Breastfeeding Nutrition Basics // Guest Post by Leanne Helena
Happy Monday friends! I thought that during the month of April, as I'm slowly but surely finding my own feet when it comes to this whole breastfeeding thing, I would share a couple of blogposts centred around nutrition during breastfeeding, some great resources for those wanting to breastfeed, and (if possible) some honesty relating to my breastfeeding experience. I know that breastfeeding can be a very sensitive subject, particularly for those who are or have really struggled with it, so I hope that these posts will in no way shame anyone who is unable to breastfeed or has chosen to take another route - a fed baby and happy mom is the most important thing! What I do hope is that these posts will be informative and empowering to all who are interested.
First up, we have a guest post by Leanne, which covers the basic nutritional needs of a mother whilst she breastfeeds. We will go into a bit more detail about specific nutrients and the role that they play in supporting breastfeeding and boosting a mother's milk supply in another guest post later this month, but for now I hope that this will be a great introduction to some of the important things to consider when it comes to nutrition and breastfeeding.
Leanne studies a MSc in Clinical Nutrition and has a passion for maternal and infant nutrition after learning about the importance of the 'First 1,000 days' of a child's life (from conception to their second birthday) and how these initial days impact significantly on a child's development. Leanne became a lot more invested in this area of nutrition once she found out she was pregnant in July 2018. She has only just started her blog this year but is hoping to add lots more content now she is on maternity leave and as she transitions into motherhood.
Most of us know how beneficial breastfeeding is for our babies (and for the Mummas!) but it is also hugely demanding on our bodies and requires some extra nutritional input so it is worth having a quick look at your diet during this period.
How much energy do I need when breastfeeding?
Our bodies have effortlessly been preparing for the lactation stage during trimester 3 of pregnancy, when our fat stores increase. This extra fat is required to help with the energy cost of producing milk as well as the contents of the milk itself which uses around 500 kcal a day so its recommended that we eat a bit more than usual while we breastfeed. It is recommended that during lactation we should be eating around 330 kcal* extra whilst the fat stores make up the extra 170 kcal required for breastfeeding. Obviously, you’re not going to have to time to worry about eating exactly 330 kcal extra every day, but adding a couple of decent, balanced snacks or a small meal to your day will help you get the extra energy needed.
* If your weight gain during pregnancy was less than the recommended amount (see the NHS website for guidance), or if you were underweight before you were pregnant, you may need to eat a bit more. When breastfeeding it is important to eat when you are hungry.
What nutrients do I need?
Although our protein needs increase slightly during lactation (around 11 g per day in the first 6 months), most of us in the UK (and in other parts of the world where food is abundant) consume protein in excess within our normal balanced diets. If you feel like you’re not eating enough, or if you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, it may be worth having a look at how much protein that you are consuming. The general recommended intake is 1.1 g of protein per kilogram body weight.
The only other nutrient you should keep an eye on is Vitamin D. If you are living in the UK and other countries far North of the equator, it is recommended that you take a daily Vitamin D supplement during the period of October-March as there is not enough sunlight (in particular UV B rays) during those months to allow us to synthesise the vitamin. Breast milk is low in vitamin, D yet is an important nutrient for baby’s development so it is important to take a daily supplement. You should be looking to take a supplement containing 10 µg of vitamin D.
As long as you eating a balanced diet and you’re eating enough to be full and satisfied, there are no other nutritional recommendations that you need to worry about that will affect lactation. The normal advice is to eat:
5 portions of fruit and veg a day
Sufficient protein from animal and/or plant-based sources
Fat (focusing on foods containing predominantly unsaturated fats such as nuts, oily fish and eggs)
Dairy or dairy alternatives (making sure that the non-dairy alternatives are fortified with vitamins and minerals found in dairy products such as calcium and iodine so you don’t miss out on these)
Wholegrain carbohydrates (think brown bread, pasta, rice etc.)
Is there anything I can’t eat whilst breastfeeding?
There are not many foods that you can’t eat now that you’re breastfeeding, but it is still recommended to stick to only 2 portions of oily fish a week and one portion of shark, swordfish or marlin. This is because these large fish can accumulate mercury and other heavy metals, which probably aren't the best when consumed in excess.
Eating peanuts has a controversial history and many people used to be worried that eating peanuts in pregnancy or while breastfeeding may cause allergic reactions in their babies; then it was suggested that eating nuts can reduce allergies in babies. Now, the current advice is that you can eat peanuts (as long as you’re not allergic yourself) and this will have no effect on your baby. As a bonus, they’re a good source of protein, fat and fibre. If you have a family history of any allergies, its best to have a chat with your GP first.
Caffeine can be transferred to the baby via breastfeeding and could make your baby restless so its recommended that you only drink 200mg a day. This is around 2 cups of instant coffee or 2 cups of tea. Remember, a chocolate bar also has around 40mg of caffeine in so although you may want to, try not to eat more than 4 a day!
Alcohol can also be transferred to your baby, so it is recommended that you avoid drinking alcohol, however events and celebrations occur when you may want to drink and if you do, limit your intake to no more than one or two units, more than once or twice a week.
Drink lots of water! I’ve heard from a lot of new mums that breastfeeding makes you very thirsty so always have a glass of water around while you feed your baby. It’s recommended by the European Food Safety Authority to drink around 10-12 glasses of water a day when breastfeeding (compared to 8 glasses a day for everyone else).
Keeping your energy levels stabilised is a good way to prevent additional tiredness (especially with a lack of sleep from a newborn) so try to eat frequently throughout the day, and try to eat wholegrain foods that will release their energy slowly rather than giving you a quick hit of energy (although sometimes cake is definitely a good idea!).
After 9 months of eating for your baby during pregnancy, this is a time to think about your health and eating enough vitamin-rich foods can help you recover from the birth and get you back on track to feeling like yourself again.
British Nutrition Foundation: https://www.nutrition.org.uk/healthyliving/nutrition4baby/feeding.html?limit=1&start=5
Gluckman, P., Hanson, M., Yap Seng, C., Bardsley, A. (2015) Nutrition and Lifestyle for Pregnancy and Breastfeeding. Oxford University Press, Oxford.