When you embark on the profound journey into motherhood no one really tells you how challenging breastfeeding can be. You come through 9 months of pregnancy and a wonderful but possibly complicated birth only to find yourself facing the breastfeeding hurdle. Breastfeeding can be both an emotional and exhausting time with women dealing with everything from poor information to an overabundance of advice and too often women end up feeling overwhelmed and lacking confidence.
Breastfeeding can often feel like a clunky dance with our baby but with some simple nutritional tips women can hope for a better breastfeeding experience. We all know how important breastfeeding is for bonding and building our newborns immune systems but many women face issues with supply and an often unsettled or unhappy baby.
Breastmilk is built from mum’s health and nutrition. It is often termed “white blood” as it will reflect what ends up in a mother’s blood stream. Having a balanced diet and the right amount of certain nutrients can help with milk production and a more settled bub. New mums also need to remember when they are breastfeeding they need an extra 500 calories a day, so it’s important to get those from foods that help to produce breastmilk.
Protein requirements increase during pregnancy and breastfeeding so remember to ensure that each of your meals contain a portion the size of the palm of your hand of protein. Good sources of protein include meat, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, yoghurt and tofu. Snacking on protein throughout the day can also help increase energy and reduce sugar cravings that too often accompany the fatigue of early motherhood. Some helpful protein snacks to keep you going through the day include nuts, hummus with veggies, nut butter on fruit or crackers, and smoothies made with yoghurt, fruit and nut milk.
Carbohydrate needs can also increase during breastfeeding and it’s important to choose nutrient dense sources. Lactose is the primary carbohydrate found in breast milk and it promotes the healthy growth of bacteria in bubs stomach and the absorption of necessary vitamins. Roasted veggies, whole grain, sprouted and seeded breads and crackers, and sugar-free granolas and mueslis are all great sources of healthy and nutrient dense carbs.
Essential fatty acids found in healthy dietary fats are not evil and are a major component of breastmilk. Fats are needed for the development of our baby’s brain and nervous system and are necessary to ensure healthy weight gain. The essential fatty acid DHA found in breastmilk may assist with infant brain development, increase IQ scores and attention spans and can improve infant eye development. Good sources of fats to consider in your diet include fish, eggs, nuts, avocado, olive and coconut oil.
Other key nutrients for building breastmilk include Calcium, Iron, Vitamin D and zinc. All are essential in milk production, breast and nipple health and weight gain for our babies. Protein foods including meat, dairy, eggs and fish are good sources of these nutrients however sometimes supplementation is necessary. Many women are Vitamin D deficient so it may be necessary to get your levels checked and to supplement if your milk supply is struggling. Getting some sunshine, a great source of Vitamin D during breastfeeding is important and may help lift women’s mood as well.
Water makes up close to 80-90% of breastmilk so it’s not the time to forget to hydrate. Milk supply can easily be boosted with extra water and herbal tea. Fennel, fenugreek and chamomile tea are known to increase supply and may help settle a colicky or unsettled baby. Limit caffeinated drinks as they can cause dehydration and a consequent drop in milk production.
Many whole foods have a reputation for encouraging milk production and here are some to include on your breastfeeding shopping list – barley, oats ,brown rice, beetroot, almonds, walnuts, sesame, sunflower seeds, fish, eggs, yoghurt, avocados, sprouts, leafy greens (watercress, spinach, nettles, alfalfa, chicory, dandelion leaves) and sea vegetables (dulse, hijiki and kombu in particular). Stock based soups like traditional chicken soup and warm porridges are used throughout the world to encourage more milk. Also consider traditional home cooked nourishing foods like slow-cooked red meat on the bone and bone broths.
A mother who is well supported and well -nourished will have the best possible breastfeeding experience. Rest can feel like it’s a distant dream for the mother of a newborn, however there is no doubt it will help with increasing her milk supply. As a woman gets tired later in the day and evening there is an inevitable drop in her supply. Making breastmilk requires energy so lack of sleep or trying to do too much will compromise milk production. Just remember any rest will help, a ½ hour nap or even a quiet sit down with your baby over a pot of herbal tea all helps.
Please remember to nurture and celebrate those breastfeeding mum’s whilst she is doing her best to nourish and nurture her bub!