Lactation or breastfeeding is a naturally occurring process in all-female mammals including humans, after giving birth.
While a mother’s milk is enough for a newborn’s nutritional needs, there are things you can do to maximize the benefits to you and your baby.
One of the most effective ways is to improve your diet.
Having a balanced, healthy diet is essential in all stages of pregnancy, as well as post-pregnancy, especially if you are breastfeeding.
In this post, you’ll learn about the impact of the right nutrition on breastfeeding mothers and the best healthy foods to consider.
Why is diet important for a breastfeeding mother?
You’ve probably heard of the expression that a pregnant woman is “eating for two”.
For obvious reasons, during pregnancy, your body needs the extra fuel for your baby to grow.
This continues after childbirth when your body produces milk for your baby, who relies on you for nourishment.
It is worth noting that whatever food you consume, and the quality of the food you consume in terms of nutrients, processed ingredients, and preservatives or chemicals, will be passed on to your baby through breastmilk.
You may also find that you are hungrier during this time.
This is because a part of your food intake is being used to make food for another human being.
While upping your calorie intake would normally be enough to satiate your lactation-induced hunger, it is also worth noting that certain kinds of food have been proven to improve breastmilk production.
These are called lactogenic foods.
There are countless lactogenic products in the market these days.
These include food supplements, powders, and even sweets like lactation cookies and cupcakes.
However, if you prefer more natural options, there are several lactogenic foods.
Healthy foods for breastfeeding mothers
Here are seven foods breastfeeding moms can eat to help their babies:
Spinach, arugula, watercress, broccoli, and the crowd favorite kale – you’re probably already familiar with your green veggies.
These vegetables are rich in vitamins and minerals that help replenish your body during lactation.
So, until your baby is old enough to eat their greens, it’s your job to do it for them.
Did you know that in Ancient Egypt, chickpeas were thought to increase breastmilk?
Legumes, including chickpeas, peas, kidney beans, soy products, and lentils are a good source of protein, B vitamins, and other nutrients like magnesium, phosphorus, iron, and fiber.
A serving of legumes a day, around ½ cup, can be a welcome part of a well-balanced diet.
Whether fresh, dried, frozen, eaten, or sipped in a smoothie, you can never go wrong with fruits.
Switch to fruits as desserts for an extra dose of fiber and vitamins.
Avocados in particular are good for breastfeeding mothers.
They are rich in nutrients like potassium and magnesium that are good for your blood circulation which by the way, is how your body delivers nutrients that turn into milk.
Avocados are also rich in fiber and healthy fats. They are easy to prepare and can be used in a lot of recipes from breakfast to dessert.
Fat is important in the diet because it is essential for the absorption of vitamins A, D, E, and K.
They also help regulate blood sugar levels and help us feel satisfied with our meals.
It is best to stick to healthy fats, like those that come from olive oil, flax and chia seeds, nuts, avocados, and salmon.
Omega-3 fats, which are especially good for you, are found in salmon and tuna, as well as walnuts and flax seeds.
As mentioned earlier, your body requires extra calories and energy to produce breastmilk.
By now, you are probably aware that some grains are better than others. Whole grains or unrefined grains are healthier than their refined version.
This is because whole grains retain the bran and the germ which are edible parts of the seed. The process of refining removes this part.
Oatmeal is an especially popular food among lactating mothers because it’s filling, nutritious, tasty as well as versatile – try cooking it sweet or savory and see which way you like it better!
6. Fermented foods
Fermented foods such as pickles and sauerkraut are a staple in many western cuisines. It’s one of the useful foods for breastfeeding mothers.
Recently, fermented foodstuffs from other countries such as kimchi and kombucha have been gaining mainstream popularity as well.
All these foods contain probiotics or good bacteria, live microorganisms that when eaten, help improve and restore the microbiome of beneficial microorganisms in our digestive tracts.
This promotes better digestion which in turn means better nutrient absorption from the food you eat.
And as a breastfeeding mother, you need all the help you can get.
Furthermore, fermented food products have also been proven to help prevent Lactational Mastitis, as found in this study.
This is the medical term for the condition when there is a painful swelling of the breasts during lactation.
It should be noted, however, that not all fermented foods are created equal.
For example, many yogurts and store-bought fermented products like kimchi are pasteurized for longer shelf life, as well as to meet customers’ expectations about taste.
This process of pasteurization kills all microorganisms, including all the good bacteria, that can cause spoilage which unfortunately includes probiotics. So, homemade is still much better!
7. Animal products
By now you already get the basic idea – the more nutritious the food is, the better it is, especially for breastfeeding moms.
Meats such as beef and lamb are excellent sources of protein, iron, vitamin A and vitamin B12 which are essential for breastmilk production and quality.
Eggs, including the yolk, are a good source of protein, vitamin B2, selenium, and phosphorus, just to name a few.
Milk and other dairy products are still some of the best sources of calcium, and fish such as salmon and cod for their healthy fats particularly Omega-3.
Within moderation, a diet with varied types of animal products is best.
8. Homemade lactation recipes
As mentioned earlier, there are food products that are made specifically to aid in lactation, but you do not have to run to the grocery store to get them.
There are many easy and simple recipes online that you can follow to make your own.
These include smoothies, porridges, and pastries like cookies and cupcakes.
You can use all the foods mentioned in such recipes.
The bottom line is foods that were good for you before and during pregnancy are still good for you after.
The only difference is now, your body is producing food for another human being, so you have to give some extra thought to what you eat.
While these foods are generally safe and beneficial to breastfeeding mothers, these do not take into account any specific nutritional needs or dietary restrictions that you may have.
The final word on your breastfeeding diet should still come from your doctor. Your doctor will provide you with tailored advice for your individual needs.