Nutrition Advice for Breastfeeding Women
There is no better nutrition for an infant than mother’s milk. Nutrients and protection against certain illnesses and diseases are passed to baby through breast milk and breastfeeding also provides many health benefits to mothers. As an organization of experts in women’s health, The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada recommends exclusive breastfeeding up to six months and continued breastfeeding until two years with complementary feedings.
During this time, optimal nutrition is important for mothers. So is returning to a healthy postpartum weight. Maintaining a healthy weight reduces the risk of certain diseases like type 2 Diabetes. Maternal obesity is negatively linked to breastfeeding success and milk production while breastfeeding is positively linked to a reduced risk of certain illnesses and diseases, including breast and ovarian cancers.
Energy Needs for Nutrition & Weight Loss
- From one to six months following birth, lactating mothers need an extra 330 kcal daily.
- From seven to twelve months after birth, lactating mothers need an extra 400 kcal daily.
- For weight loss of about 0.5kg weekly, new mothers should stay active and consume about 500 fewer calories than needed.
- Energy needs will vary by woman and it is recommended that women talk to a healthcare provider or nutritionist to assess their unique requirements during this time.
Historically, women and healthcare providers were concerned that limiting caloric intake would negatively affect nutrient content or volume of breast milk. But there is little evidence to support that breast milk quality or quantity is affected by gradual weight loss and moderate exercise. Women should, however, focus on eating the right amounts of nutrient-dense foods as part of a balanced diet.
Nutrients of Concern for Breastfeeding Women
There are several nutrients that are particularly important for breastfeeding mothers to get enough of: riboflavin, vitamin B6, vitamin 12, choline, vitamin A, vitamin D, selenium, iodine, and omega-3 fatty acids. Many North American women are able to meet their requirements for these nutrients although fewer meet their needs for vitamin B12 and vitamin D.
Vitamin D – Even among well-nourished women vitamin D is rarely present in large enough quantities in breast milk to meet an infant’s requirements and it is recommended that breastfed infants are supplemented with 400 IU of vitamin D daily. However, women who supplement with 2000 IU/day during the second and third trimester in pregnancy and continue until 8 weeks after birth should pass on the required amount to their infants through their milk.
Vitamin B12 – Since vitamin B12 comes mostly from animal sources, vegetarians, vegans and women who don’t eat much meat should look to fortified foods and vitamin supplements to increase their intake.
Omega-3s – The fatty acid composition of breast milk plays many important roles in infant growth including eye and brain development. Ideally, lactating women should consume 150g of fish each week to meet their needs, although certain fish should be limited or avoided. Shark, swordfish, marlin, orange roughy and escolar should be avoided or consumed in amounts no more than 150 g monthly. Light canned tuna is a better choice than canned albacore “white” tuna, which is best limited or avoided.
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