Best foods for breastfeeding moms

by | Jun 2, 2020

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Eating well while you’re breastfeeding is important for both you and your baby. Doula Donna Bland gives breastfeeding mothers advice on what to eat.

Breastfeeding is a wonderful way to nurture your baby and meet his dietary needs, but a frequently asked question is, “What foods should I avoid while breastfeeding?”

If a new mom had to ask her mother, aunt or grandmother that question, she’d be told that she should avoid all ‘gassy’ foods, such as cauliflower, onions and cabbage. The answer I always give my clients is, “Whatever you like.”

Each mother will experience pregnancy and birth differently and it’s no different with breastfeeding. One baby may be crampier than another, perhaps because of what their mother has eaten recently, but sometimes there might be another explanation for a baby’s symptoms. The rule of thumb these days is to eat whatever you like in moderation and see if your baby reacts negatively.

In other words, if you eat something one evening and the next day your baby is cramping or seems uncomfortable, think back to what you ate in the last 24 hours. If it’s something out of the ordinary or something you haven’t eaten since starting breastfeeding, then perhaps consider not eating that food for a while and see if it helps.

It’s always best to try and eat a well-balanced diet that will provide the correct nutrients for your body. What a lot of new parents are unaware of, is that your baby will draw whatever nutrients he needs from you.

As a breastfeeding mom, you need nutritious food to keep you healthy and energetic, and to keep your milk supply up. While mothers are still capable of breastfeeding in the most poverty-stricken environments, keeping a milk supply that is sufficient for your baby’s needs is best achieved when eating a healthy diet.

Calorie-restricting diets are not advised during breastfeeding, because your body may not be getting sufficient nutrients and calories necessary to maintain a good milk supply. And one of the many, many benefits of breastfeeding is that it helps shed those unwanted pregnancy kilos.

Will ‘jungle juice’ improve your milk supply?
If a mom is struggling with her milk supply, I might recommend eating protein at every meal. It sometimes helps, or at the very least, gives her more energy to cope daily. It is also important for all breastfeeding women to increase their daily calcium intake, by consuming more dairy products.

Jungle juice is a recipe that many clinic sisters give to new moms, comprising a blend of ingredients including fruit juice and a berry elixir. While it is extremely helpful in keeping breastfeeding mothers well hydrated, there is no evidence-based research to prove that it increases milk supply. This is not to say that I don’t think moms should drink it. I believe it is the mother’s choice.
Honestly though, the best way to increase and maintain milk supply is stimulation. Regular feeds or expressing breastmilk are recommended to achieve best results.

What about coffee and wine?
When a woman is pregnant, she will generally drink rooibos or herbal teas. Introducing coffee on a regular basis may not be advised immediately, but if you feel like a cup after a meal out, for example, enjoy it!

Drinking alcohol is not recommended during breastfeeding, but there are occasions when you might want to have a glass of wine at a braai, or a glass of champagne at a wedding, for example. Knowing what to do in these situations will help you to enjoy life without endangering your baby’s well-being.

If an occasion does arise where you find yourself having a drink, my advice is to implement a system called ‘pump and dump’. This means that you will need to express your baby’s next feed and dispose of it. Remember that you will have to prepare in advance and make sure that your baby has breastmilk for that feed, so have some previously expressed breastmilk available in the fridge.

If you have had a couple of drinks, I would recommend ‘pumping and dumping’ a couple of feeds to make sure that the alcohol is out of your system. There is a company that manufactures blood alcohol level strips to ensure that you are safe to breastfeed your baby again if you would feel safer doing that.

As a doula, I believe that pregnant women and new mothers will instinctively consider their babies’ well-being above all. Asking your caregivers questions is the best way to ensure that you get reliable answers. Attending childbirth education classes while you are pregnant is a wonderful way to explore the unknown, with a professional who will be able to answer your questions or refer you to an expert that can.