While a special diet isn’t required for producing quality breastmilk, it’s still important for a nursing mother to eat well. Nutritious foods will maintain her health even as she adjusts to life with her new infant.
Did you know that mothers who breastfeed burn around 300 to 500 calories — the equivalent of running 9km — a day? Notes Tan Shiling, a dietitian at Mount Alvernia Hospital’s nutrition and dietetic services department, “A breastfeeding mum needs an additional 500 calories on top of the amount she consumed before pregnancy.”
For example, nursing mums require around 2,100 calories a day, compared to those who don’t breastfeed (1,600 calories), she adds. By the way, you should ditch the low-calorie diet: Drastic and long-term dieting severely affects the amount of breastmilk you produce.
“A breastfeeding mum needs an additional 500 calories on top of the amount she consumed before pregnancy.”
What you should eat
It’s natural for nursing mothers to experience hunger pangs. To keep your energy levels up, go for whole-grains such as brown rice, oats and wholemeal breads, but avoid refined sugars and stick to a well-balanced diet consisting of:
* Meat/poultry/Eggs ― Good sources of arachidonic acid (ARA).
* Fish ― Has omega-3 fatty acids, such as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). These are vital for baby’s growing brain and eye development — and also for keeping the postnatal blues at bay!
* Seafood ― Includes salmon, shrimp, canned light tuna, lake trout, tilapia, catfish, crab, pollock and scallops. Tan advises that nursing mums consume about 12 ounces (about 250g or three palm sizes) per week.
VITAMINS AND MINERALS
A breastfeeding woman needs much more minerals, especially iodine and zinc.
* Green leafy vegetables.
* Seafood/milk/eggs/poultry ― Are great sources of iodine
* Meat/milk/nuts/beans ― Have zinc.
* Dairy products like milk, yoghurt and cheese in your diet.
* Fish with edible bones.
* Soybean curd/tofu.
* Green leafy vegetables
* Calcium-fortified food like raisin bran and fortified orange juice.
“Besides protein and green vegetables, lactating mothers can try green papaya soup and any galactogogues (substances containing nutrients that promote breastmilk production) such as oats and fenugreek,” advises Kang Phaik Gaik, head of Parentcraft/Lactation at Mount Alvernia Hospital.
How much to drink
Aim for eight to 10 cups to stay hydrated, Tan says. Not sure if you’re getting enough? Thirst is a good indicator of your fluid needs. Drink a cup of water at every nursing session. Or take a variety of nutritious fluids, such as milk and soup.
Check the colour of your urine, says Tan. Pale-coloured urine shows you’re well-hydrated. But if it’s darker and has a strong odour, you’d better drink up to avoid a urinary tract infection, constipation and fatigue.
By the way, drinking too much won’t increase your milk production — it will only create a diuretic effect, which causes the body to flush out salts and electrolytes. If your sodium levels are low, it can cause cramps, seizures and, in severe cases, swelling in your cells.
Foods to avoid eating
If baby is unsettled or has a sensitive tummy, limit or avoid the following:
Consume it after breastfeeding. Wait two hours before nursing again. According to Fonnie Lo, a lactation consultant at Thomson Medical Centre, nursing mums should consume less than 300mg (two to three cups of coffee) per day. Consuming more than that may interfere with baby’s sleeping pattern or cause fussiness, Tan explains. Excessive caffeine is also linked to colic and acid reflux in some babies.
2. GAS-PRODUCING FOODS AND STRONG SPICES
Cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower are excellent sources of fibre, but can cause flatulence. Curries, garlic and onion can also cross into breastmilk. If baby is sensitive to the changes in breastmilk flavour, take these in moderation. Burp baby adequately after feeds.
3. HIGH MERCURY FISH
Shark, swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish and albacore tuna (or white tuna) contain high levels of mercury and other contaminants, Tan says.
If you do drink, sip right after nursing. Wait at least two hours before breastfeeding again.
4. HIGH-FAT DAIRY, MEAT AND PROCESSED FOOD
Pesticides and other chemicals are stored in animals’ fat, so pick the lower-fat varieties or go organic, Lo advises. Avoid taking processed food as it contains additives, she adds.
5. RAW FISH/ UNPASTEURISED SOFT CHEESES/COLD CUTS/PINK (RED) MEAT
“Although these can be nutritious for breastfeeding mums, they pose a higher risk of food poisoning, which can deplete the body of critical nutrients,” Tan notes. Can’t resist it? Just make sure it is freshly prepared and complies with food hygiene legislation, Lo advises.
Drinking impairs one’s ability to care for baby and weakens your let-down reflex. Alcohol also makes baby sluggish and may interfere with his breathing.
Stick to two standard drinks once or twice a week, Lo advises. More than two standard drinks a day will affect baby’s development, she adds. If you do drink, sip right after nursing. Wait at least two hours before breastfeeding again.
Traditional Chinese herbs used in confinement food can help a mother recuperate, but only when the right herb is used at the right time, says Lo. She advises consulting a TCM physician on the use of Chinese herbs if you’re still breastfeeding.
How to identify potential allergies in baby
“Some babies may be more sensitive to certain types of food, so observe your baby’s reactions, like his behaviour or skin rashes during or after breastfeeding,” Lo says.
Common allergy-inducing culprits include cow’s milk and other dairy products like cheese, yoghurt and ice cream, soy, nuts, peanuts and wheat.
A maternal diet heavy in melons, peaches and other fruits can cause diarrhoea, while red pepper may cause a rash. Apart from fussiness and crying, Lo suggests looking out for:
* Occasional or frequent vomiting.
* Loose, watery (or mucus-filled) stools (possibly tinged with blood).
* Weight loss.
It takes between two and six hours from the time you eat the food for it to affect the taste and aroma of your breastmilk. If your baby has a food allergy or if mum has a history of allergies, consult a paediatrician. They will recommend that the mum stop consuming the potential problem food for several weeks to check if it’s truly the culprit.
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