After hearing all about what you shouldn’t be eating or drinking during pregnancy, or all the supplements you should be popping, it is a relief to be able to relax a little in the eating department now that your bundle of joy has arrived… well, maybe food hasn’t been at the forefront of your mind given the sleep deprivation! What you are eating and drinking during this time, however, is still quite significant for both you and your bub!
Choosing to breastfeed is each individual mother’s choice and whether you choose to or not, please seek advice from your medical team, lactation consultant, baby health nurse or a paediatric dietitian if you have troubles during what can be some of the most challenging days as a parent.
How much more should I be eating to help maintain my supply?
Breastfeeding itself is an energy-demanding task requiring about an extra 500 calories per day (or 2000 kJ). You’ll need to make sure you’re eating sufficiently to keep your supply steady, as well as keeping up with your fluids. It’s best to get these extra calories from the vegetable and grain food groups for extra energy and micronutrients too (more on this in a bit).
Most women generally notice a huge increase in their appetite, and often need to snack whilst feeding. Get your favourite one-handed snacks ready to go in bite sized pieces to help you juggle feeding your bub whilst you nourish yourself too!
What about vitamins and minerals?
The nutrients that you will need more of include vitamin A, vitamin B6, B12, vitamin C, folate and iodine… the latter two may ring a bell from pregnancy!
Do you need to chug more supplements, or can you get all this from food? Well, you may be well familiar with the ‘eat your 2 and 5’ mantra, but during breastfeeding the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating actually suggests you have 7 serves of veg to help you get your folate, vitamin c and B6. Grain serves also increase from 6 serves to 9 serves, which will help with getting more energy and more vitamins like and folate and iodine. It might sound like a lot, but think it can be as simple as a sandwich packed with veg!
However, you will still need to be taking some supplements! Iodine supplementation (150 micrograms/day) is still advised to maintain your infant’s thyroid function, mental and physical development (National Health and Medical Research Council, 2010).
Similar to pregnancy, having fish in your diet is a great idea for providing those valuable omega-3s for the development of your baby’s nervous system, however high mercury fish such as orange roughy (sea perch), catfish, flake, swordfish/broadbill and marlin should be limited. Including 2-3 serves of fish, particularly oily fish such as mackerel, Atlantic salmon, sardines and canned salmon/tuna is suggested to reap the benefits of omega-3s for your baby (Food Authority, 2018).
Vegan and Vegetarian Mothers
Vegan and vegetarian mums will need some extra planning to ensure they are having enough vitamin B12 to prevent deficiency in their infants. For vegetarians, the inclusion of eggs and dairy in the diet provides sufficient vitamin B12. Otherwise, B12 fortified foods such as fortified cereals and fortified non-dairy milks should be included twice per day or a vitamin B12 supplement will be required (5 micrograms/day, PEN).
Preventing eczema with probiotics
If your child is at higher risk of eczema, another supplement that may be well worthwhile to take is a probiotic (Lactobacillusrhamonosus GG). This has been shown to reduce the risk of infant eczema by almost 80%! This is thought to be due to the role of probiotics in influencing your baby’s gut flora, which drives the maturation of the immune system! (Szajewska & Horvath, 2018).
What about drinks like coffee and alcohol?
In terms of drinks, be sure to keep on top of your fluids whilst breastfeeding as you have additional losses via your breast milk. Keeping a water bottle handy during and between feeds and refilling it regularly is critical to help you stay hydrated and maintain your supply.It is best to avoid excessive amounts of caffeine (if you can) as the caffeine from your blood stream does make it into your breast milk, however it is only by 1%. The amount of caffeine in breast milk peaks 60 minutes after consumption. Every person’s version of “too much” will vary but some mothers find their babies sleep poorly or become colicky if they have too much caffeine, so if you’re a coffee drinker just keep an eye out (Australian Breastfeeding Association).
After 9 months, it can be tough to turn down a glass of wine or alcohol of your choice whilst your feeding your infant. Alcohol in the blood does make its way into breast milk at equal concentrations. Alcohol remains in your breast milk 30-60 minutes after you start drinking, of course, how much enters your breast milk depend on the strength of alcohol, what and how much you’ve eaten, how much you weigh and how quickly you are drinking. On average, it takes 2 hours for a woman to get rid of the alcohol from 1 standard drink (Australian Breastfeeding Association).
The safest option is to avoid drinking alcohol altogether. You can use the Feed Safe app to help you more accurately calculate when it is safe to breastfeed your baby. Many women choose to pump and dump, however, this does not reduce the amount of alcohol in breast milk or help your body clear it faster. Only time can help with this.
Australian Breastfeeding Helpline available 24/7 – call 1800 686 268
This blog was written in collaboration with student dietitian Mariam Metwally, who is studying her Masters of Nutrition and Dietetics at the University of Sydney. You can find Mariam on Instagram @tayyibnutrition.