Dietary requirements for lactating women vary greatly to those of non lactating women; I cannot emphasise enough how important it is to really nourish your body with good food throughout your breastfeeding journey. Not just for your baby, but for you too!
Not only do we need more fuel in general from our food (around an extra 600Kcal) but there are certain vitamins and minerals that breastfeeding women are often deficient in. These commonly include: magnesium, vitamins B6, vitamin A, folate, calcium and zinc. Our stores of vitamin A and folate can be depleted in as little as 3 months of breastfeeding if we do not obtain enough from our diet.
Maternal iron requirements actually drop post birth (providing no large blood loss is experienced) until your period returns when it increases againIf mum’s nutrient intake for her milk falls below what is required, her body will start to take nutrients from her body stores. This is seen most obviously in calcium taken from her bones - and this can take around 6 months post breastfeeding to return to normal levels. This is fine for baby, but can lead to post natal depletion in mum.
A low maternal intake of A, D, K, C and B vitamins does impact that amount of these vitamins seen in breastmilk.Any supplements taken should be from whole food supplements (make sure folic acid is shown as melthyfolate!)
Your body will do it’s very best to provide the best possible breastmilk for your baby, but this can be at the expense of your own health if you do not eat a healthy diet. This is even more important for those of you who wish to breastfeed beyond 6 months.
Breastfeeding is not the time to restrict calories - as this will most likely mean a restriction in essential nutrients. The 600kcal per day allowance assumes that some energy for breastmilk production will be obtained from maternal fat stores - so mum can expect to naturally lose around 1kg of fat per month without any ‘dieting’.
As a general rule, you need a generous intake of nutrients from fruits and vegetables, whole-grain breads and cereals; calcium-rich dairy products; and protein-rich foods such as meats, fish, and legumes throughout the whole duration of breastfeeding.