What is a breastfeeding diet?
While breastfeeding, it’s not expected that a woman follows a specific diet, but it is important for the woman to ensure that they eat a healthy, balanced diet, as we all should in general. A balanced diet should ensure that both mother and baby get the nutrients they need overall. Generally, and except in extreme cases such as malnutrition, breast milk contains all the essential nutrients for the health of a baby.
Why is it done?
If the ‘regular’ diet does not provide the nutrients the baby needs, a doctor may need to evaluate the diet to recommend changes or adjustments, such as in cases where the mother may be overweight or underweight, diabetic, or have low/high cholesterol levels, etc. It is important that the feeding recommendations and diet recommendations in these cases are set by a specialist in the field and the mother should not follow certain structured diets, without having studied each case in particular, such as so-called ‘fad’ diets.
What does it consist of?
A healthy diet is based on variety, with all the basic nutritional needs covered. To do this, a variety of healthy foods must be included, i.e. carbohydrates, proteins, vegetables, fruits and healthy fats.
Certain fish contain fatty acids, e.g the Omega-3 Vitamin, Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) that are important for the development of the brain, eyes and nervous system of the child during the first year. However, it is advisable not to exceed 5.5 kilos of fish and shellfish per week. Certain types of fish that contain a high index of contaminants such as mercury must also be avoided, such as shark, swordfish, and mackerel. White canned tuna usually has higher levels of contaminants than other types of canned tuna. The NHS recommend that you should not consume more than two portions of oily fish (roughly 280g) per week.
In terms of liquid intake levels, it’s important to maintain a good level of hydration. It is estimated that a mother's body needs about 16 cups of fluids, including the liquid found in foods such as broths or soups. Caffeine should be limited and drunk in moderation to no more than 200mg per day.
The intake of saturated fats found in fatty meats, butter, whole milk or certain oils such as palm and coconut oil, or transgenic products is discouraged.
As small portions of what is eaten or drunk can enter breast milk, it’s recommended that breastfeeding women should not drink more than one or two units of alcohol per week. Smoking is also discouraged.
Before making any drastic changes or special decisions, it’s best to consult a GP, midwife, or health visitor/health provider for guidance and understanding of the required values of vitamins and nutrients that should be maintained in the body.