When it all goes right, breastfeeding your baby is the best thing for them. However, it can put quite a demand on your body as your system tries to continue to make an adequate supply of breast milk.
From cluster feeds to late-night snacks, your baby will be calling on you for his nutritional needs. Breastfeeding is recommended exclusively for the first six months and then in combination with solids up to 12 months of age, so it’s important that you look after your body to ensure you’re able to keep up with the feeding schedule.
Supply and demand
The first and most important thing to know is that the best way to start off with a good milk supply and keep it going is by working with your baby. La Leche League Canada says, “Milk is produced almost continuously: The more often the baby nurses, the more milk there will be.” So don’t give up straightaway if you’re worried about supply — reach out for help if you have concerns.
It’s true. Nursing mothers have bigger appetites and might need to fill that with extra calories. INFACT Canada says, “A nursing woman needs between 200-500 extra calories per day, depending on her activity level and general state of nourishment. Although a breastfeeding mother will use some of her fat stores, if she is active, she may need more food.”
If you are in the throes of feeding a newborn or have just been through those first three months, then you understand that all-consuming, ravenous feeling you get during and after a nursing session. Like everything else, your milk supply and your appetite will settle down and get used to this new demand.
Although a woman’s body is a well-honed machine and instinctively knows what to do the minute the baby is born, sometimes nutritional deficiencies can occur.
The most common deficiency is a lack of vitamin D. This can happen because it’s missing from your diet, but usually it’s because of a lack of sunlight. Let’s face it — most new moms spend a lot of time at home during those first few months.
Another important dietary factor is water. Nursing mothers should try to stay hydrated throughout the day, which will help with any lethargy or thirst that can be experienced during breastfeeding sessions.
Have breastfeeding concerns? See these online resources for breastfeeding support >>
Sometimes well-meaning people will tell you to drink lots of milk to boost your own milk production. However, this is a big myth. Increasing dairy consumption won’t help directly with your nursing abilities, though it is a good idea to ensure you consume adequate amounts of calcium as part of your overall diet.
The best way to ensure you’re getting all the nutrition you need is to eat a healthy diet. If needed, get additional support from a multivitamin, and take some time to go outside in the sunlight.
Try to include some of the following foods in your diet:
- Oatmeal (helps with lactation but is also known to boost oxytocin, the “love” hormone)
- Leafy green vegetables, like spinach (loaded with folate, calcium, iron, vitamin K and vitamin A)
- Beans and legumes, such as chickpeas (considered lactogenic foods and good protein sources)
- Apricots (contain phytoestrogens for balancing hormones)
- Asparagus (contains phytoestrogens and amino acids that stimulate milk supply)
- Carrots (excellent source of phytoestrogens)
- Brown rice (helps increase serotonin level, which stimulates prolactin supply, necessary for milk production)
- Salmon (contains fatty acids and omega-3s).