There’s nothing like mother’s milk for a baby. From birth right up to 6 months of age, babies can be exclusively breastfed, and all their nutritional requirements will be taken care of.
Breast milk comprises minerals, proteins, vitamins, fat, and protective antibodies that promote healthy growth, bone, muscle and tissue development, as well as optimal brain development and function. It is delivered on demand to the baby at the perfect temperature and right thickness – it contains enough water to keep the baby hydrated, and enough solids for nourishment, and easily digestible. It’s also convenient and cheap!
For new moms, it’s the best way to lose pregnancy weight and get back into shape as breastfeeding takes up calories. It also helps regulate menstrual bleeding and to shrink the uterus, and even provides protection against breast and ovarian cancers. However, nursing mothers need to be mindful of their diet.
They have to be especially careful in the first three months as the baby’s digestive tract is very delicate; everything the nursing mother consumes can get secreted into her breast milk. Some of these foods may give babies colic, and some may damage the digestive lining – some may simply hamper milk production, or lend it an unpleasant taste.
So what is ideal food for a nursing mom?
Foods to avoid
Nursing mothers would do well to steer clear of the following foods, or have them in very limited quantities:
- Alcohol – duh.
- Caffeinated drinks like tea, coffee, colas
- Foods with synthetic coloring, preservatives, and taste enhancers – they could harm baby’s digestive tract.
- Foods containing MSG
- Overly salty, spicy or sugary snacks and beverages; spices include peppers, cinnamon, curry
- Garlic – it tends to lend a garlicky taste to the milk, and may put baby off the feed
- Certain herbs like peppermint,
- Citric fruits and juices – lemon, orange, grapefruit
- Fruits like pineapple, kiwi, strawberries
- Veggies that cause production of gas and give colic, like cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, cucumber
- Foods that can have a laxative effect like prunes, high-fat dairy, castor oil
So now that you know what you shouldn’t eat, or at least what you should eat very minimally, let’s take a look at foods that you can eat in plenty. Remember that as a breastfeeding mom you need at least an extra 500 to 600 calories per day over and above your usual intake.
- Healthy fluids like freshly squeezed juices, homemade soups, coconut water – even good old water. It’s important to stay hydrated.
- Salmon – it’s rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, which provides a host of health benefits, including helping to counter postpartum depression, and Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D.
- Whole grains; this means switching form white bread and pasta to whole wheat, and consuming quinoa, barley, spelt and so on. These grains are rich in fiber, minerals and Vitamin Bs. Fiber helps you stay full for longer, and is good for digestion too.
- Eggs – rich in protein, lutein, Vitamins D and B12, riboflavin, folate and choline. They are easy and quick to make and versatile too – and filling.
- Lean Beef is a rich source of zinc which is vital for nursing moms; it’s also full of iron, protein and B vitamins that provide energy and nutrition to breastfeeding mothers.
- Leafy green veggies like spinach are rich in calcium, fiber, antioxidants, and vitamins A, C, E and K, and are low in calories; try to have at least one serving a day. You can add it to your smoothie, omelet, or simply stir-fry.
- Legumes and beans rich in protein, phytochemicals, minerals and fiber – lentils, chickpeas, alfalfa, kidney beans, cowpea, and so on. This is especially great for nursing mothers who are vegetarian.
- Nuts, seeds and dry fruits like almonds, walnuts, apricots, fig, dates, chia, sesame and sunflower seeds, and so on. Go with peanut or almond butter over dairy; add nuts and seeds to your oatmeal or cereal; or simply add to your stir-fried veggies. They are rich in antioxidants, fiver, protein, iron, and healthy fats. They provide heart protective benefits as well as delay ageing by nourishing skin and hair.
- Fresh fruit like papaya, apples, banana, tomato
- Low fat dairy – milk, yoghurt, etc.
- Carrots – as they are rich in beta carotenes, carbs, and potassium, which can improve your energy levels.
- Protein rich food twice or three times a day
- At least 3 servings of yellow and dark green vegetables
- A minimum of 2 servings of fruit
- As much water as you need to stay hydrated
Remember, what you eat becomes your milk – eat what is best for you, and for your baby. Also view our presentation on guidelines for Nursing mothers from EPIC Health