Breastfeeding: Challenges and Diet

We all know breast milk is the best food for your baby. The theory behind breastfeeding is to nourish our bodies, so that the breast milk mothers, comes naturally in abundance and from what new mothers eat; which also nourishes our babies. Breast milk is made up of 85% water, 3.8% fat, 1.0%protein, 7%carbohydrate and provides approximately 70 kcal/100 ml. Most mothers also know that the quality of milk changes, during the feeding i.e., the composition of breast milk. When you start there’s more water to satisfy the baby’s thirst, the milk that follows after is thicker and has a higher concentration of fats and is most nutritious.

Factors that need to be addressed –

  1. OVERALL CALORIE NEEDS: An additional 500 calories are recommended, over-and-above what you were consuming during pregnancy 2300 to 2500). The number of calories you need, will be based on: your BMI (Body mass index), how active you are, also whether you are only breastfeeding or are using other methods to supplement your child’s feed and will also change if you are breastfeeding twins.
  2. NUTRIENT DENSE FOODS: Choose foods consciously to complete not only the macronutrients, but also focus on the micro nutrients.
  3. ENERGY considerations, in conjunction with SLEEP are very important factors to be kept in mind, how do we help these two aspects along while breastfeeding.
  4. GUT BACTERIA: How are you helping the child’s gut bacteria, by enhancing your own.

10 Tips to keep in mind regarding foods –

  1. WHOLE GRAINS: These should become the bedrock of your diet, not only do these provide steady sugars, keep cravings down, provide fuel for the body in terms of fiber (and good carbohydrates); but also, energy for the brain. Focusing on brown rice and millets should be the key to build the entire foundation of your diet. They are an important source of antioxidants. These include vitamin E, selenium, tocotrienols, phenolic acids, phytic acid, B vitamins and proteins. Sprouted barley (jov) becomes a great grain for you or your baby if they are not digesting your milk.
  2. VEGETABLES: All the vegetables available locally and seasonally are great. With a focus on leafy greens that bring in chlorophyll which helps counteract the effects of any toxins, is anti-inflammatory, builds blood, promotes health intestinal flora; activates enzymes to produce vitamins E, A and K. Also, adding spirulina really helps in increasing the quotient of trace minerals.
  3. LENTILS/BEANS: Not only do they bring in the concentrated plant-protein needed, but also provide an impressive range of nutrients, including iron, zinc, folate, magnesium, selenium, phosphorus, and some B vitamins. Remember to soak them, and if they do not agree with you then focus on the split ones as they are easier to digest.
  4. FRUIT: All local and season fruits, also rich in antioxidants, fiber, vitamins including Vitamin C and folate.
  5. NUTS and SEEDS: These are high in the good fats and protein. Just a handful has 80% of fat. Large amounts of fiber, trace minerals (magnesium, zinc) and vitamins (B, E). Essential fatty acids in seeds have many uses like providing you energy and making good hemoglobin, the diffusion of oxygen in the bloodstream, brain and tissue development, stabilize blood sugar and maintaining healthy skin. Focus on chia, hemp, walnuts and flax to get omega 3 fats.
  6. FERMENTED FOOD: Will keep the gut bacteria healthy, maintain the inner ecosystem, give you B12 (especially if you are vegetarian); helping to pass the good bacteria to the baby as well. These include pressed salads with salt, sauerkraut, kimchee, kanji, kefir, tofu. While yogurt is okay if you are a dairy consume, it gives you a limited strain of good gut bacteria. While the other foods suggested, give you much more.
  7. EGGS/ANIMAL PROTEIN (fish/chicken/meats): For those who eat them, are good sources of protein; however, do not make them a main dish, but couple them with a lot of vegetables and greens to make for balance.
  8. COLD PRESSED COOKING OILS: Are always better than refined oils, as they do not make for free radical damage (especially with our Indian cooking). It’s better to consume cold pressed oils that are full of nutrients, good fats and have a high smoke point.
  9. SALT: Always better to go with rock, sea or Himalayan pink salt, which have a higher nutrient profile in terms of minerals.
  10. AVOID: Sugar, dairy, caffeine, colas, soft drinks, processed, refined foods, foods with additives, sweeteners, fruit juices and alcohol (minimal alcohol has shown to have major effects, but may cause sleeplessness). No more than 0.5 grams of alcohol per kilogram of your body weight (60 kilograms = 2 ounces of alcohol).

Here are some FAQs on breastfeeding that will answer some more of your question:

Do you need a multivitamin?

It could help, if you are not focusing too much on what you are eating. Also, you need to make vitamin D, so I encourage you to sit in the sun. Calcium gets depleted when you are breastfeeding and adding the recipe given below called gomashio made with sesame seeds really helps.

Should you diet during breastfeeding?

Just remember the fat you gain during pregnancy is used to make breast milk, so breastfeeding will naturally help you to lose weight. I feel the focus should be on helping you through this phase and not losing weight. Restricting calories will decrease breast milk.

Do you need to stay hydrated?

The answer is yes, as breastfeeding will make you feel a little dehydrated. Oxytocin levels go up when your baby breastfeeds and this stimulates thirst.

Do you have to avoid spicy food?

Actually, this is a time to expose your baby to flavours via what you are eating. So, while you shouldn’t overdo the spices, all flavours work.


Some foods are perceived as gassy, like cauliflower or cabbage; when actually they are really good for you (when cooked right). The gassiness comes from your weak gut and not the food.

Breastfeeding and gut bacteria

A neonate’s life has what is called a ‘window of opportunity’ during which mothers have a chance to strengthen their gut diversity. This means the neonate’s gut microbiota composition and metabolism could therefore play a very important role in allergic disease risk. Breastfeeding shapes the gut microbiota in early life. Breast milk has a lot of good strains of bacteria (700 different types of strains), and by you keep the fiber and fermented foods quotient up in your diet, it will help pass good bacteria on to your baby as well. These in turn, will help support your baby’s health in the following ways: enhance their immune system, reduce constipation, prevent skin issues, support them mentally, keep them away from any allergies or health issues in the future. 

Also taking probiotics via foods, or a right one prescribed by your health care provider will support you as well. With a stronger gut diversity, you can be helped as, probiotics will help the absorption of nutrients from foods, help with elimination, protect you against unnecessary weight gain, give you steady moods and a myriad of other health benefits.

Recipe Gomashio

1 teaspoon rock/sea/Himalayan pink salt to 18 teaspoons of roasted sesame seeds, coarsely ground and take up to 2 teaspoons taken daily with meals (this recipe can be increased when made, keeping the proportions in mind).

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