How does mum eat right while she is breastfeeding?

Many new mothers have been waiting for this moment for a long time: Food that was on the “forbidden foods list” during pregnancy, such as sushi, smoked salmon, soft cheese and much more, is finally safe to eat again. Even though breastfeeding mothers have a much larger selection of food to choose from, it is worth taking a close look at what you eat. Your diet is critical in this case too as what you eat will have a bearing on your child’s nutritional education. Dietician Sandra Müller explains how you can have a healthy, balanced diet while breastfeeding.

Maintain a healthy diet

Almost all pregnant women try very hard to observe the nutritional guidelines during pregnancy and follow a healthy and balanced diet. They should continue to do so while they are breastfeeding, or even better transpose their efforts into long-term lifestyle changes for their own well-being and that of their growing family. In specific terms, it means filling your plate generously with vegetables during your midday and evening meals, as well as eating salad, fruits, nuts and seeds on a daily basis. You should also eat healthy sources of protein such as pulses or high-quality, unprocessed meat or fish and eggs. You should reduce your intake of sugar and sweets to a minimum. White flour products as well as other refined starch side dishes such as white rice should be replaced with wholegrain ones. When you are breastfeeding, the same rule applies as during pregnancy: do not eat for two, but rather think for two.

Unique characteristics of breastfeeding

If a woman breastfeeds exclusively, the breast milk covers all her baby’s nutritional needs. An additional energy intake of approx. 500 kcal per day is recommended to cover the increased requirements. This roughly corresponds to a wholemeal sandwich filled with a generous serving of vegetables and dried meat, or a fruit muesli with wholegrain flakes, natural yoghurt and a handful of nuts or seeds. This additional energy requirement reduces correspondingly to approx. 200–300 kcal per day if a woman only breastfeeds partially. A handful of nuts or a fruit with an unsweetened yoghurt already cover these increased requirements. We recommend that you eat when you are hungry and do not consume additional calories as a precautionary measure.

While you are breastfeeding, it is also a good opportunity to lose a few extra pounds which have accumulated during your pregnancy naturally. However, it would not be a good idea to go on a radical diet at this stage. This would reduce your milk production, while on the other hand, rapid breakdown of fat tissue may cause any harmful substances stored there to enter your bloodstream and travel to your breast milk as well.

The composition of the breast milk is influenced by the mother’s diet and plays significant role in the healthy development of the child. New findings even suggest that a child’s diet in the first months of their life not only determines their current well-being but is also an important factor for their health later on in life. It is almost impossible to overfeed a child by breastfeeding them exclusively, and it is a significant protective factor against obesity and the related metabolic diseases in adulthood.

Nutritional tips for optimum breast milk composition

  • Drink plenty of fluid: A woman who is breastfeeding should drink at least two litres of uncarbonated water or unsweetened tea daily to compensate for fluid loss via the breast milk. Non-carbonated, low-nitrate and low-salt mineral water as well as herbal tea that increases milk production are ideal.

Increases milk supply*

  • Fennel seeds, aniseed or caraway as seasoning or tea
  • Cereal coffee made of malt or chicory
  • Alcohol-free beer

Reduces milk supply*

  • Peppermint, parsley, sage and hibiscus as seasoning or tea
  • Malnutrition or overeating

*Empirical values

  • The protein requirement increases while breastfeeding in comparison to pregnancy and is from 0.9/1.0 g to 1.2 g per kilo of body weight. High-quality, unprocessed organic-quality meat products provide a good source of protein and important micronutrients such as zinc, iron and B vitamins. Regular intake (approx. three times per week) is recommended.
  • The essential Omega-3 fat DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is extremely important both during pregnancy and while breastfeeding for the development of baby’s nervous system and brain. Studies have shown that a good supply through the diet or in the form of supplements has a positive long-term effect on the child’s visual acuity, linguistic development, fine motor skills and social behaviour. At least 2 portions of fatty fish such as salmon, herring or mackerel per week or 200 mg DHA as a daily dietary supplement are recommended.
  • Iodine is an important trace element for the baby’s physical and cognitive development. As Central Europe is an iodine-deficient area, common salt is iodised in Switzerland (blue package with dark red stripes) or iodised and fluoridated (blue package with green stripes). Pregnant women who do not regularly use iodised salt are advised to take iodine in tablet form or increase their intake of low-emission sea fish or iodine-rich algae.
  • Moreover, further micronutrients such as Vitamin A, Vitamin E, Vitamin C, various B-vitamins as well as minerals such as zinc, iron or magnesium continue to be required in higher doses while breastfeeding. A particularly nutritious diet can largely cover the increased needs. If this is not the case, we recommend that women take a multivitamin and mineral preparation while they are breastfeeding as well. Folic acid is an essential vitamin for women who breastfeed: It is a good idea to continue taking the supplement and to make sure that you take the active form, 5-Methyl-tetrahydrofolat (5-MTHF), which can be absorbed by all women irrespective of their genetic enzyme makeup.

What you should avoid

You should avoid hot spices, vegetables that cause bloating, pulses as well as foods with a strong odour such as asparagus or garlic only if you do not tolerate them well or if you notice an untoward reaction in your baby. By progressively increasing the amount, a baby can often adjust well to his mother’s normal dietary habits and thus be introduced to those of the family. On the other hand, it is also advisable to abstain completely from alcohol, nicotine and other drugs while breastfeeding, consume caffeinated drinks infrequently and only take medication when absolutely necessary in consultation with a specialist.

 

About the author

Sandra Müller, dietician, is owner of Contexte Santé and writes about nutrition and health.