Often breastfeeding Mums neglect their own nutrition through lack of ‘time’ to care for themselves whilst looking after their newborn and other family members. This is often to the detriment of their own health and a few simple principles can improve their health and their chances of continuing to breastfeed successfully and healthily for themselves and baby.
1) Fluids: Breast milk is 87% water and breastfeeding Mums need 3-3.5L of fluids a day and another 700ml if it is a hot day or they are physically active!!! Fluids can be obtained from foods and other drinks but water is the preferred choice. When baby drinks so should Mum!!! Tips include , each time you sit to feed then have a 600ml water bottle with you before you start!
2) Energy: A breastfeeding mum in the first 6 months requires on average an extra 2000kJ/day. This should ensure a milk supply of around 800ml a day. Avoid energy dense but nutrient poor snacks such as baked goods, fried foods, sweets and sugary soft drinks and try to get a wide variety of foods into your diet. Including fruits and veg of all different colours. Have some healthy, satisfying snack within an arms reach when you sit to feed like a piece of fruit or cut up veggie sticks.
3) Protein: Breastfeeding Mums need protein rich foods moderately increased. This includes foods such as fish, meat, nuts, seeds, legumes and reduced fat dairy. Try to include protein containing foods at each meal as it sustains our feeling of fullness and reduces cravings for sugar.
4) Calcium: Breastfeeding Mums need around 1000-1300mg of calcium per day and this equates to four serves of reduced fat dairy.
5) Iron: Breastfeeding women need to be conscious of their iron intake. An infants iron requirements increase after 6 months of age and exclusively breastfeeding after this time may risk iron deficiency in the child and hence the introduction of solids is important along with continued breastfeeding. Continue to take your pregnancy and breastfeeding multivitamin during this time also.
6) Iodine: Iodine rich foods include seafood, reduced fat dairy and iodised salt should be included in the diet.
Mums tend to forget that they need to care for themselves as well as their baby as there seems to be so much to do and remember. Looking after yourself is the most important thing you need to do, if you don’t look after yourself then how can you look after the other people in your life big and small?! Points to consider and work on when you can include:
• Using whatever support systems you have around you, asking for and accepting help when offered can be hard to do. The people who care about you want to help, they cannot breast feed your baby but they can pick up some groceries, drop in a dinner or give the house a quick vacuum while you go for a walk. If you don’t have a strong support system consider local or online support services. The Australian Breastfeeding Association has a helpful App with chat groups and also local support groups.
• Rest when you can. Your routine is clearly not easily planned when you are a mum and it is easy to suffer a sleep deficit. Rest when your baby sleeps even for part of the time and even a short eye rest or power nap can be helpful.
• When feeding baby try to be in as comfortable position as you can. A comfortable chair , pillow support, neck or head supports can be helpful. Many mums experience neck or shoulder pain from poor posture when feeding or holding themselves in a tense and tight position in order to feed. We often do this to get baby in the best position to feed but eventually this can lead to neck and shoulder fatigue. Take the extra minute or two to set yourself up comfortably with your water beside you and it will be better for you both in the long run.
• Try to get some exercise. This may not be a 5K run or a gym workout right now but focus on a gentle walk with the pram or a brisk walk if you can find 15 minutes of your own time. This is good for your emotional as well as physical health and the fresh air, sunshine and movement helps boost those natural mood boosting chemicals.
• It is important to keep talking and communicating about how you are feeling. Emotions can seem to swing wildly from day to day, from happy to sad, from tired to elated. This is normal due to hormonal changes and the ups and downs of new motherhood and it is ok to feel however you feel. Talk to your partner, your family or a close friend and remember your local GP especially if the down moments or feelings are becoming more often, are increasing or you have any questions about how you are feeling. Postnatal depression affects about 1 in every 7 women who give birth each year and your local GP can offer help and support.
• Take time for yourself, you don’t have to do, or be, everything for everyone 24 hours a day. Trying to be a perfect partner, mother, best friend, daughter is just not achievable and often we can feel like a duck swimming smoothly on a pond while legs madly paddle underneath. Doing something that you enjoy or that makes you feel good will help you come back refreshed and refuelled. Go for a haircut, have lunch with a friend, read a book, have a bath or just nap while someone stays with baby for a little while.
You are important and so is your well-being and self care. It may actually be the best thing you can do for your family. Remember to ask for help, accept help, keep communicating, rest when you can and seek help from health professionals whenever your need to.