A proper diet is important before, during and after pregnancy. During pregnancy is not the only time you need to eat right.
You need to watch what you eat even after giving birth to get quality breast milk and if your baby is getting inadequate milk, to increase your milk supply.
What foods should nursing mothers eat?
For the majority of women, losing weight is a priority after birth. However, there is an even more important factor to consider when choosing what to eat when nursing – whether the foods you eat will provide you with the energy you need to take care of your baby and whether it will be helpful in getting adequate and quality breast milk for your new bundle of joy.
This article focuses on some of the best foods that nursing mothers should incorporate into their diet, not only to provide energy but also to help in milk supply, especially for those mothers who face a challenge getting enough milk.
- Calories: Calorie-rich foods are probably the most important foods for a breastfeeding mother. Energy demands and appetite during breastfeeding increases during breastfeeding. Therefore, a nursing mother needs to consume more calories, at least 500 calories to around 1800 calories a day, to get the energy she needs. This is probably the last thing a mother who is looking to lose weight wants to hear because calories to most people means weight gain. However, losing weight after delivery is not the best decision especially if you intend losing it quickly after delivery.
It is completely normal to gain weight during the first 3 months of breastfeeding due to hormonal changes that increase your appetite and makes you prone to storing fat. This is not the best time to start losing weight fast by reducing or restricting your calorie intake. If losing weight is very important to you, try losing at most 0.5 kgs a week or 2.5 kgs in a month. Calorie-rich foods include avocado, eggs, cream cheese, butter, yoghurt, vegetables like spinach and broccoli, and seafood such as salmon and shellfish, among other foods.
- Proteins: Ensure you include proteins such as eggs, fish, nuts and seeds in your diet at least 2 – 3 times every day. Proteins are important because they help both your and your baby’s bodies to build, repair and maintain your muscles, organs, skin and tissues.
Vegetables: Vegetables are important in every diet because they provide necessary nutrients that the body requires such as vitamins and folate, among others which help in providing the energy you need, protecting against health problems and helping in digestion.
- Fruits: Fruits are necessary for any diet because they provide nutrients that you need such as vitamin C found in citrus fruits like oranges, which help to keep away infections. Ensure you have at least two fruit servings every day.
- Water: Most women find that they get thirstier than usual after breastfeeding. This is because oxytocin levels increase when a baby latches onto the breast.
- Taking water helps not only to satisfy your thirst but also to increase milk supply. Take a glass of water before you breastfeed, after breastfeeding and throughout the day. If you do not take enough water, you feel tired. You can check the colour and smell of your urine to determine whether you are having enough water.
- Whole grains: Complex carbohydrates like oatmeal, whole wheat bread and pasta leave you feeling full for longer. They provide you with vitamins, fibre and minerals and apart from keeping you full, fibre also helps in digestion and stabilizes your sugar levels.
What to avoid
There are certain foods that you need to avoid when breastfeeding because they can affect your baby’s health. Here are some foods and beverages to avoid:
- Alcohol: Alcohol can find its way into your breast milk and a baby can only metabolize alcohol at half the rate of an adult. You should not take alcohol during the breastfeeding period.
- Caffeine and sugary drinks: Caffeine taken by a mother is transferred to the breast milk and a baby takes longer to metabolise it than an adult. It can have an effect on the baby’s sleep. As such, breastfeeding mothers are advised to limit their caffeine intake to at most 2 to 3 cups a day.
Other things a nursing mother should avoid are spicy foods and other foods that they notice cause their babies negative effects. For instance, if after taking cow milk you realise your baby develops rashes, eczema, vomiting or diarrhoea, or their colic becomes worse, that can mean that your baby might have an intolerance to cow milk protein. You should see a paediatrician if your baby develops abnormal symptoms after feeding.
Talk to a dietitian who has experience in dealing with food allergies to plan your diet properly because it is significant in your baby’s growth and development and in your own health as it provides you with the energy necessary to take care of your baby and it increases your milk production.