Whilst I always advise women that breast is best, for some breastfeeding is an exhaustive, troublesome and painful experience. Some women unfortunately have medical problems that prevent them from experiencing the joys of breastfeeding, however, some give up as they don’t have sufficient support or education to know what their options are. For those women, I’ve included a summary of strategies you can employ to build, promote and support breastfeeding.
All mums agree that breastfeeding is the easiest alternative – saves washing, sterilising and the expense of baby formulas. Additionally, the health benefits of breast milk cannot be ignored – breast milk contains a plethora of nutrients, immune supportive factors and other goodies that improve the health of your bub and a scientist cannot (as yet) replicate this miraculous fluid.
The basic building blocks of healthy breast milk
Human breast milk contains a number of nutritional factors. A few important considerations include:
When you consider the amount of fluid lost by producing (and releasing) breast milk, its no wonder that hydration is a high priority. If you think about it logically, imagine you’re eating aromatic spaghetti bolognaise filled with garlic, onions, basil and oregano. The beautiful essential oils within each of these herbs are aromatic and flavoursome, but imagine if those flavours were coming to you in a concentrated form where the fluid it travelled in was thicker, denser and less hydrating. This is exactly what a baby experiences when Mum’s consume a normal diet and forget to hydrate sufficiently. Dietary restriction of normal culinary herbs and spices is excessive – thousands of women around the world don’t give up eating curry (or Borscht or garlic infused lamb). What they may know is that if you hydrate – generally 2x your normal intake your milk will be thinner, less odorous, more nutritious and more plentiful. Breast milk contains a high percentage of fat to make your baby grow big and strong but fat soluble substances such as essential oils from herbs can attach to the fat and have a stronger negative effect if not diluted enough.
Recommendation #1: If your daily requirement for water is 2L/day, then increase to 4L when fully breastfeeding (5-6 feeds per day).
Make sure that you eat enough and above all try to make sure that the food you eat is nourishing, wholesome and nutritious. Breastfeeding women all agree that their appetites are always increased and they can theoretically eat every 3 hours (on average 6x/day).
Avoid high kilojoule snacks such as chocolate bars, potato chips and other nutritionally void quick fixes and stock your pantry and fridge with easily accessible snacks such as raw nuts and seeds, dips such as humous or tahina to spread on crackers or with vegetables, homemade protein smoothies, grilled chicken tenderloins, homemade vegetable muffins, homemade pancakes (filled with fruit, ricotta, ground seeds and nuts, and organic eggs), frittata, soups and protein balls. A common sign of deficiency is a total reduction in production or poor growth patterns in the bub.
Recommendation #2: Total kilojoule intake should be at least 1.4x your normal daily amount.
Protein is a nutritional requirement for all people, but women that are breastfeeding can get very depleted very quickly if they don’t monitor their protein intake. As a general rule, most people require 1g protein/kg body weight but during pregnancy this can increase to 1.4g/kg depending on the trimester. For women who are breastfeeding, the 1.4g/kg body weight rule often applies, however, if you’re losing weight too fast or if bub isn’t thriving a simple increase in protein often remedies the deficiency.
Protein needs should be reviewed on an individual basis, however, a simple strategy is to always identify protein in each meal (or snack) and ensure that it is a bioavailable source and nutritious. For example, just because a sausage has protein in it, doesn’t mean it’s the best choice. A grilled chicken tenderloin is certainly more nutritious!
Recommendation #2: Total protein needs are generally 1.4g/kg for the Mum
Essential Fatty Acids
The hind milk that a mum produces is a rich source of essential fatty acids that help bub’s brains grow and develop. When a mum produces too much top feed bub’s tend to sleep for short period of time and have sugar highs most of the time. This generally perpetuates a vicious cycle of Mum’s not sleeping, constantly feeding, bub consuming top feed, bub waking, eating more top feed, never sleeping for long enough, eating more top feed and Mum’s starting to lose the plot. (most Mum’s are having a quiet chuckle right now as they remember this!). The best way to break the habit is to express the hind milk, break the cycle and get the bub into the routine of having the hind milk. Once bub is satiated and remembers how much of a high (or drunk feeling) it can get from the hind milk the cycle is broken.
Mums can support this process by ensuring that their hind milk is richly concentrated in essential fatty acids. This includes essential fatty acid supplementation rich in DHA as well as dietary sources including cold-water fish (non-high mercury types), cold pressed oils, raw nuts and seeds, avocado and coconut cream/milk.
Recommendation #3: Encourage dietary sources of essential fatty acids and add a DHA rich essential fatty acid supplement.
Calcium is a clever nutrient that is highly concentrated in breast milk. It enables bubs to grow big and strong helping them to develop their muscles, bones and neurological system. Mums often are aware of craving high calcium foods and it is no wonder that a number of Asian countries prescribe seaweed soup for Mum’s post birth (seaweed is a rich source of Calcium, Iron and Iodine) to replenish what is exhausted in pregnancy and labour.
Dietary sources to include in abundance include Full fat (organic) dairy products from a variety of milks (cow’s, sheep’s and goat’s), sesame seed paste (tahina) and dips that incorporate it (humous, tahina, babaganoush), organic seaweeds, nuts and seeds (raw and organic), tinned red salmon and tinned sardines. Whilst I know a number of you are going to frown at the prospect of eating tinned sardines take note that it is the richest dietary source of 11 major minerals and vitamins. 200g (a common tin of sardines with bones) contains on average 700mg of Calcium!
Recommendation #4: Women should aim to consume 1500mg of Calcium in their diet daily during breastfeeding. Supplementation may also be indicated.
Substances to avoid
Lastly, when optimising breast milk is important to avoid common hindrances or negating factors that aggravate breast milk production or breast milk quality.
- Caffeine in all forms and decaf varieties of coffee and tea
- Environmental pollutants especially BPA and phthalates due to their affinity for fat soluble environments (they attach and thrive in the fat portion of breast milk and pass to the bub)
- High carbohydrate, high sugar diets – similarly to how they give you a high they also have the same effect on bub. If you’d really like to be able to sleep and restore the health of your body and your ability to manufacture quality breast milk avoid these.
- Alcohol, smoking and recreational drugs
- Certain medications (always check carefully with your health care practitioner/s)
- Anything else you wouldn’t want to give a baby!