FOOD

The Foods (And Nutrients) Breastfeeding Mums Should Eat Most

Plus which foods and drinks to avoid.

23/01/2017 7:55 AM AEDT | Updated 23/01/2017 7:59 AM AEDT

Now that you've got your incredible little human in your arms and you are breastfeeding, you'll notice a few changes in your dietary requirements and appetite -- namely, you're a lot hungrier and need more nutrients to feel satisfied.

According to Dineamic head dietitian Karen Inge, it's incredibly important that breastfeeding mums are eating enough nutritious foods and getting the best amount of nutrients possible.

"It is vital to eat a healthy, nutritionally balanced diet and to look after yourself, whether you are breastfeeding or not," Inge told The Huffington Post Australia.

"Producing breast milk increases appetite and some nutrient requirements (such as protein, zinc, iodine, selenium, omega 3 fatty acids and vitamin B12 and vitamin C). With breastfeeding, it's all about you, the mother, and ensuring that your nutritional status is adequate."

Although it often feels impossible to find the time to sit down and eat a well balanced meal, Inge explained that eating frequently (and eating well) means that not only will you properly fuel yourself, but it will help you recover.

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Breastfeeding increases energy requirements by approximately 2,000 kilojoules (500 calories) per day.

"The big issue for mothers of newborns is actually getting into a routine. In between feeding, burping, changing nappies and settling this little bundle of joy, there is often little time for anything else -- let alone food shopping, cooking and cleaning up," Inge said.

"Add to the lack of routine the sleep deprivation, and you can understand how this presents problems with the practicalities of having a well balanced diet.

"This in turn can impact on the mother's nutritional status, including her ability to get back into shape and nourishing her body adequately."

If you are naturally thin or have a fast metabolism, mothers also need to make sure they're eating enough, as breastfeeding does increase the amount of food you need each day.

"Breastfeeding does increase energy requirements by a relatively small amount -- approximately 2,000 kilojoules (500 calories) per day. For the majority of lactating women there is no need to eat more food as they will be using up some of their fat stores that they laid down in pregnancy to provide the extra energy.

"Some breastfeeding women find they lose too much weight and will need to increase the size of their portions of healthy foods they consume or to increase the number or frequency of snacks and and drinks they consume in between meals."

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So, what are the best foods to eat to help meet these nutritional requirements?

Protein

"Protein is relatively easy as a lactating woman needs only slightly more per day," Inge told HuffPost Australia. "Protein is found in all animal products like meats, poultry, fish (low mercury fish is best), and other seafood, eggs and dairy, nuts, seeds, legumes and tofu are also good sources of protein."

Zinc

Zinc is found in cells throughout the body and is important for immune health. Zinc also plays a role in cell division, cell growth, wound healing and the breakdown of carbohydrates.

"The best source of zinc in our diets are oysters and mussels, followed by red meat," Inge said. "Non-animal sources are legumes."

Iodine

Iodine plays a major role in the body as an essential component of various thyroid hormones.

"Iodine is supplied mainly in the diet by seafood, seaweeds and sea vegetables, and iodised salt," Inge said. "Some women may require supplementation. This is best discussed with your dietitian or medical practitioner."

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Selenium

Selenium is a trace mineral which the body only needs in small amounts. Selenium helps the body make antioxidant enzymes, which play a role in preventing cell damage.

"The easiest way to meet selenium requirements is to eat two Brazil nuts each day," Inge said.

Omega 3s

Omega 3 fatty acids, also known as polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), play a crucial role in brain function, as well as normal growth and development.

"Eating oily fish twice a week --- like ocean trout, salmon and sardines -- will help with omega 3s," Inge said.

"If you don't like fish or are vegetarian, then flaxseeds, walnuts and chia seeds and omega 3 enriched foods like eggs are all good sources."

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B12

Vitamin B12 is a very important vitamin for maintaining healthy nerve cells. It helps in the production of DNA and RNA, the body's genetic material, and works closely with vitamin B9 (folate) to help make red blood cells and iron work better in the body.

"Vitamin B12 is mainly found in animal products, the richest source being offal and then red meat, although some fermented foods may contain traces, as can mushrooms," Inge explained.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C helps in the growth and repair of tissues in all parts of your body. It helps the body make collagen, an important protein used to make skin, cartilage, tendons, ligaments and blood vessels.

"Vitamin C is in abundance in our diet, provided you eat fresh fruits and vegetables daily," Inge said.

Hydrate

"It is also very important to keep your fluid intake up, as producing breast milk requires extra fluids. It is estimated that a lactating mother produces about 700ml breast milk per day," Inge said.

"Water is the best choice, although low fat milk is also good as it contains protein as well as other important vitamins and minerals, like the B vitamins, calcium and magnesium."

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In terms of foods and drinks to reduce or avoid, the main products are junk foods, alcohol and caffeine.

"It is best not to overindulge in high fat, high sugar discretionary foods or drinks which have little or no nutritional value," Inge told HuffPost Australia.

"Although these choices will provide extra energy (kilojoules), they will not provide extra nutrients.

"During breastfeeding, it's best to keep your caffeine intake to 150-300 milligrams per day. This is equivalent to two to three coffees a day, depending on the strength, or three to six cups of tea, once again depending on the strength."

Inge also recommends being wary of energy drinks, as many contain sugar as well as the caffeine.

"Caffeine passes to the baby through breast milk. If the mother has excessive amounts of caffeine while breastfeeding, the baby can become agitated and have sleep disturbances," Inge said.

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"The other issue to be mindful about is alcohol intake. Most women avoid alcohol during pregnancy so it is understandable that they are looking forward to enjoying a glass or two after having the baby.

"The problem with drinking alcohol when breastfeeding is that the alcohol passes quickly into the breast milk (30 to 60 minutes after ingestion) and alcoholic breast milk is very dangerous for the baby as their liver is still developing.

"The recommendation is to avoid alcohol while breastfeeding, especially in the first month. If you do choose to have a drink, limit to one standard drink and have it immediately after feeding. Wait 2-3 hours before feeding again as it takes that long to be cleared from the breast milk."

Another good tip from Inge is to express some breast milk before you drink alcohol to feed to your baby, "just in case they need it before the alcohol has been cleared from the breast milk".

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