August 1-7 is breastfeeding awareness week and for nursing mothers, eating real whole nutrient dense foods is a basic way to ensure her own nutritional needs as well as those of the newborn baby are met when nursing.
The challenges of childbirth and having a newborn can make focusing on nutrition really tough. Nursing mothers play a pivotal role in providing their newborns with the essential nutrients they need to thrive. During the postpartum period, nutrition becomes even more critical as it directly affects both the mother's health and the quality of breast milk. The food that nursing moms eat while breastfeeding can impact their milk supply, recovery, energy levels, and even their baby’s health. When nursing, the nutrients in the foods the mother eats are being passed on to the baby through breast milk and may even affect the baby’s tastes later in life.
Research is indicating that breastfed babies are smarter with a stronger immune system. They are also less likely to have diabetes, allergies or to be obese. Just like with personal nutrition, food available in the breast for babies is often offering new research into the plentiful ways breastfed babies are offered more opportunity to succeed.
There is also a larger demand for certain nutrients that have particularly important roles in the baby’s growth and development
The Importance of Nutrition for Nursing Mothers
Promotes Milk Production: Adequate nutrition is the cornerstone of healthy lactation. Nutrient-dense foods can enhance the quantity and quality of breast milk, ensuring that the baby receives vital nutrients such as proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals essential for growth.
Supports Postpartum Recovery: Pregnancy and childbirth can deplete a woman's nutrient stores. A nourishing diet can aid in replenishing these stores, promoting faster recovery, and reducing the risk of postpartum complications.
Boosts Energy Levels: The demands of motherhood can be exhausting, and breastfeeding requires extra energy. A well-balanced diet can provide the necessary calories and nutrients to boost energy levels and combat fatigue.
Enhances Baby's Immune System: The nutrients found in breast milk are crucial for the baby's immune system development. Proper nutrition supports the production of antibodies that protect the baby from infections and illnesses.
Aids in Weight Management: Nursing mothers often strive to shed pregnancy weight. A healthy diet can help them achieve gradual weight loss while ensuring that they maintain adequate nutrition for their own well-being and their baby's development.
Breastfeeding also increases a woman’s energy requirements by up to 500 calories a day or more, and inadequate calorie intake during this period can reduce the mother’s milk supply. These extra calories should come from a mixture of protein (which all body systems use to develop and grow), carbohydrates (which provide energy), and fats (which assist with nutrient absorption and help the nervous system develop properly).
Nutrients Needs For Nursing Moms
Certain nutrients are particularly important to focus on for the health of both the mother and the growing baby. These include
Protein is essential for tissue repair and growth, making it crucial for the healing process after childbirth and supporting the baby's development. Good sources of protein include humanely raised meats, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, and seeds and legumes.
Calcium is vital for bone health in both the mother and the baby. It supports the development of the baby's skeletal system while helping to maintain the mother's bone density during the postpartum period. Dairy products (if tolerated), fortified plant-based milk, leafy greens, and canned fish with bones are excellent sources of calcium.
Read more on dairy alternatives in this post
Iron is necessary for the formation of red blood cells and preventing anemia, which is a common concern during and after pregnancy. Adequate iron intake is essential for the mother's energy levels and the baby's cognitive development. Iron-rich foods include humanely raised meats and organs, egg yolks and leafy greens like spinach.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), play a critical role in the baby's brain and eye development. They also help reduce inflammation and support the mother's mental well-being. Fatty fish like salmon and trout, as well as chia seeds and flaxseeds, are excellent sources of omega-3s.
Folate (Folic Acid)
Folate is a B-vitamin that is crucial for preventing birth defects in the baby's brain and spine. It is especially important during the early stages of pregnancy, which is why many healthcare providers recommend taking folic acid supplements before conception and during the early weeks of pregnancy. Natural sources of folate include leafy greens, eggs, high fat dairy and citrus fruits.
Vitamin D is essential for bone health and immune function. Adequate vitamin D intake during pregnancy and lactation is vital for both the mother and the baby's overall health. Sun exposure and foods like salmon, tuna, sardines and beef liver are good sources of vitamin D.
Read on here for more on Vitamin D and sun safety
Vitamin B12 is necessary for nerve function and the formation of red blood cells. It is important for the mother's energy levels and the baby's brain development. Animal products like well-raised meat, fish, and dairy are primary sources of vitamin B12.
Iodine is essential for the production of thyroid hormones, which are critical for the baby's brain development. Including fish, seafood, eggs and dairy products in the diet can help ensure adequate iodine intake.
Zinc supports the immune system and is involved in many enzymatic reactions in the body. It is important for the baby's growth and the mother's postpartum recovery. Foods rich in zinc include humanely-raised meat, shellfish especially oysters), nuts and seeds
Staying well-hydrated is essential for both the mother and the baby, especially during breastfeeding. Drinking enough water helps maintain milk supply and supports overall health and energy levels.
Learn how to optimally hydrate in this post
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For nursing mothers, maintaining a well-balanced and nutrient-dense diet is vital for their own well-being and the health of their babies. Proper nutrition supports lactation, aids postpartum recovery, boosts energy levels, and enhances the baby's immune system. By incorporating foods like oats, leafy greens, fatty fish, lean proteins, nuts, seeds, dairy products, and colorful fruits into their diets, nursing mothers can ensure they have the necessary nutrients to thrive during this special and challenging period of motherhood. Remember to consult with a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian for personalized dietary recommendations and to address any specific health concerns.
If you are struggling with breastfeeding it is especially important to seek the advice of a knowledgeable professional to build the support system needed for your health and that of your growing baby.