If you’ve just had a baby, I’d like to say a massive congratulations and I hope you’re doing well.  If you are pregnant and looking for some nutrition advice, feel free to read my previous blog: ‘Nutrition during pregnancy – Things to consider’.

I’m slowly coming up for air after having a baby nearly 8 months ago and re-engaging with the world of nutrition. For me, nutrition in motherhood is a steep learning curve, from the right nutrients for energy to breastfeeding and everything in between. However, I’m really enjoying breastfeeding at the moment (albeit not without it’s challenges) and being conscious of my nutrition is a big part of that.

Before we go into that, let’s look at the key benefits of breastfeeding:

– Offers a range of valuable nutrients, microbes, antioxidants and immune boosters
– Builds a strong immune system for your baby to help in later life
– Can help in bonding with your baby
Improves cognitive development for better problem-solving skills
Proven to prevent autoimmune disorders such as asthma and multiple sclerosis
– Helps to shrink your uterus back to size and has a role in weight loss  
– Offers flexibility as a new mother as you can feed anywhere, at anytime. 

What should you eat when breastfeeding?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that a breastfeeding mother should consume between 2,300 to 2,500 calories per day. When you breastfeed, the composition of your breast milk changes over time as your baby grows to provide all the nutrients your little one needs. How cool is that!? 

Below I have outlined 12 key elements to a healthy nutrition plan that will help keep you and your baby healthy while improving your breast milk production and quality: 

1. Eat a healthy diet – Choose foods with a good balance of protein (animal and plant), vegetables and slow-releasing carbohydrates that provide key vitamins and minerals such as vitamin D, B12 and C. 
2. Remove/reduce strong irritants – This includes alcohol, caffeine or spicy foods as these can affect your newborn’s sleep.
3. Go organic and free-range where possible – Source organic vegetables and fruit that are free of pesticides and free-range meat or organic fish to avoid hormones or antibiotics. (Check out the ‘EWG Dirty Dozen and/or ‘Clean 15’ for more info.)
4. Include eggs – Eggs are a powerhouse of nutrients including protein, iron, good saturated fats and carotenoids.  
5. Avoid high GI (Glycemic Index) carbs – Replace high sugar and refined carbs (white flour products, processed sugars, etc.) with slow-releasing carbs (brown rice, quinoa, sweet potatoes), good protein (free-range poultry, raw nuts and seeds) and good fats like avocados, chia seeds, and olive oil, etc.
6. Consume iron-rich foods – Breastfeeding can take a lot out of your body, so supplement your iron supply with foods like lean beef, spinach (with vitamin C), or legumes.  
7. Fibre is essential – Include fibre rich foods into your diet such as oats, wholegrain bread, legumes, and seeds to aid digestion and prevent post-partum constipation 
8. Boost calcium-rich foods – You need calcium when breastfeeding to help your baby’s bone growth, so think about your green vegetables as well as dairy sources as part of your healthy breastfeeding diet.
9. Include fish and omega-3s – There are many benefits to oily fish such as salmon or mackerel as it’s loaded with DHA to help develop your baby’s nervous system. Like pregnancy, eat fish in moderation and avoid fish with high mercury levels. Milled flaxseeds and walnuts are also rich in omega 3’s if you are not keen on fish. 
10. Include ‘good bugs’ (probiotics) and prebiotics – These can help digestion and improve your baby’s microbiome (healthy bacteria) which is still developing. Examples are bananas, kimchi, garlic, kombucha, and kefir. You will also improve your gut health to avoid bloating and/or constipation. 
11. Drink plenty of water – Water is crucial when you breastfeed as it keeps you hydrated but also aids milk production. 2-3 litres daily is the recommended intake and add a slice of citrus such as lemon, lime, or orange for an extra boost and to avoid water boredom! 
12. Consider supplementation – Maybe you don’t require extra nutrients, but a good prenatal or post-natal vitamin can ensure you get everything you need along with magnesium which can aid sleep and support your hormones 

How do you boost breast milk production?

Breastfeeding can be a challenge at first and your milk production can ebb and flow. Many experts say it’s down to demand how much you make, so at the start, some recommend pumping alongside breastfeeding

Some mothers have found galactagogues such as fenugreek useful in boosting milk production but scientific studies are still inconclusive. You also need to ensure you get rest (as hard as that may sound), reduce stress, avoid alcohol – particularly in the early stages of breastfeeding when your milk is just being established – and drink plenty of water. 

Breast massage may also be useful in not only soothing sore breasts but ensuring milk ducts don’t get clogged and helping maintain supply.

It’s your breastfeeding journey

The most important thing to keep in mind when breastfeeding is that you’re providing a nutrient-packed food source for your baby. Everything your baby needs is in your breast milk and the better you take care of yourself and your nutrition, the happier you both will be. 

If you have questions or breastfeeding tips or are struggling with breast milk production, just get in touch. Email Orla at orla@healthbyorla.ie