Breast milk is the best food for babies, as its rich nutrients are present in easily digestible and bio-available form. Breastfeeding is also the most economical choice for all the nursing mothers. It is beneficial for the baby’s nutritional status and also strengthens the emotional bond between mother & her child. Breastfeeding may lead to higher cognitive development and reduced risk of childhood overweight, Asthma, type 1 & 2 Diabetes Mellitus, high Cholesterol, Hodgkin's Disease, Leukemia and Lymphoma. Breastfeeding is also beneficial for the mother as it reduces the risk of Diabetes Mellitus, Heart Disease, Breast & Ovarian Cancers, and promotes weight loss.
The first six months after childbirth, the baby should only be breastfed, the baby depends on the mother for all its nutrient requirements. A healthy diet while breastfeeding is essential for the mother, because her diet determines the vitamin, energy and nutrient content of the breast milk. The diet should not only be adequate, but also ensure additional supply of required vitamins. The lactation phase demands an additional of 300-500Kcal in the diet of breastfeeding mothers. Therefore they are advised to consume a wholesome meal with adequate proportions of Iron, Protein, Vitamins and Calcium.
IRON: Breastfeeding women should consume a diet rich in Iron to prevention deficiency or Anemia. Lack of sufficient Iron in the diet causes fatigue and increases the risk of infections. Good dietary sources of Iron include Garden Cress Seeds (Haleem), white Sesame seeds (Til), black Sesame seeds (Til), Niger seeds (Karale), Dates, Chicken Liver, etc. Iron present in green leafy vegetable should not be considered as a ‘good’ source of Iron, as the human body cannot absorb this nutrient from such vegetables.
PROTEIN: Proteins help to build the baby’s bones, muscles and other tissues in the body. Mothers need to eat additional dietary protein to meet the baby’s needs. Average amount of protein required by a breastfeeding mother is 1.2gms per Kg body weight, per day. Good sources of protein include dairy, Eggs, meat, dals, Soyabeans, legumes and nuts.
CALCIUM: Calcium plays an important role in the functioning of circulatory, muscular and nervous systems; it also helps build strong bones & teeth. Lactating women should consume 1500mg of Calcium a day. Adequate amount of milk & milk products like Paneer, Curd, and Buttermilk must be included in the diet to ensure good dietary intake of Calcium.
VITAMIN B12: Breastfeeding women who consume vegetarian diets may lack the amount of Vitamin B12 needed in the body. Low amounts of B12 can put their infants at risk of a B12 deficiency, which can cause neurological damage. However, Vitamin B12 is only found in animal products like meat and eggs, therefore it is necessary to consult with a doctor on B12 supplements if the mother is vegan, vegetarian, or otherwise. Good sources of Vitamin B12 include lean meat, poultry, Fish and Milk products.
OTHER VITAMINS: Vitamin-B6 helps form Red Blood Cells (RBC), break down Fats, Protein and Carbohydrates, it is also required for normal brain development and function. Vit-B6 can be found in Poultry, Fish, Bananas and whole grains. Vit-C is required for bone & tooth development along with tissue growth & repair. Citrus fruits like Sweet Lime, Oranges, Amla, Guava are good source of Vit-C. Hydration is equally important during breastfeeding; it is recommended that lactating mothers drink at least 10-12 glasses of water in a day. Although requirements for some nutrients may increase during breastfeeding, almost all vitamins and minerals can be obtained from eating a varied & balanced diet.
IMPORTANCE OF GALACTOGOGUGS IN LACTATION: Galactogogue are foods which improve lactation in nursing mother’s in-terms of quantity and quality. There are different traditional foods and herbs that act as Galactogogues. The most common ones being Methi seeds, Garden Cress seeds, Oats, dark green vegetables, Garlic, etc. It is important for lactating mothers to incorporate these foods in the most crucial post-delivery period.
WHAT TO AVOID DURING THE BREASTFEEDING PHASE? Avoid alcohol during lactation. Alcohol consumption during lactation has been linked with nutrient deficiencies in babies. Limit Caffeine (in Tea & Coffee) to no more than 300 mg per day. The use of Saccharin (artificial sweetener) is strongly discouraged but, the use of artificial sweeteners approved by the FDA is acceptable.
Stress and sleep has a huge impact on the production of breast milk. Mothers always struggle while breastfeeding their babies if they are too stressed or sleep deprived. Minimum 7hrs of sleep is must for lactating mothers. Also yoga, meditations works wonders!
Rasika Parab, HOD-Nutrition therapy, Fortis Hospital, Mumbai