By Nmami Agarwal
Pregnancy and lactation are two stages of life when an adult woman’s nutritional needs are increased. Breastfeeding is the best source of nutrition for most infants. Nutritional requirements increase extremely during pregnancy and lactation as the expectant mothers not only have to nourish her but also the growing fetus and infant who is being breastfed.
Breast milk provides all the nutrients babies need for maintaining good health and growth. It contains several antibodies and an enzyme that help the baby grow up to resist diseases and stimulates the immature immune system of the babies and also improves response to vaccinations. As your baby grows your milk production changes to meet the new nutritional requirements. For example, your first milk is high in fat with less water but at three months of age, your milk has less fat and more water.
Nutritional requirements during lactation:
Energy: Lactating mothers need additional energy for the production of milk. During pregnancy, approximately 600-800 ml milk is secreted daily. The energy content of a mother’s milk and the value of conversion of food energy into milk energy determine the energy requirement of a lactating mother. During first six months of lactation additional 550 Kcal per day energy is required whereas during 6-12 months of lactation additional 400 Kcal per day energy is required. Good source of energy giving foods include whole grains oatmeal, barley, ragi, bread, potato, rice, pasta.
Protein: During lactation protein requirements also increases as mother’s milk contain 1.15gram of protein per 100 ml. During the first six months of lactation 75 gram of protein is required every day whereas during 6-12 months of lactation 68 gram of protein is required every day. For proper milk production, an adequate amount of good quality protein should be included in the mother’s diet like beans, pulses, milk, cheese, fish, egg and lean meat.
Fat: Fat is the major source of calories in human milk. When a lactating mother is taking insufficient calories so that she is using her own fat stores for milk production, her milk still contains 3 to 3.5% fats, but the fatty acid composition resembles the composition of her fat stores. Similarly, total milk fat content is the same when maternal caloric sources are chiefly protein and carbohydrate whereas milk composition changes and levels of saturated fatty acids increase as lipids are synthesized from fat stores. Include more of mono and polyunsaturated fats. Sources of these “healthy fats” include canola oil, olive oil, and fatty fish (like salmon) as well as avocados, olives, nuts, and seeds. Limit saturated fats and avoid trans fats, both of which are considered unhealthy. Saturated fats show up in high-fat meats, whole milk, tropical oils (such as coconut, palm and kernel), butter, and lard. Partially hydrogenated oils contain trans fats. A restricted maternal diet containing less than 20 g total fat may produce the essential fatty acid deficiency in the infant if supplemental essential fatty acids are not provided.
Vitamins and Minerals: The vitamin and mineral content of human milk is the standard to which cow’s milk. The human milk content of vitamins and minerals may vary and depends on the maternal diet. Most healthy mothers consume a diet that meets the recommended daily allowances for vitamins and minerals.
Vitamin A: 950 micrograms/day of vitamin A is required in their diet as an average amount of vitamin a secreted in mother’s milk is 350 micrograms. It is vital for normal growth and helps your baby resist infections.
Vitamin B6: 2.5 mg of its requirement increases during lactation to helps your baby metabolize protein and form new red blood cells.
Vitamin B12: 1.5 mg per day is required. Mothers affected by improper nutrition and pure vegetarians require vitamin B12 supplementation to prevent megaloblastic anaemia in their infants.
Folic acid: 150 micrograms per day is required as needed for healthy growth and development of the baby.
Calcium: 1 Gram per day is essential to enable the retention of calcium in breast milk. 30-40 mg of calcium is secreted per 100 ml or 300mg per 850 ml. You should include milk and other dairy products in your diet for calcium intake. Also, you should go for fruits, green leafy vegetables, whole grains, and seeds, as they provide you with fibre, vitamins, and essential minerals and promote satiety.
Mostly, all vitamins and minerals can be obtained by eating a nutrient-rich and balanced diet. So, we suggest you to include whole grains, wheat germ, nuts, milk, dairy products, vegetables (green leafy, red and yellow vegetables like spinach, carrot, tomato, and broccoli), fruits and lean meat, eggs, liver in your diet during lactation to meet your extra requirements.
Diet and feeding patterns:
- Lactating mothers require a large amount of bodybuilding, protective foods, and additional energy-yielding foods to promote the formation and secretion of breast milk.
- Fluids intake should be increased as fluids are essential for an adequate quantity of milk production. Keep yourself hydrated; drink water and include any healthy drink like simple herbal tea, soups, broth regularly.
- Nutritional needs of lactating mothers greatly enhanced during lactation hence she should have snacks in between the meals. Frequent meals improve digestion, keeping you away from hunger and calorie worries.
- Foods high in fat, artificial sugars and salts like chocolate, cakes, biscuits and soft drinks are not needed in the diet, so should be consumed less often and in smaller amounts. Use jaggery instead of sugar wherever possible.
- Highly spiced and strongly flavoured foods should be restricted as they impart flavour to milk which may be repulsive to the baby.
- Smoking and alcohol consumption should be avoided.
Over to You
Breastfeeding is important not only for your baby but also for you as it helps in maintains a healthy milk production and composition and keeps your body healthy. Depriving of proper nutrition or going on crash diets during the breastfeeding can lead to many health complications in the body. As a mother, you will also benefit from this natural action; it will help you get rid of the fat tissues that were stored during pregnancy by using this fat as a source of energy to produce milk.