What foods to eat during lactation – what , how , when , avoid , best

Healthy eating during lactation is crucial: Here is why

Now that your pregnancy is over and you are holding a tiny bundle of joy in your hands, you might be thinking that you don’t need to focus on your eating habits as much as before. Well, you couldn’t be more wrong. For the first 6 months of his or her life, your baby will solely depend on your breast milk, and its quality and quantity will depend on what you consume. Plus, most new mothers worry about losing the baby weight as well. So, planning a proper and balanced lactation diet becomes necessary. This is the reason why this article aims to answer all major questions related to healthy eating while breastfeeding.

Do lactating mothers need more calories and nutrients?

Yes, according to doctors, lactating mothers need about 600 calories per day over and above their daily calorie intake, during the first six months postpartum. In the next 6-12 months, a lactating mother will require about 520 calories per day, in addition to her usual intake. The exact total amount will depend on your current weight, lifestyle, activity level, and overall health.

The calorie requirements during lactation are, in fact, more than what you require when you were pregnant. Protein requirement also increases in a lactating woman. She needs about 13-19 g additional protein during the first year after giving birth. Calcium requirement also becomes almost double (1200 mg) compared to what it was when you were not pregnant. Micronutrients such as iron, folic acid, vitamin C, and B complex vitamins are also required in larger quantities.

What foods are right during lactation?

You need to consume foods that are rich in protein, calcium, iron, and essential vitamins like A and B-complex. When it comes to cereals, unpolished and nutrient-dense whole grains, like oats, ragi, and brown rice will give you extra calories and additional micronutrients that are missing in their polished counterparts. It’s also important to have protein-rich foods like eggs, milk, yoghurt, lean meat, low-mercury seafood and dals. As far as fruits are concerned, opt for oranges, sweet lime, grapefruit and other citrus foods, as they have vitamin C, which your body needs when you’re nursing.

Leafy greens like spinach, coriander, amaranth leaves, broccoli, and methi leaves provide vitamin A, calcium, and vitamin C, and should definitely be incorporated in your diet. Drumstick leaves or moringa leaves are a superfood for lactating women. Try and consume as many vegetables and fruits as possible, as this will expose your baby to a large variety of flavours and reduce fussy eating behaviour in future.

Finally, there are some other superfoods, like almonds, methi (fenugreek), and garden watercress (haleem), which you shouldn’t skip while nursing.

Should you take vitamin supplements while lactating?

Ideally, you should be getting most of your nutrients from your diet. However, most doctors prescribe supplements for up to 3 months postpartum. Especially, requirements for vitamins and minerals shoot up during the lactation period. Supplements are also important if you have a restrictive diet. For instance, those who follow a vegan diet (a diet which is devoid of milk, milk products and animal foods), might not get enough vitamin B12. In that case, you might have to take a supplement. However, excessively high doses of vitamins can be harmful to your health, so, it’s best to check with your doctor before taking any supplement.

What should your fluid intake look like?

Just like during your pregnancy, it’s important to stay hydrated and drink water frequently. About 2 litres of liquids in a day is ideal. However, this might change depending on the season. If it is peak summer and you are sweating a lot, you might need to consume more fluids. Don’t wait till you feel thirsty. Monitor your urine output, and it ideally should be a pale, straw-coloured fluid. If it’s darker, then you need to drink more water. Also, make sure you keep a glass of water near you when you’re breastfeeding.

Apart from water, fresh fruit juices and smoothies can be enjoyed occasionally, as they are high in natural sugar. Beverages with added sugars will only add empty calories and lead to unnecessary weight gain. Thin buttermilk, coconut water, rice kanji, dal and vegetable-based soups can help meet your fluid requirements too. You can also drink plain water infused with herbs or sliced fruits.

Foods to avoid during lactation

Here’s a list of foods/fluids that you need to be wary of during this period:

Alcohol

Drinking alcohol, while breastfeeding, is a complete no-no. Your baby’s liver won’t be able to process it.

Caffeine

Too much caffeine in your breast milk may interfere with your baby’s sleep. Try and avoid completely or limit to a cup or two of coffee or tea per day. Remember that tea, chocolate and energy drinks have caffeine in them.

High-mercury seafood

Seafood is a rich source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids and should be a part of a well-balanced diet. At the same time, high levels of mercury in certain kinds of fishes like surmai, shark, and kalava can pose a threat to your baby’s developing nervous system.

Spicy and gassy foods

Spices like red chillies, black pepper and garam masala are best avoided while breastfeeding. They can be too hot for the taste of your little one. Gassy foods like potatoes, cabbage, eggplants, and lady’s finger should also be avoided. In some cases, these might cause bloating, gas or colic in babies. So, while lactating, it is best to evaluate what works for you and your child. If you feel that a particular food that you have eaten is making your child feel gassy and uncomfortable, try and eliminate it and see if it gets better. However, remember that the more flavours your child tastes during the breastfeeding phase, the less fussy he or she will turn out to be.

It is true that the early months with a new baby can feel overwhelming, especially if it’s your first pregnancy. At the same time, it’s important to remember that your child’s health will almost entirely depend on your nutritional choices. So, try and stick to healthy eating habits and make sure your baby gets all the nutrients he or she needs. Consult a doctor if you face problems or are not sure about eating a certain food item.