettled again, you may want to cut out the food permanently from your diet. Common allergy causing foods are dairy, peanuts, soy, wheat, eggs or corn.
Also, practice caution while eating these foods and drinks:
1. Alcohol: Alcohol passes through the breastmilk and the level of alcohol in breastmilk is almost the same as in the mother's blood. It can affect your baby's alertness, ability to suckle and development. Drinking alcohol may also reduce your milk supply. So, not drinking alcohol is the safest option for breastfeeding mums, especially in the first three months of life when your baby's liver is still immature.
If you want to have an occasional drink, take only one or two units of alcohol, once or twice a week, if you are breastfeeding. The amount of alcohol in your blood usually peaks between 30-90 minutes after you have the drink, so limit baby's exposure to alcohol by choosing low alcohol drinks, eating before and while drinking, and avoiding breastfeeding for two to three hours after drinking.
2. Caffeine: Drinking large volumes of coffee, strong tea, or cola can make your baby restless, irritable, or even constipated. It can also interfere with your baby's sleep. Besides, affecting the nutrient make-up of breastmilk, in some women caffeine can disrupt the milk supply. Smoking cigarette further compounds the effects of caffeine in breastfed babies. So, limit caffeine consumption for two or less cups a day.
3. Spicy and Gassy Foods: Consider limiting spicy, irritating, gassy (onions or cabbage) foods, if you find your baby is unsettled or fussy after eating these. Strong flavours in foods such as garlic and onion also pass into breastmilk and some sensitive babies, may decrease intake. So, be watchful of your diet and stay away from foods that cause any discomfort in your baby.
4. Processed Foods loaded with Sugar: Processed, packaged and convenience foods are easy for a new mother, but these foods have little nutritional value for you and your baby. So, try to make homemade treats using fresh ingredients. To indulge your sweet tooth, you can make or bake your favourite treats using natural sweeteners like dates, raisins and molasses. Avoid juices and sugary drinks, as too much sugar can contribute to weight gain.
5. Take extra steps to avoid contaminants: Always eat clean and safe food, as a bout of food poisoning will only deplete your body of vital nutrients. Also, limit your intake of seafood, as often these are high in mercury or other contaminants, which may harm your growing baby's nervous system