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Louise Pyne is a registered nutritionist with a special interest in the health of women and children, louisepyne nutrition.com
If you’re breastfeeding, filling up on nutritious food is just as important as it was during pregnancy. So put your diet plans on hold and focus on making it as easy as possible for your body to do its next vital job. Because during the first month or so post-birth, while your body is getting used to meeting your baby’s constant nutritional needs, you may feel hungrier than usual. And although you might be thinking it would be good to get out of your maternity clothes and back into your pre-pregnancy wardrobe, this isn’t the time to cut back on calories. Adding these key ingredients to your diet you can make your milk the cream of the crop.
Dark leafy vegetables
It’s normal to feel a little anxious as you and your baby both get the hang of breastfeeding, but feeling stressed can be counterproductive. Although the stress hormone cortisol is naturally found in breastmilk, high concentrations may lower milk supply. Foods rich in the anti-anxiety nutrient magnesium can help trigger the release of happiness-inducing neurotransmitters in the brain, which can quell extra-high cortisol levels. Dark green leafy veg, such as spinach, and raw nuts are best to calm your nerves. Whizz together 200ml coconut water, half an avocado, 50g spinach, one tbsp sunflower seeds and a handful of blueberries to make the ultimate magnesium-rich no-stress smoothie. Then sit back and enjoy a delicious drink that will also help you relax and feel calmer.
There’s no hard and fast rule for when periods restart after giving birth—for some women it’s a month afterwards, for others it can be up to a year. But when your cycle returns, you may experience a drop in milk supply prior to your period and for the first few days into one. It’s thought that increasing calcium and magnesium intake from the time of ovulation through to the third day of your period may help offset this. A 200ml glass of skimmed milk has 34 per cent of your daily calcium intake.
You might be avoiding strong flavours while you’re breastfeeding, but certain tastes can make your baby feed longer. When a study compared breastfeeding mothers taking a garlic pill with another group taking a placebo, the infants exposed to garlic-flavoured milk sucked harder and nursed for longer. So put garlic bread back on the menu and see if your baby likes it too!
Between five and six months old, 64 per cent of babies wake between one and three times a night to feed. Being on-call around the clock for a hungry infant is exhausting for you. And it’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation—your body produces more milk-making prolactin at night to help you keep up with your baby’s demands, but night feeds throw your usual sleep pattern into disarray. So to keep your milk flowing, it’s essential that you prioritise snoozing time when your baby is napping during the day. And incorporating sleep-promoting foods into your diet will help you to relax. Bananas and oats are both natural relaxants, as they contain the amino acid tryptophan which is the precursor to the sleep-inducing neurotransmitter melatonin, so start each day with a steaming bowl of porridge topped with a chopped banana, and you’ll soon be ready for nap time too.
Probiotics, the good bacteria that line your digestive tract, are key to breastfeeding. Research shows that probiotic supplements can affect the micro-organisms present in breastmilk. Breastfeeding mums who took supplements of three different types of lactobacillus bacteria had traces of these strands in their milk, which considerably improved the nutritional quality. Natural yoghurt and fermented foods, like miso soup and sauerkraut, are all good sources of probiotics. And eat foods rich in prebiotics, which feed these good bacteria, such as oats, asparagus and banana.
Your body uses up lots of energy during breastfeeding, and it needs to be restored to make more milk ready for the next feed. Eating little and often is best, and making mini-meals, rather than snacks, will mean you keep them nutritious. Try a couple of oatcakes with hummus, or half an avocado and a handful of nuts, for a steady supply of nutrients that will maximise the milk-making process.
Right from the start, your baby needs vitamins to help his development. Nurient levels can vary in breastmilk, in particular vitamins A, B6, B12 and folate, iodine and selenium. The best way to make sure your baby gets enough is to eat lots of fruit and veg of all colours.
Research shows that breastfeeding mums following a diet high in essential fatty acids had positive effects on their infant’s brain development. So load up on good-fat foods, such as nuts and seeds, and oily fish like salmon and mackerel.|MB