Breastfeeding nutrition: 5 nutrients nursing mothers should not miss out on  |  Photo Credit: Getty Images
- It’s ideal to ensure food choices that are full of nutrients and have a positive impact on both the baby and mother
- Milk, yogurt or cheese, dairy products are an important part of healthy breastfeeding
- Mothers must eat a healthy diet, that can include energising protein foods, whole grains, nutrient-packed vegetables and fruits
New Delhi: Breastfeeding mothers need to nourish their babies and themselves. Mothers strive for optimal nutrition for their babies but forget that their bodies also need some extra care and sustenance during breastfeeding. The mother passes on energy and nutrients to the baby through breast milk. If the diet is inadequate, it can put the mother and baby at risk of deficiencies.
It’s ideal to ensure food choices that are full of nutrients and have a positive impact on both the baby and the mother. To do so, it’s important that mothers don’t skip these five very essential nutrients, said Dr Preeti Gangan, IBCLC certified consultant, pediatrician, part of Medela India LC Club.
Your baby needs plenty of calcium for healthy growth – babies store calcium in their bones and teeth as they develop. If your diet is inadequate, the calcium stored in your bones will be drawn upon, which could leave you deficient. This weakens your bones and puts you at greater risk of fractures and osteoporosis later in life. It is important that you are meeting the requirements of 1,000 mg calcium per day.
To keep a tab on calcium consumption, mothers should have the recommended 2-3 servings of dairy per day. However, if they are having a dairy alternative, ensure that it contains at least 100mg calcium per 100ml. Milk, yogurt or cheese, dairy products are an important part of healthy breastfeeding. Milk delivers Vitamin D that helps in strengthening of bones. In addition to providing protein and Vitamin B, dairy products are one of the best sources of calcium.
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
Docosahexaenoic acid is an omega-3 fatty acid essential for the development of the retina of the eye and the brain. According to researchers, optimal levels of DHA, especially around the areas of the brain, are very important during infancy when the brain is rapidly growing and developing. Mother’s milk can only be a rich source of DHA if a mother’s diet is DHA-rich. According to a 2016 review published in the Journal Nutrients, high concentrations of DHA in breast milk bring positive outcomes for the baby, such as better adjustment to changes in the environment, attention scores and memory skills. Mothers must eat a healthy diet, that can include energising protein foods, whole grains, nutrient-packed vegetables and fruits, dairy or non-dairy fortified substitutes and healthy fats, including sources of DHA to help the baby grow and develop optimally.
Half an hour outside on a sunny day is usually enough to meet Vitamin D requirements, however, it can be difficult to venture out with a new-born when you are exhausted most of the time. Vitamin D is passed through breastmilk, so if the mother is deficient, the baby is likely to become deficient too. New research is also indicating that Vitamin D deficiency may be associated with high blood pressure, increased risk of some cancers, osteoporosis, Type 1 diabetes and autoimmune diseases later in life. Although it’s hard to get adequate Vitamin D through food. If you’re low in Vitamin D, supplements are easy and convenient to take. Vitamin D is also important for bone formation and for the body to absorb calcium.
Vitamin B12 is vital as it plays a role in red blood cell production, DNA synthesis and promoting a healthy nervous system. Breastfeeding mothers need to increase their intake by 4 mg/day. This is especially relevant for vegan and vegetarian mothers, as meat, eggs and dairy products are the richest dietary sources of Vitamin B12. If you are not meeting the recommended servings of meat and dairy products, you can use fortified foods to help meet requirements such as fortified grains, or other food sources such as legumes or mushrooms.
Protein is the building block of new tissue and is necessary for growth. Adequate protein is needed to ensure that the body can build, repair and maintain tissues and organs. Breastfeeding mothers can meet their protein needs by making sure they have a healthy source of protein at each meal. Good proteins include meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, cheese, milk and yogurt, cottage cheese, tofu and dried beans. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends nursing mothers not to eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel or tilefish because of their high mercury content.
A word of caution: Always consult your doctor or a dietician before starting any fitness programme or making any changes to your diet.