During the period of lactation which lasts for at least 6 months, breast milk becomes the sole source of food or daily nutritional requirements for the baby. A woman’s body is naturally designed in such a way that it produces breast milk which comprises of everything a baby needs including many nutrients and energy sources.
In addition to the energy sources, a breastfeeding mother loses most of her iron, calcium and protein stores during the period of lactation and most of these are used in producing breast milk. Therefore, the goal of a nursing mother must be to maintain a healthy diet that would replenish such deficiencies.
The energy requirement of a breastfeeding mother increases by about 300kcal/day within the first few months after pregnancy owing to the extra amount of energy expended during the process of lactation. 300kcal can be roughly equated to 1 1/2 cups of rice or 3 slices of whole wheat bread. Furthermore, due to extensive blood loss during birthing, mothers lose much of the iron content in their bodies making supplementation of iron very important. The best sources of iron can be found in liver, nuts, legumes and lean meat.
Aside from iron deficiencies, nursing mothers will also have to replenish their calcium stores by including rich sources of calcium like milk and green leafy vegetables in their diet. There are specialized kinds of milks for breastfeeding mothers but a glass of whole milk or 4 tablespoons of powdered whole milk will be quite enough. As for the vegetables, spinach and broccoli like vegetables are the best ones. Usually, any vegetable having darker shades of green will be appropriate for a lactating mother.
Basically, the diet plan which was used in the first three months can be continued with a few adjuncts. After the third month, there is an increase in the protein requirement. An additional 23grams can be added to the normal amount of daily protein consumption, making it a total of 81grams of protein per day. Increased daily protein consumption results in higher milk volume and milk yield. Food items rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, Carnitine, and Taurine also should be included in the mother’s diet. These amino acids play a vital role in the development of the baby’s brain and retina.
The amount of energy spent on lactation by a nursing mother increases corresponding to the rate of growth of the baby. Therefore, at this stage of breast feeding, mothers are once again advised to increase their normal caloric intake from an additional 300kcal to 400kcal. That would roughly be at least 2 cups of rice or 4 slices of whole wheat bread. Protein intake may now be decreased from the 23grams to 18grams per day because after 6 months; the infant’s whey to casein protein ratio will almost have reached the equilibrium of 60:40, respectively. With the reduction of protein intake, breast milk becomes more easily digestible for the infant.
What should be avoided?
Nursing mothers must limit the intake of caffeine and completely avoid alcohol and nicotine. Caffeine can pass through the maternal bloodstream into breast milk causing infant wakefulness and hyperactivity. Just like caffeine, alcohol can also pass thorough the mother’s blood stream and contaminate breast milk. Alcohol has the ability to inhibit the release of oxytocin hormone and block the milk ejection reflex. Lastly, nicotine (probably the worst of all) can be poisonous for the infant and it can also decrease milk production. Therefore, it is really important to avoid these harmful substances as much as possible.