Covering the specific nutritional needs of the breastfeeding mother means avoiding deficiencies and promoting her well-being.
When a mother is breastfeeding, she needs extra energy for lactation, which can vary from 70 to 380 kcal per day. The exact amount depends on the mother, her weight gain during pregnancy, her physical fitness, her metabolism, her age, her activities and so on.
Breastfeeding is a good way to lose the extra pounds accumulated during pregnancy more quickly since they will be used to make milk.
A varied, balanced, natural diet, preferably with products of organic origin, and therefore rich in micronutrients, will help to keep the breastfeeding mother healthy and full of energy. No food is strictly prohibited as it is during pregnancy. Everything is allowed and the mother can treat herself while adopting a healthy diet.
What nutrients for baby and mum?
Since time immemorial, in every culture, breastfeeding mothers have been recommended certain foods or plants to support or increase their lactation. Most of the foods often recommended are very rich in micronutrients (vitamins, iron, zinc, calcium) and omega 3.
Among these elements, vitamin D promotes the absorption of calcium and phosphorus into the blood. It plays an important role in the immune system, bone growth and strength and muscle tone. Vitamin D is found in fatty fish, eggs and animal livers. It is activated in the body through exposure to UV radiation. Strict vegetarians and women with little exposure to the sun or even veiled women should be careful about their vitamin D levels and possibly ask their doctor for active vitamin D supplement to avoid deficiency.
Vitamin B12 is essential for the normal functioning of the brain, nervous system and blood formation. However, it is only found in foods of animal origin, so it is advisable for a breastfeeding vegan woman to be supplemented as early as during pregnancy.
It is recommended to vary your cooking oils to provide a complete supply of essential fatty acids in omega 3-6-9 (rapeseed, walnut, sesame, flax, sunflower and olive oil, preferably of organic origin and obtained by first cold pressing, together with small fatty fish such as mackerel or sardine).
Mothers are often iron-deficient at the end of pregnancy, and iron supplement is prescribed at birth. To avoid compromising iron assimilation, it is recommended that when you eat an iron-rich food (e.g. red meat, lentils, etc.), you don’t eat a dairy product that is rich in calcium during the same meal, or drink tea or coffee. On the other hand, a food or drink rich in vitamin C (green vegetables, lemon juice, etc.) will help to fix iron.
The breastfeeding woman’s diet in practice
Anything is allowed when breastfeeding, but in reasonable amounts because the effects on the baby are often depend on the quantities.
A breastfeeding woman generally feels more thirsty. A total of 8 to 10 glasses of liquid per day is recommended. But forcing yourself to drink won’t give you more milk, it’s “emptying” your breasts more often (baby and/or breast pump) that will promote lactation. As a change from water, fresh organic fruit and vegetable juices (especially carrots), smoothies and herbal teas are good alternatives. Tea and coffee can also be consumed but in reasonable quantities.
The foods to go for are fresh fruits and vegetables in all their forms (raw, steamed, in juice, in soup), organic whole grains (quinoa, oats, barley, rice, millet, buckwheat, etc.), legumes (peas, lentils, chickpeas, beans, etc.), fresh pollen and lacto-fermented foods such as sauerkraut or kefir.
Small snacks that require no cooking, are easy to prepare and meet all the requirements for good nutrition:
o Fresh seasonal fruit, preferably organic
o Wholemeal toast spread with crushed sardines with a dash of lemon
o An avocado with a dash of olive oil and lemon
o A slice of walnut bread spread with a mashed banana
o Dried fruit (figs, apricots, dates, prunes) and mixed oilseeds (nuts, hazelnuts, almonds, pumpkin and sunflower seeds)
o Hummus = chickpea puree mixed with crushed sesame paste (tahini), lemon, garlic and olive oil, accompanied by fresh vegetable sticks (carrot, cucumber, celery, pepper, etc.)
o Canned mackerel or anchovies with a drizzle of lemon and a few salad leaves in a pitta
o A handful of sprouted seeds sprinkled with a dash of rapeseed and lemon oil and sprinkled with oil seeds
o Fresh fruit/vegetable juice or smoothie mixed with a handful of ground oil seeds (flax, sesame, almonds, hazelnuts)
Finally, here is a small non-exhaustive list of natural galactagogue products (products that have the property of increasing lactation):
almonds, sesame, coconut, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, anise, fennel, cumin, ginger, oats, millet, whole grain rice, barley, brewer’s yeast, fenugreek.
The breastfeeding mother’s diet
Foods to avoid when breastfeeding
Sugar, industrial and refined products (white bread, white flour, refined sugar, refined salt) and dairy products that, in too large a quantity, acidify the body, must be limited.
It is essential for a breastfeeding mother to pay special attention to what she eats. If her diet is constantly inadequate, she may feel more tired and suffer from a decrease in resistance to attacks (enemy germs, viruses). Breastfeeding itself is not tiring; on the contrary, since the mother is resting while feeding her baby, it is mainly the accumulation of body waste and a diet poor in essential nutrients that are the cause of tiredness. Take care of yourself!
Based on a communication from Myriam Panard, breastfeeding consultant, November 2017