I recently started taking classes to earn my Masters in Applied Nutrition; one of the first topics we discussed was breastfeeding. Over the past year I have experienced an increase in the number of pregnant women that I get to counsel. One question I always ask is if they plan on breastfeeding. Sadly, a majority of women say no. The reasons are usually along the lines of hearing that it will hurt, they are uncomfortable with the idea of it, or simply do not know that nursing is actually an option. Mother’s to be, I am here to encourage you to try breastfeeding! It truly is the best option for you and your baby. Studies show that babies who are breastfed decrease their chances for ear infections, respiratory infections, sudden infant death syndrome, leukemia infections of the gastro-intestinal tract, and possibly even a reduction in food allergies. Infants who are nursed typically gain weight at a slower rate than those who are formula fed; this helps reduce their chances for being overweight and developing type II Diabetes in the future. Benefits of breastfeeding for the mother include weight-loss, decreased risk of breast and ovarian cancer, decreased risk of osteoporosis, and a decrease in postpartum bleeding. I should also mention that breastfeeding is FREE!
The American Dietetic Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that infants be breastfed for the first 4-6 months of life. However, even if the mother only nurses for 1 week, this is more beneficial than nothing at all. During the first 24-48 hours after delivery, the mother’s milk contains very important nutrients and antibodies that help protect the infant against infection and disease. Mothers who choose to breastfeed should be aware that their nutrition is very important to that of their babies. They should focus on consuming a diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. Essentially, what the mother eats, the baby eats.
Nutrients such as calcium and folic acid continue to be important in the new mother’s diet, they should continue to, or begin taking a prenatal vitamin to ensure adequate intake. These vitamins and minerals are found naturally in cabbage, dark leafy greens, dry beans, oranges, nuts, and whole grains. Zinc is another important mineral needed for growth and development, it is found in eggs, meat, and oats. Lactating women produce approximately 23-27oz (3 cups) of milk per day; requiring an extra 500-800 calories per day. Breastfeeding mothers should consume 4-6 small meals throughout the day, and drink plenty of water. This is likely not a problem since many mothers find that they are very hungry and thirsty while breastfeeding.
Some people believe that certain foods such as cabbage, broccoli, garlic, and onions eaten by the mother, will give the breastfed baby gas. However, just like every adult, every baby is different. It is not necessary to remove these foods from your diet altogether. If you find that your infant is extra fussy after nursing, and you have consumed some of these foods; you may try and limit your intake for a while to see if it makes a difference.
Not only are nutrients found in foods capable of being passed from mother to baby, but so are toxins. This means it is important for nursing mothers to avoid drinking alcoholic beverages and using tobacco products at least 1 hour prior to feeding or pumping. Alcohol and nicotine can both cause slow growth development in the new baby. Mothers should also avoid taking antibiotics, sulfa drugs, certain laxatives, and any products containing iodine while breastfeeding unless prescribed by a doctor.
While there are some mothers who truly are unable to breastfeed, the majority of new moms are capable of producing enough milk to satisfy their newborn’s needs. However, if a new mother is having trouble breastfeeding or finds it overly painful, most towns/cities have resources to help. Lactation consultants can be found at WIC clinics and many hospitals with a labor & delivery ward also have consultants. Many midwives and nurses also have plenty of experience teaching new moms how to breastfeed. So start your little one’s life off right, and give breastfeeding a try.