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Just as your baby’s nutrition is important, so is your own diet. Eating well during breastfeeding will help you meet your need for extra nutrients, as well as cope with the physical demands of caring for a new baby.
Breast milk contains all the nutrients and growth factors needed for your baby’s growth and development for the first few months of life. It is specially adapted to your baby’s immature digestive system and helps boost the immune system, ward off and promotes the development of a healthy digestive tract and microbiome (the healthy intestinal bacteria), not to mention that is economical, always ready and at the right temperature.
“A BALANCED VEGETARIAN DIET SHOULD MORE THAN ADEQUATELY MEET YOUR NUTRITIONAL NEEDS WHEN BREASTFEEDING.”
Here are some of the most important nutrients that your body will be drained of during the breastfeeding months and will need extra dietary and possibly supplementation care to replenish.
Protein: Breast milk contains protein to meet your baby’s growth needs. Good sources of protein for breastfeeding mothers include leafy greens, nuts and seed, legumes, meat, dairy, chicken and eggs.
Calcium is needed to maintain bone strength. Good sources of bioavailable calcium are sesame seeds, almonds, pinto beans and sweet potato. Fish with edible bones, such as canned salmon and sardines, are also a good source, as well as dairy products.
Vitamin D helps the body absorb and use calcium. It is made in the skin by the action of sunlight. Although sunlight can provide a great deal of our daily vitamin requirements, for those who do not get enough exposure to the sun (due to climate or health conditions) you can get this nutrient from cod liver oil, oily fish, egg yolk, mushrooms and fish roe or caviar. Deficiency is common, especially in women who have darker skin and those who spend most of their time indoors or cover most of their body in clothing. Deficiency can cause bone weakness and muscle pain in women and skeletal abnormalities in babies. Women at risk should get their vitamin D level tested and, if deficient, supplements will need to be taken to achieve the required levels for both mother and baby.
Iron: Pregnancy can use up your iron stores, so it is important to replenish these when breastfeeding. The richest sources of iron are liver, meat, chicken and fish. Iron is also present in legumes as well as whole grains, breakfast cereals and green leafy vegetables. Women who are diagnosed with iron deficiency in pregnancy should consult their health care practitioner about taking iron supplementation post-delivery to rebuild their iron stores.
Iodine is needed for the normal brain development of the baby. Seafood, dairy foods and iodine added to bread flour help meet the needs of most of the population, but this may not be enough for breastfeeding women. If you are breastfeeding, an extra 150 micrograms (mcg or µg) a day is recommended. This level is present in most breastfeeding multivitamins. If you regularly use salt in cooking or at table, changing to iodised salt is another way of increasing iodine intake.
Vitamin B12: A balanced vegetarian diet should more than adequately meet your nutritional needs when breastfeeding, if care is taken to include adequate protein, iron, vitamin B12 and calcium-containing foods. However, vegans and vegetarians who consume no or few dairy foods or eggs are at risk of vitamin B12 deficiency, as this vitamin is naturally present only in foods of animal origin. It is added to certain brands of soy milk and meat substitutes, but the amount in these foods may not be enough if few other sources of B12 are eaten.
B12 is needed for blood cell, nerve and brain development of the baby. Pregnancy and breastfeeding can rapidly deplete body stores. Breastfed babies of vegan mothers are particularly at risk of B12 deficiency. Women at risk should have their level checked and may need to take a supplement. If you are concerned please discuss this with your dietitian or doctor.
If you suspect that your diet does not provide a wide variety or sufficient quantity of nutrients, you may want to enquire about testing for potential vitamin and mineral deficiencies, with your health care provider. The Health Coach Academy offers a revolutionary non-invasive testing method that is performed using a few strands of hair and offers a complete report not only of potential deficiencies, but also food intolerances and metal toxicity that may prevent the adequate absorption of nutrients.
Results may individually vary. Information and statements made in articles of The Health Coach Academy Blog are for education purposes only and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. The Health Coach Academy does not provide medical advice, prescribe medication and treatment plans, or diagnose illness. The views and nutritional advice expressed by The Health Coach Academy are not intended to be a substitute for conventional medical service. Should you have a medical condition or health concern, consult your physician.