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Optimal Nutrition During Breastfeeding

by Meredith Beil BPharm MNutr & Alice Downing APD, MDiet & BHumNutr

Optimal Nutrition during Breastfeeding

Optimising the nutritional intake of a breastfeeding mother contributes to the health outcomes for both infant and mother, in the short and long-term. Breastfeeding mums should eat a balanced and varied diet emphasising wholegrain cereal products, vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy products and lean protein. Many of the nutrients present in breast milk reflect the maternal diet and most substances that the mother ingests are secreted into her breast milk.

Recommended Daily Dietary Intake for Breastfeeding

Age Group

Dietary Fibre

(g/Day)

Calcium

(Mg/Day)

Iron

(Mg/Day)

Sodium

(Mg/Day)

Folate

(Mcg/Day)

Vitamin C

(Mg/Day)

14-18yrs

27

1300

10

460-920

500

80

19-30yrs

30

1000

9

460-920

500

85

31-50yrs

30

1000

9

460-920

500

85

(Adapted from The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating1)

To achieve the recommended dietary intake for breastfeeding, aim to include the following number of serves each day during the first 6 months of breastfeeding. Requirements will decrease after 6 months, as baby increases his/her intake of solids. A mother’s energy needs are increased during lactation; extra kilojoules should be sourced primarily from nutritious foods. Water should be consumed each time baby breastfeeds, as well as between feeds, to achieve an approximate total intake of 2-3L of water daily.

Recommended Daily Dietary Intake for Breastfeeding

Food

Serves

Examples

Bread, Cereal, Rice, Pasta

9

1 slice of bread or ½ cup muesli

½ cup cooked rice or pasta

½ cup lentils

Vegetables or salad

5.5 – 7.5

½ medium potato OR ½ cup lentils

1 cup of salad OR ½ medium tomato

Fruit

2

1 medium apple or banana

2 small kiwi or apricot

2 Tbsp. sultanas or dried apricots

Meat and Alternatives

2.5

65g beef or lamb or pork

80g chicken or turkey

100g fish (canned or fresh)

2 large eggs or 170g tofu or 30g nuts

Dairy and Alternatives

2.5 - 4

250mL milk or ¾ yoghurt or 40g cheese

Losing Weight While Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding can assist in helping a mother lose the stores of body fat gained during pregnancy. A return to pre-pregnancy weight 6 months after baby is born is linked to a lower risk of overweight and obesity in the long term.

Initial weight loss may be significant, but it can be difficult to lose all of the extra kilos gained during pregnancy. Energy restriction is not recommended, as this can affect breast milk supplies (breast milk production requires on average 3000KJ per day). Research shows that the best way to lose weight is a combination of exercise and a healthy diet. Discuss safe and healthy weight loss with an accredited practising dietitian (APD).

Supplements

It is ideal to obtain all of your nutritional requirements from dietary sources. There is so much more nutrition in an orange than a Vitamin C tablet. For those who do not meet the recommended intakes of certain nutrients, discuss supplementation with a health professional that can recommend an appropriate product. Supplementation will not result in any additional benefits and may do harm.

Fish Intake

Fish (salmon, fresh tuna, mackerel, and sardines) are an excellent source of long chain omega 3 fatty acids. Fatty acids support the development of baby’s brain and nervous system. 2-3 serves of fish per week with at least one of those serves being high in omega 3 is ideal. If this is not achieved, daily fish oil supplementation is recommended.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D deficiency in breastfeeding women (and consequently their infants) is an issue in Australia. This is an issue for women who are dark-skinned or veiled, as well as for those who do not regularly exposure their skin to direct sunlight. Most people require 2 - 3 hours of direct sunlight, on their arms and face each week, to achieve vitamin D requirements. Blood tests can be used to determine whether supplementation is required.

Vegans

A vegan diet (excluding all animal products) may be insufficient during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Individual dietary advice from an accredited practising dietitian (APD) should be sought to ensure adequacy. Vitamin B12, iron, zinc and calcium may require supplementation, and should be monitored through blood tests. Higher protein requirements during breastfeeding also need to be taken into account.

Infant Allergy

Avoidance of allergic dietary compounds (nuts, eggs, wheat and dairy) by the mother has not been shown to prevent infant and childhood allergies. Limiting these foods may be detrimental to the health of mother and infant. Research states that continuation of exclusive breastfeeding for the first 4-6 months of baby’s life and continued breastfeeding throughout the introduction of solids can reduce allergies in infants.

1. The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating, Healthy Eating During Your Pregnancy. https://www.eatforhealth.gov.au