By Dr Prathap Chandra
Once a baby is born, the nutritional requirements of the newborn for the first six months of the lactation period are fulfilled by the mother. Breastfeeding has a significant impact on the mother’s energy level as nutrition demands during this phase are high in response to breast milk production. To meet the increased energy requirement, she needs to consume an additional 450 to 500 calories daily. This can be achieved by a moderate increase in a normal balanced diet. Therefore, it becomes important for the mother to consume a diet rich in proteins, iron and calcium. Bringing various dietary requirements into practice also brings about a change in the flavour of breast milk and helps develop varied tastebuds in the baby, which can help the child acquire a taste for solid foods later in life.
According to the National Health Service, an average daily calorie intake of an adult should vary from 1500-2000 calories per day, while a breastfeeding mother should maintain copious milk supply by taking in 2200 (or more) calories per day. Most mothers tend to ignore their own nutritional needs while ensuring optimal nutrition for their babies. Therefore, it is very important for mothers to monitor their dietary choices while breastfeeding as it not only determines the child’s well-being but also aids in quick postpartum recovery.
Following are the essential nutrients which a breastfeeding mother must consume:
Energy: The recommended energy need for a breastfeeding mother is 670 kcal/day during the initial six months. Breastfeeding mothers should increase their energy dietary intake in order to support breast milk production and prevent malnutrition in their infants.
Protein: The upscale in protein requirement during lactation is usually the lowest compared to that of energy. However, energy and protein have a cause and effect relationship. If energy requirements aren’t met, protein will be the key player for energy production. Nursing mothers can meet their minimum protein needs by consuming rich foods like lean meats, poultry and fish. Dairy products such as milk and yogurt can be consumed at a recommended amount if the mother is lactose-intolerant. Protein will act as a building block for regeneration of new tissues that is required for growth. This is particularly important for the mother’s health and baby’s growth.
DHA: According to the American Pregnancy Association, DHA (Docosahexaeonic acid) is a rich omega 3- fatty acid and the dietary goal for a lactating mother is 650 mg which is essential for the development of the retina and brain. Researchers have suggested that optimal levels of DHA are significant in the development of frontal and prefrontal areas of the brain during infancy. This supplement need can be met by consuming fortified eggs, fish like salmon, sardines, flaxseed oil and spinach.
Calcium: Meeting the calcium requirement is essential for breastfeeding mothers to protect them from bone loss during lactation. To ensure the storage of calcium in bones, it is suggested that mothers consume 1000 mg of calcium per day. In addition to dairy products such as milk, cheese and yogurt, dark leafy vegetables can be included in diet alongside tofu and soy milk.
Vitamin D: It plays an integral role in bone formation and is required for the absorption of calcium. Breast milk does not supply adequate amount of Vitamin D for the child, hence it becomes important to partake vitamin supplements. It is beneficial to start by consuming vitamin supplement of 400 units or IU per day within the first few days of breastfeeding as recommended by the medical expert. Low levels of vitamin D can make the child’s bone susceptible to fractures and deformity during early years.
It is important to be in close contact with your paediatrician and gynaecologist during this period and to adhere to a strict diet for the wellbeing of you and your baby.
(The writer is Lead Neonatologist, Motherhood hospital, Bangalore. Inputs: Medela)
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