Nutrition for Breast feeding Mums
When it comes to breast feeding it can be an emotive subject. For many reasons people choose not to breast feed or are unable to. I choose to feed my children for the health benefits , both to me and them and because I was lucky enough to have a good support structure around me .It wasn’t all plain sailing but I am thankful that I was able to overcome any difficulties . I have gone on to be part of that support structure as I now volunteer as a peer support worker for my local breast feeding group. So the big question is….
Why should we breast feed?
According to NHS UK
Breastfeeding reduces the risk of:
• infections, with fewer visits to hospital as a result
• diarrhoea and vomiting, with fewer visits to hospital as a result
• sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
• childhood leukaemia
• type 2 diabetes
• cardiovascular disease in adulthood
Breastfeeding and making breast milk also has health benefits for you. The more you breastfeed, the greater the benefits.
Breastfeeding lowers your risk of:
• breast cancer
• ovarian cancer
• osteoporosis (weak bones)
• cardiovascular disease
Do I need extra Calories?
Yes you will need an extra 400-500 extra calories. At least this is true for some but not all. Research now indicates that this is dependent on the level of activity and how much body fat the women has Now before you get too excited and think oh great I can have an extra sweet treat . It is best to opt for nutrient dense food to keep your energy levels stable. When you are already feeling tired you want to avoid adding to this by filling up on sugar to keep you awake. It will have the opposite effect as you will have a blood sugar spike with the ingestion of the sugar and yes you will feel energised for a short time but it will not last and the energy slump afterwards is what we are trying to avoid. If you have nutrient dense food this will maintain a constant energy level making everyday tasks much easier. So what does 500 calories look like in real terms?
• A slice of whole-grain bread with a tablespoon of peanut butter, a medium banana or apple, and 227 g of yogurt.
• A small handful of almonds and a small banana.
• 2 thick slices of wholemeal bead and 90g of cheese
• A punned of strawberries , 50g pecan nuts
• 100g hummus and carrot sticks
• 5 oatcakes and 3 tablespoons of almond butter
What foods are best?
Make healthy choices as this will fuel your milk production and keep you fuller for longer and therefore less likely to snack on sugary snacks. Also wash your fruit and vegetables to limit exposure to harmful chemicals. Whatever you eat your baby will get through your milk so it will change the flavour. This gets baby used to different tastes and may make them inclined to try new foods when it comes to weaning .The more foods you include in your diet the more opportunity baby has to try new things too. Interesting one study carried out indicated that when women ate garlic it encouraged babies to feed for longer! The basic things to remember are
• Good protein sources should be included in every meal and that includes snacks. We need good quality protein in our diet in order to make amino acids. These are the building blocks in the body and used in many different ways within the body. The production of enzymes, hormones, and blood clotting agents, neurotransmitter synthesis, in short Protein is an essential part of our diet. The key is good quality such as Organic meat, chicken, fish, grains, legumes and green leafy vegetables, tofu, low fat dairy products. A good rough guide to a healthy portion of protein is the equivalent in size to the palm of your hand. Protein also keeps us fuller for longer so helping us to maintain energy levels. Importantly breast milk is produced from protein in the diet or protein stored in the body so ensure that your protein intake is of good quality.
• Carbohydrates: Needed for energy production and consist of sugar, starches and dietary fibre. They are divided into two type’s simple and complex carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are converted into glucose in the body which is essential for energy for the brain, body cells, skeletal muscle and Red blood cells. Go for complex carbohydrates Brown rice and pasta, vegetables, whole grains, legumes; they are often rich in fibre, satisfying and health promoting. Complex carbohydrates are commonly found in whole plant foods which are also often high in vitamins and minerals, so promote health.
• Good Fats. You can change the amount of fat in your breast milk by the fat you eat .This can also be done by allowing baby to empty the breast. : The right kinds of fats are needed for cell membrane construction, haemoglobin, digestive enzyme production, helps to regulate the electrical current in the heart, balance the immune system, and needed in repairing body tissues. A good balance of omega3/ 6 is needed and avoiding Trans fats found in processed foods, cakes, biscuits and fried foods. Instead go for Extra-virgin, cold-pressed, organic coconut oil, Extra-virgin, cold-pressed, organic olive oil ( no not heat at a high temperature as it will change the fat from healthy to unhealthy ), nuts , avocado and fatty fish such as mackerel, herring , wild salmon . Fats are needed for the absorption of some vitamins so if you embark on a low fat diet you may be missing out on these.
The Nice guidelines recommend supplementation of vitamin D at 10 micrograms per day for pregnant and breast feeding women. The main source of vitamin D is sunshine and there is a certain amount in fish such as sardines, salmon, tuna, eggs, butter and liver. It is almost impossible to get enough vitamin D from the sun so a supplement is recommended. It requires fat for absorption.
Vitamin D is needed to maintain the blood concentration of calcium, which basically means it ensures the body holds onto enough calcium for bone formation. It also has a part to play in immunity and in balancing your mood.
Speak to your GP regarding multivitamins available on prescription; the most commonly prescribed is vivioptal Jr which contains 25% of the recommended amount. Next is Dalivit drops which has a better dose of vitamin D, although it is in D2 form and D3 is the preferred choice as it is more active. Adidec drops are also available and have 100% of the RDA in D2 form.
According to the NHS guidelines
All babies and young children aged six months to five years should take a daily supplement containing vitamin D, in the form of vitamin drops. This helps them to meet the requirement set for this age group of 7-8.5 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin D per day.
Babies who are fed infant formula don’t need vitamin drops if they are having 500ml (about a pint) of formula or more a day. This is because formula is already fortified with the vitamins they need.
If you are breastfeeding your baby and didn’t take vitamin D supplements during your pregnancy, your health visitor may advise you to give your baby vitamin drops containing vitamin D from the age of one month.
What is contained in breast milk?
Protein: alpha lactalbumin and whey
Fats: cholesterol, triglycerides, short and long chain fatty acids. The long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids are needed for brain and retinal development.
Enzymes : these are catalysts which speed up chemical reactions in the body .So basically they are need to help with digestion of proteins ,fats and crabs .They can also help to transport substances such as minerals to where they need to go.
Immunoglobulin’s: These are the army of the immune system .They attach to the foreign substances such as bacteria and assist in destroying it. They are commonly known as antibodies. The most abundant antibody in breast milk is SlgA, which is the best source of passive immunity for the baby before their own immunity kicks in. There are a host of other immune defence factors in breast milk that also feed the good gut bacteria which is essential in good immune health.
Are there foods to help increase milk supply?
Fenugreek: tea 2-3 cups per day or capsule two 500mg 3 times daily with a maximum 6 capsules per day. Results should be seen with 48 to 72 hours.
• It is the same family as peanuts and chickpeas so it may cause an allergic reaction in those who already have an allergy.
• fenugreek reduces blood glucose levels so use with caution if you are a diabetic mother
• If you have asthma it may worsen symptoms
• Do not take with prescription drugs as it may delay absorption
• The effects of Ant diabetic drugs may be enhanced if taken with fenugreek
• May enhance the effects of anticoagulants such as Warfarin
• Do not take with MAOI’s (antidepressants)
Fennel seeds: tea, 1 tsp boiled in water and steeped for 10 minutes 2-3 times per day.
• People who are allergic to plants such as celery, carrot, and mugwort are more likely to also be allergic to fennel. Fennel can also make skin extra sensitive to sunlight and make it easier to get sunburn. Wear sun block if you are light-skinned.
• Also it is not known if it is safe taken in medicinal amounts so therefore it is best avoided.
• If you have a hormone sensitive condition it is also best avoided as it is thought to act like oestrogen.
• It may also slow blood clotting.
Please consult your GP or midwife before taking ANY supplements
How much fluid do I need ?
Drink before you get thirsty, check your urine and if it is a dark yellow colour you need to be drinking more. The European Food Safety Authority recommends that women should drink about 1.6 litres of fluid and men should drink about 2.0 litres of fluid per day. That’s about eight glasses of 200ml each for a woman. Are you drinking enough? Herbal teas, soups and some fruit can help to contribute to this intake. Sugary drinks and caffeine should be avoided as both are stimulants and will decrease energy, not increase it.
Things to consider if you are vegetarian/vegan
Iron: Are you getting enough iron in your diet. There are two types of iron, heme and non -heme. Heme iron is found in meat and it is easily absorbed. Vegetarians/vegans rely on the non -heme source of iron which is found in plants, pulses, nuts etc and is not so easily absorbed. Vitamin C is a critical component in non -heme iron absorption .In other words, It needed for a vegetarian to absorb the iron from a meal. This can be helped by having food that contains vitamin C, or drinking a small glass of orange juice or taking a supplement. Tannins in tea and coffee can reduce absorption as can calcium supplements .The RDA is 14.8 mg women and 1.8 higher if you are not a meat eater.
Note: Vitamin C does not stay in the body so needs to be topped up during the day.
Iron can be found in
• Romaine lettuce
• Green beans
These are a few examples
B12: This is a difficult one as it is mostly found in meat; it is needed for the development of red blood cells and for the formation of the myelin sheath around the nerves.
It can found in
• Low fat milk
• Yeast extract (marmite)
• Fortified breakfast cereal
Protein: We have already looked at the importance of protein in milk product. Make sure yours is as it should be and part of every meal.
Foods to avoid
According to the Mayo clinic
• Alcohol. There’s no level of alcohol in breast milk that’s considered safe for a baby. If you drink, avoid breast-feeding until the alcohol has completely cleared your breast milk. This typically takes two to three hours for 12 ounces (355 millilitres) of 5 percent beer, 5 ounces (148 millilitres) of 11 percent wine or 1.5 ounces (44 millilitres) of 40 percent liquor, depending on your body weight. Pumping and dumping doesn’t speed the elimination of alcohol from your body. The NHS guidelines indicate the same and state that 2 units a day has been shown to impact on a Childs development. One unit of alcohol is approximately a single (25ml) measure of spirits, half a pint of beer, or 125ml (small) glass of wine, although this depends on the strength of the drink.
Caffeine. Avoid drinking more than 2 to 3 cups (16 to 24 ounces) of caffeinated drinks a day. Caffeine in your breast milk might agitate your baby or interfere with your baby’s sleep. The NHS guidelines are similar as there is a need to restrict intake and they recommend less than 300mg a day:
• one mug of filter coffee: 140mg
• one mug of instant coffee: 100mg
• one mug of tea: 75mg
• one can of energy drink: up to 80mg
• one 50g plain chocolate bar: up to 50mg
• one cola drink (354mls): 40mg
Try decaffeinated tea and coffee, herbal teas, 100% fruit juice (but no more than one 150ml glass per day) or mineral water. Avoid energy drinks, which can be very high in caffeine.
• Fish: it is extremely good for us but can be high in mercury and pollutants. The NHS guidelines are no more than two portions of oily fish a week. A portion is around 140g. A full list can be found at
Stay healthy vouchers
You can get Healthy Start vouchers if you’re pregnant or have a young child under four and are getting certain benefits or tax credits, or you’re pregnant and under 18.
The most important message is to relax and enjoy your baby. Stress will be the first thing that will negatively impact on your supply and stop your enjoyment of the experience of feeding your baby. Eat a balanced diet and don’t worry, you’re doing great. There’s support out there if you need it, check out below for details.
Jenner R, (1979) the composition of human milk
Semin Perinatol (1979) Jul; 3(3):225-39
Mateljan ,G (2007). The world’s healthiest foods. Washington: GMF publishing. All.