3rd July 2017 by Jess
Whether your baby has safely arrived into the world, your delivery date is imminent, or you're one of those mums who likes to get her research in way ahead of time, you’re probably wondering how your nutrition needs to change now you're at a different stage of motherhood. Our nutritionist Jess explains what to eat (and what to avoid) while breastfeeding.
When breastfeeding, your efforts should ideally be on eating an all-round healthy balanced diet to provide your baby with the nutrients it needs, and of course a time for your body to recuperate after pregnancy. Now is not the time to follow any extreme diets, but to nourish your body to keep up with high demands from your growing baby.
There is a direct link between the foods you're eating and the nutritional content, flavour, consistency and acidity of your breast milk.
You may even notice that your baby rejects your milk after you have eaten foods that you would not normally eat. Babies can be wary creatures and notice these subtle differences. The key is to keep your foods varied and if you are lucky, your baby may develop a taste for most flavours!
It can feel overwhelming wading through the science, at the end of the day your instincts on what you should or shouldn’t be eating when breastfeeding are probably on par with all the nutrition advice out there. We have an incredible inbuilt connection, which helps us to safely navigate our way around the food industry, if we just listen to it.
If in doubt, go for real foods. This means wholesome food prepared from scratch, chemical-free and full of nutrients. Brightly coloured vegetables, plenty of fibre, good quality protein and healthy fats are all your baby needs you to eat to produce top quality breast milk.
If you haven’t already gone organic during pregnancy, now is a good time to start. Studies have shown that pesticides and herbicides make their way into breast milk, and with limited research available on their effects, it may be wise to stay on the safe side and give these chemicals a miss.
Artificial sweeteners also lack long-term studies to back up their safety during breastfeeding. Even though evidence on the effects of artificial sweeteners is inconclusive, you may wish to consider sticking with natural sweeteners such as stevia.
The most natural way to sweeten your foods would actually be to use dried fruit, which can be chopped or blended into some of your meals such as smoothies.
Depending on the fats you consume in your diet, the level of fats found in your breast milk will vary. Oily fish for example, can actually increase the amount of omega-3 fatty acids in your breast milk, making it a great source of healthy fats for vegan mothers, who often have significantly lower levels of omega-3 DHA. DHA is essential for optimal development of your baby, particularly brain and eye health. So, if you want to optimise your baby’s intelligence and eyesight later on in life, be sure to eat plenty of oily fish!
If you are worried about the high levels of mercury, opt for smaller fish such as mackerel, herring, salmon and anchovies. Larger fish including tuna and swordfish should be limited as these contain higher concentrations of heavy metals. You might like to also supplement your diet with fish oil. Make sure you opt for a pharmaceutically graded fish oil, derived from cold water fish and certified free from contaminants, which can deliver the perfect daily amount to keep your omega-3 levels healthy.
Nuts and seeds are also a good source of healthy fats and omega-3, especially walnuts and chia seeds.
Now that your immune system should be slowly but surely getting back to normal, you can start to introduce those foods you've been longing for, such as soft cheeses, soft boiled eggs and pâtés.
While there is still a very slim chance you could get food poisoning from these foods (this is always the case for everyone!), the risk is significantly lower and this would not impact your baby via breast milk.
Hold that thought on having a big coffee or glass of vino. Although pregnancy is over, you may still need to watch out for drinks containing caffeine or alcohol, as these will make their way into your breast milk.
Luckily, there is a way around drinking during breastfeeding if you are craving a drink or two. If you have a couple of small glasses of wine straight after feeding, you may give your body enough time to metabolise the alcohol before your next feed, which would ensure the alcohol is out of your system. If you're unsure how long it takes to break down alcohol, ‘milkscreen alcohol test strips’ are a great way to check your breast milk alcohol levels rather than worrying about the guessing game while still feeling a bit tipsy – there’s certainly not enough alcohol in breast milk to make a white Russian though!
The weight adjusted alcohol content of breast milk is approximately 5-6% of that drunk by the mother, so a couple of glasses is unlikely to do any harm. Saying that, alcohol consumption can reduce milk production and long term effects of drinking while breastfeeding are still unknown. Note that levels of alcohol in breast milk correlate with levels in the mother’s blood, so once alcohol has cleared out of your body, your breast milk will have cleared too.
There's a theory that caffeine containing drinks make your baby restless when breastfed; but in reality, a study looking at over 800 babies showed that consuming caffeine only very slightly (and non-significantly) disturbs sleep in 3 month old babies when consuming more than 300mg caffeine per day (and that's the equivalent of 3-5 coffees!). Other possible negative effects of caffeine are not well known, so again it’s best to stay on the safe side and have your cup of coffee just after feeding, and hopefully it will be mostly broken down before your next feed.
By Jess, graze nutritionist.
Our nutritionist extraordinaire, Jess trained at the Institute for Optimum Nutrition and is a registered practitioner with the British Association for Applied Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She's the creator of our health badges, to help you choose the snacks and boxes that are right for you. Check out everything from Jess on our blog, with recipes and tricks to help you keep making better choices, or go to Jess's blog at jessipes.co.uk for even more.
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