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  • Writer's pictureKim Lawler

The quality of your breastmilk

Last post I spoke about how important it is to eat & drink enough to ensure a good breast milk supply. Today I am going to talk about how the quality of the foods you’re eating play a role.

Being busy with a new baby can often mean that food choices aren’t always as great as they should be. Sometimes we are so busy we lose track of our hunger signals until suddenly we are so hungry we just grab the first thing we see to eat (often cake or biscuits dropped off by good intending visitors) or we just simply don’t have the time to buy and make nutritious meals so we eat toast and cereal for dinner. However, quality of our diet plays a huge part in providing the best breast milk we can make and also looking after our own bodies which are often in huge need of nourishment after the pregnancy and labour journeys, followed by the sleepless nights up with a newborn.

Yes it is true that the baby will take all of the nutrients first - if there are nutrients in the diet, they will go first to the breast milk. This is great for protecting our tiny babies, but not so great for the mum. As mentioned in one of my earlier articles ‘Postnatal Depletion’, mums can become incredibly depleted during the breastfeeding journey because of this preference for nutrients to end up in the breast milk. We therefore need to ensure an abundance of high nutrient dense foods to allow enough nutrients for ourselves. We also want our babies to develop as well as possible and this is enhanced by maximising the nutrients the baby receives from breast milk.

Overall the advice is to choose high nutrient dense food items. Nuts, seeds, vegetable, fruit, meat, poultry, eggs, fish, dairy, legumes and whole grains are all examples of foods with a high nutrient density. Low nutrient density/quality foods include biscuits, cakes, lollies, white breads/pasta etc.

There are some nutrients that are of particular importance that mums might not be aware of the need to consume extra:

Choline - There isn’t much talk about Choline generally when it comes to nutrition. But it is a very important nutrient for our babies as it has a major role in brain development. The best sources of Choline is egg yolk and liver, with lesser sources being vegetables, milk, chicken, meat and nuts. I therefore recommend eggs to be consumed as often as possible when breastfeeding - boiled eggs are an easy snacks or eggs on toast or quiche at main meals.

Healthy Fats - A high fat diet is very important during breastfeeding - this will translate into a fatty nourishing breast milk with abundant amounts of fat soluble vitamins (A, D, K & E). It has also been shown that breast milk higher in fat results in more satisfied babies - something that I am keen to achieve as hopefully satisfied = settled. Of course the type of fat matters considerably and will impact both mum and babies heart, brain, hormonal and overall health. The best fats to eat include olive oil, coconut oil, pure butter, nuts and fish oils. Fish oils, in particularly ‘DHA’, are incredibly important for mums brain and mental health in the childbearing years - a deficiency of DHA is linked to the so called term ‘baby brain’. Fats to avoid include trans fats (found in processed sweets such as donuts, biscuits and take away foods), seed oils (such as sunflower, safflower and linseed oil) and poor quality saturated fats (commercial cakes, biscuits, take away foods). There is a huge nutritional difference between a home made cake/biscuit/muffin made with healthy fats versus one you can buy at the shops - of course time to cook is a huge factor but some of these things can be made ahead and frozen or requested if family or friends offer to help out or possibly brought from a good quality retailer - they can be helpful in meeting the high calorie needs of a breastfeeding mother mentioned earlier.

Vitamin D - This is a fairly controversial nutrient during pregnancy and breastfeeding, however it is very important for bone health and the immune system. It is generally reported that breast milk contains very little vitamin D, however new schools of thought is that maybe breast milk contains so little vitamin D because mums don’t have enough. We obtain vitamin D from the action of sunlight on the skin and from a limited number of foods such as fatty fish and egg yolk. My recommendation would be to consider taking a supplement after speaking to your doctor/dietitian/nutritionist - just because your blood levels are okay, doesn’t mean enough is going into the breastmilk unless it is supplemented each day.

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