Breastfeeding nutrition for mom and baby

by Beverly Chester
Okinawa Birth Education Center
The healthy eating habits of a breastfeeding mother are vital to breastfeeding success. There are, however, various myths surrounding breastfeeding and what foods should be eaten versus which foods should be avoided by a lactating mother.
First and foremost, a healthy diet is critical to maintaining health of both mother and baby. The body will crave more calories to supply the energy it requires to create breast milk, not to mention the energy that is now lacking as mothers experience sleep deprivation. The best advice is to eat often and eat according to your body’s cues. There is no need to count calories as long as you are eating all-natural foods – plants and animals. 
Choose vegetables, fruit, nuts/seeds, beans, and grains that look the same way they were harvested from the plant. Choose animal products that have little hormones and antibiotic additives, basically as fresh as possible. The foods that require calorie-counting are the less-natural boxed, packaged, and bagged items that are highly processed, filled with sugar or unnatural preservatives. Limit the processed items. Otherwise, eat when you are truly hungry (which may feel more often than you expected!)
The breastfeeding mother is likely to feel dehydrated more often than she did before lactation began. Drink water constantly, even before feeling thirsty. Have water bottles strategically placed around the house in your favorite breastfeeding locations. Keep a water bottle next to your bed, in your purse, in the diaper bag, etc. The color of urine when the body is hydrated is a pale yellow. If your urine is dark yellow, make a note to drink more water! 
Many people have the notion that drinking coffee, tea, soda, juice, or milk may aid in keeping the body hydrated. The fact of the matter is that water is the best choice, and should be chosen as the drink above all others. Caffeine should be kept to a minimum, 2 cups or 16 oz per day, to prevent caffeine from taking a toll on the baby’s sleep habits and overall crankiness.
Drinks like coffee and tea contain caffeine. Alcohol in drinks like wine, beer, and liquors can also have an adverse effect on baby’s crankiness. Sweet drinks like soda, fruit juice, and sweet tea should be limited simply due to the fact that they contain a high amount of sugar that contributes to unhealthy eating habits. Milk is an interesting subject matter that will be discussed later in this article. There is, however, a myth that a breastfeeding mother must drink milk in order to make breast milk. The woman’s body is a beautiful machine that is completely capable of making breast milk without drinking cow’s milk – so rest easy! Again, choose water above all else.
A common ideology among mothers with excessively cranky newborns is that something mom is eating has an effect on the baby. Some mothers talk about foods that increase an infant’s gassiness and others assume the baby is allergic to certain foods that mom is eating. The truth is that most babies are simply growing and developing their immature digestive tracts, causing them to be gassy no matter what mom does. Breast milk is the most complete nutrition a baby can get, and gassiness is an unfortunate universal occurrence. In general, moms should eat a well-balanced diet filled with vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, and whole grains without fear that she is causing harm to her child. 
There are exceptions, however, that deserve recognition. The most common allergen to newborns is when mom has a high intake of whey protein from cow’s milk and dairy products. Other common allergens are: soy beans and soy products, corn and corn products, gluten protein from wheat products, eggs, and peanuts. A true food allergy will result in a baby becoming inconsolably fussy, sleepless, arching the back in pain, wheezing, contracting numerous ear infections, or the presence of a skin rash or diaper rash. If you have any concerns about how to tell if your newborn is allergic to food in your diet, consult a certified lactation consultant or your family medical care provider.
To gauge if your newborn is truly allergic to a particular food, remove that food from the diet for at least 7 days. For example, to test cow’s milk, remove all dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt, etc.) from mom’s diet for at least 7 days. 
On the day cow’s milk is reintroduced to mom’s diet, make a note of the time and date. Then make a note of the time and date if baby shows signs of allergic reaction. If the infant shows signs of allergic reaction around 4-24 hours after the next feeding, there may be a true milk allergy to be concerned with. Use the same technique for the other possible allergens as well. If you choose to remove more than one food item at a time (i.e., peanuts and eggs), do not reintroduce the two foods at the same time. Wait one week between reintroducing food items to reduce confusion as to what is causing the adverse reaction. 
The good news is that the period of infant gassiness is relatively short – from around 3 weeks to 16 weeks of age, gradually growing more intense to its peak at 6-8 weeks of age and gradually decreasing until the end. There are some tips to help relieve baby’s (and parents’) discomfort: Take a class in infant massage to encourage relaxation and to stimulate baby’s digestion. Learn how to position your child to allow natural gas relief. After feeding baby, allow them to sit upright for 15 minutes to let the stomach settle. Burp baby often, both during and after feeding. With a doctor’s approval, turn to gripe water, probiotics, or simethicone (gas drops) for relief.
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