By Rebecca Turner, MS, RD, CSSD, LD
There is no sweeter sound than the first cries from your baby in the delivery room. After months of waiting, your baby is born and one journey is over while a new journey is just beginning. According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this year, for over 75% of new moms, the new journey includes breastfeeding. The experience of breastfeeding is special for so many reasons – the joyful bonding of mother and child, the cost savings, and the health benefits for both mom and baby.
Studies show that breastfed babies have fewer ear infections, less diarrhea and are at a lower risk of respiratory infections, asthma, obesity, and type 1 and type 2 diabetes, childhood leukemia, atopic dermatitis and SIDS.
Sometimes referred to as liquid gold, human breast milk offers unique protection. No formula can match its complex chemical makeup. Research suggests that breastfed babies have fewer ear infections, less diarrhea and are at a lower risk of respiratory infections, asthma, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. Some research also shows that breastfeeding can reduce the risk of Type 1 diabetes, childhood leukemia, and atopic dermatitis (a type of skin rash) in babies, and it has been shown to lower the risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). But let’s not forget the health benefits for mom. These include a decreased risk for diabetes, breast cancer, ovarian cancer and postpartum depression.
Whether it is breastfeeding or parenting in general, new moms receive a lot of unsolicited advice, including what they should and shouldn’t eat. Some well-intended bearers of advice swear by foods that increase milk production; others warn against foods that may upset the baby’s tummy, or caution you about taboo foods that decrease milk production. Sifting through all this information can be exhausting and overwhelming.
As a registered dietitian and a mom who nursed for a year, I believe that the best diet for breastfeeding mothers does not need to be complicated. Typically there is no reason to sacrifice favorite foods, or the need to eat unusual foods in large quantities. The ideal diet for breastfeeding women is no different than what I recommend for most individuals – healthy and balanced. Like the majority of people, women who nurse, may not have a “perfect” diet, but they are still able to produce nutritious milk that will help their baby grow.
However, before you chow down on chili hotdogs and French fries, the way you might have done the last months of pregnancy, I recommend building meals around nutrient rich-foods which include low-fat dairy, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean meats, to provide more vitamins and minerals, but fewer calories. The amount of calories a woman needs while nursing depends upon the amount of weight gained during pregnancy and how active she is. Breastfeeding is a proactive way to get rid of extra weight gained during gestation. Women should discard the eating-for-two mindset, while being mindful not to skip meals or avoid entire food groups, and simply eat a variety of foods until satisfied. Use this time to get back to the basics of healthy eating. Follow these tips to incorporate simple changes that will benefit your health and your baby’s health for a lifetime.
‹ Make sure every meal and snack has at least one fruit or vegetable or both.
‹ Eat a variety of foods each day from the protein food group like seafood, nuts and beans, as well as lean meats, low-fat dairy and eggs.
‹ Switch to 100-percent whole-grain breads, cereals and crackers.
‹ Drink water and low fat milk with calcium and vitamin D instead of sugary drinks like regular sodas, fruit-flavored drinks and sweetened teas and coffees.
‹ Use heart-healthy oils like olive, canola and sunflower oil in place of butter or shortening when cooking.
Build meals around nutrient rich-foods which include low-fat dairy, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean meats, to provide more vitamins and minerals, but fewer calories.
Establishing a good milk supply in the beginning with skin-to-skin contact and feeding on cue can positively impact how long a mom will be able to continue breastfeeding. Inevitably, some women experience a drop in milk production after returning to work, during times of stress, or from restricting calories or over exercising. Adding lactation-promoting (lactogenic) foods to your diet may help improve milk supply, combined with pumping as frequently as possible and nursing on demand.
Fruits and vegetables high in phytoestrogens like dark leafy greens, carrots, and dried apricots, are believed to promote healthy breast tissue and lactation. Choose spinach or kale over romaine and iceberg lettuce for salads. Crunch on raw baby carrots over chips and steam, roast, or grill whole carrots to complement any dinner. Snack on dried apricots or chop them up and add them to your favorite whole grain muffins, pancakes, or waffles.
Essential fatty acids and omega-3 fatty acids may help increase milk supply. Breast milk contains healthy fats, and dietary fat is needed to create the hormones that assist with milk production. Eating foods high in essential fatty acids like flaxseeds, walnuts, salmon, and seafood support fattier, more nutritious, breast milk and should be incorporated often in the nursing mother’s diet.
Whole grains, specifically oatmeal, are the most common lactogenic foods. Not only does a warm bowl of oatmeal help relax a mother, it may cause a release of oxytocin, a hormone, which stimulates milk letdown. Choose brown rice, barley, rye or corn for your sides and recipe ingredients. These foods may encourage milk production by increasing your level of serotonin, which can stimulate prolactin, a hormone involved in lactation. Always check the ingredients list on food packages, and look for whole grains as the first ingredient.
Staying well hydrated by drinking plenty of water is key to good lactation.
The easiest way to improve milk supply is by drinking plenty of water. Breastfeeding dehydrates the body of fluids so it is important that a woman makes hydration a priority. Like with calories, don’t get carried away, simply drink to thirst and avoid going long periods without any fluids. I formed a habit of drinking a large glass of water during or immediately after each nursing session as a way to replace what was depleted. Treat yourself to an eco-friendly water bottle that comfortably fits into your diaper bag and never leave home without it.
Adopting healthy eating habits goes beyond the breastfeeding baby and mother. The whole family wins as healthy eating habits are established. And remember, in the case of specific allergies or food intolerances; always consult your pediatrician and a registered dietitian to help you find the best solutions. Whether you breastfeed for a day, a week, a month, or a year, be assured that every feeding counts towards a lifetime of health benefits!
This could be the best guilt-free cookie ever for nursing moms. Try this tasty treat that can actually help aid in breast milk production.
Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Lactation Cookies
(makes 4 dozen)
1 C butter
1 C sugar
1 C brown sugar
4 T water
2 T flaxseed meal (no substitution)
2 Lg eggs
1 t vanilla
2 C flour
1 t baking soda
1 t salt
3 C Thick cut oats
1 C Chocolate chips
2-4 T Brewers Yeast (no substitutions)
Directions 1. Preheat oven to 375o. 2. Mix 2 T of flaxseed meal and water, set aside 3-5 minutes. 3. Cream butter and sugar. 4. Add eggs. 5. Stir flaxseed mix into butter mix and add vanilla. 6. Beat until well blended. 7. Sift: dry ingredients, except oats and chocolate chips. 8. Add butter mix to dry ingredients. 9. Stir in the oats and then the chocolate chips. 10. Drop on parchment paper on baking sheet. 11. Bake 8-12 minutes.