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Breastmilk is the best source of nourishment for your baby. So, as you breastfeed your baby exclusively for the first six months of life and then, for as long as baby and you desire, you need to stay well nourished. Read on to learn how you can eat well to sustain the production and the quality of breastmilk.

There simply is no debate that breastmilk is the best source of nutrition for an infant. Human breastmilk is designed by nature to provide all the nutrients needed to support the optimal growth of an infant. Health authorities all over the world recommend that infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life to achieve optimal growth, development and health. Only after that should infants receive nutritionally adequate and safe complementary food while breastfeeding continues for up to two years of age or beyond.

The nutrient needs of a woman reach the all time high during breastfeeding. Eating the right diet ensures that a woman can breastfeed her baby successfully. Optimal nourishment helps to support milk production and maintains the ideal nutrient quality of breastmilk.

Here are a few pointers to get you started on a great diet to nourish yourself as you breastfeed your baby.

Drink enough water

By weight, 88% of breast milk is water. Breast milk volume increases from as little as 50 ml on the first day, to as much as 750 ml a day, when breastfeeding is well established. So, the most critical nutrient needed for the production of ample breastmilk to meet a suckling baby s demand, is water.

Aim to drink at least 1.5-2 litres of water each day. Some mothers may need to drink more water each day when breastfeeding is well established. Thirst is a good indicator of your fluid needs. If you are worried that you may overlook it, pour out water in a jug and try to drink it all up by the end of the day. Your water needs can be also be met by including a variety of nutritious fluids such as milk, juice and soup.

Eat enough food

Production of breastmilk requires energy. The need for energy moves up an additional 500 kcal each day during this period of life. Just eat a serving more from each food group of My Healthy Plate, to achieve the additional energy needs effectively.

Most mothers naturally experience hunger pangs during breastfeeding. Be watchful that you do not gain too much weight during the process. So, select wholesome food such as wholegrains, fruit, vegetables, low fat dairy products, lean meat, fish, poultry, eggs, beans, nuts and seeds to maximise the overall nutrient quality of your diet.

Include essential fats

50% of the calories of breast milk come from fat. So, fat is an essential nutrient in the diet, so include enough each day. Select unsaturated fats, especially those that provide the essential fatty acids - fats Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and Arachadonic acid (ARA), as they play a critical role in the optimal development of baby s brain and eye. Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna and mackerel are good sources of DHA. Eating 2 servings of fatty fish a week will provide the necessary DHA. Meat, poultry, eggs are good sources of ARA.

Vital vitamins

The need for all the vitamins increases dramatically during breastfeeding, especially Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and many of the B vitamins, including folate and B 12. A mother consuming a poor diet will have lower levels of vitamins, especially the water-soluble vitamins B and C, in breastmilk. So, eat a wide variety of wholesome food as part of a well-balanced diet to help you achieve all these nutrients with greater ease.

Major minerals

The need for minerals, especially for iodine and zinc, increases significantly during breastfeeding. Iodine is found in abundance in seafood, seaweed, milk, eggs and poultry. Meat, poultry, milk, nuts and beans are great sources of zinc.

Calcium needs remain high so, try to include an additional serving of dairy food such as milk, yogurt and cheese in your diet. Other great food sources of calcium are fish with edible bones, legumes, soybean curd, green leafy vegetables and calcium-fortified food.

Food to avoid

As nutrition is so critical to your baby at this stage, always eat clean and safe food, as a bout of food poisoning will deplete your body of critical nutrients. Continue to avoid alcohol as it does pass through to the breast milk and can affect baby s alertness and ability to suckle. Limit caffeine to less than 200 mg each day as it may trigger restlessness in the baby. Avoid large fish such as shark, swordfish and tilefish as they contain higher levels of mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and dioxins, which may harm your growing baby s nervous system.

Strong flavours in food such as garlic and onion are also known to cross into breastmilk. Some babies, sensitive to the changes in breastmilk flavour, may decrease intake. So, be aware of your diet and stay away from these food during breastfeeding.

So Remember

  • Increase fluid and energy intake to support adequate milk production.
  • Eat a well-balanced and nutrient dense diet to ensure that you achieve the all the nutrient needs during this period of life. Pay particular attention to the need for essential fats, vitamins A, Bs and C as well as zinc, iodine and calcium.
  • Eat only clean and safe food as food poisoning can deplete the body of critical nutrients. Avoid alcohol and limit caffeine.