Breastfeeding provides all your baby’s nutritional requirements even if you’re not eating optimally, as your body draws what it needs from its reserves. It’s only if you take in far too few kilojoules, or eliminate food groups, that the quality of your breast milk will be affected or your own health will suffer. For example, if you lack calcium in your diet, it will be leached from your teeth and bones, weakening them and putting you at risk of osteoporosis.
Breastfeeding burns about 2000 kilojoules (500 calories) a day, so that’s how many more you need than a non-breastfeeding mom. “But rather than count the kilojoules, be guided by your appetite and focus on nutritious foods, avoiding high fat, sugary or salty ones like chips,” advises Cape Town registered dietician and lactation consultant Catherine Day (catherineday.co.za).
If you’re still worried about weight gain, ask a registered dietician to draw up a personalised eating plan based on your specific energy needs and incorporating exercise. Forget fad diets and the rapid weight loss of some celebrity moms – a sudden drop in kilojoules can affect your milk supply. “Less than 175g of carbohydrates a day can also affect your milk supply,” says Day, “So low-carbohydrate diets like the Banting diet should be avoided when breastfeeding.”
Aim to regain your pre-pregnancy shape over a year, shedding no more than a 500g a week and eating sensibly.
1. Eat a variety of healthy foods
Include protein (lean meats and fish, eggs, beans and legumes), non-refined carbohydrates (whole grains and other high-fibre choices), healthy fats (olive and canola oils, fatty fish like salmon and canned light tuna, avocadoes, nuts and seeds), dairy (milk, yoghurt, cheeses) and at least five helpings of vegetables and fruit a day.
There’s little evidence to support the old belief that eating cruciferous veggies like cabbage, or onions, beans and spicy foods, cause baby wind, diarrhoea or colic. “And it’s safe to go back to the soft cheeses, cold cuts and sushi you avoided in pregnancy,” Day says.
2. Avoid contaminants
Pesticides and other chemicals you ingest can pass into your breast milk, so wash fruit and vegetables well or peel them. “Consider starting a veggie garden at home when things get more manageable with baby,” suggests Day.
Choose lean cuts of meat and remove extra fat and chicken skin, as chemicals are stored in fat. Avoid swordfish, king mackerel and solid white tuna, which can contain high levels of mercury. And avoid processed foods, which often have many additives.
3. Watch your alcohol intake
Alcohol enters breast milk and may even affect your milk let-down reflex. “It takes about two hours for the alcohol in a glass of wine (150ml) or beer (330ml) to leave your body,” says Day, “so if you’re going to take an occasional drink, time it for straight after a breastfeed.”
4. Watch your caffeine consumption
A small amount will pass into your breast milk, and preterm or ill infants may have problems with it, but most experts suggest two or three cups of coffee or tea a day is fine.
5. Drink enough water
Your body needs more than usual when breastfeeding. Be guided by your thirst and urine colour – it should be clear or light yellow. If it’s dark or cloudy, you’re dehydrated.
6. Keep up your prenatal vitamins
At your first check-up, ask your doctor about continuing them for a few months before perhaps changing to a regular multivitamin and mineral supplement, as extra insurance for your well-being and your baby’s.
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