Post Partum Nutrition

So you’ve done the hard bit, you’ve grown a little person for 9 months but now more than ever, you need to make sure you are fuelling yourself – long nights and tiring days may lie ahead. But you can definitely treat yourself too, please don’t get too bogged down with trying to lose baby weight – there’s plenty of time and you and your baby’s well-being is the most important thing to consider in these early post-natal stages.

We are very lucky to have Amy Powderham as part of the Bumps & Burpees Post Natal team. She is an adult & paediatric dietitian registered with the Health & Care Professionals council. I recently collated the recurring questions that I get asked on instagram and Amy has kindly provided us with some brilliant advice.

What should a new mum be eating?

What she can find time to! Don’t put too much pressure on yourself in those early days. Sleep deprivation and little time can mean convenient, easy to eat foods are the go-to…and a necessity! Guidance is the same as for all adults; to eat a balanced, varied diet that includes wholegrains, protein, fibre-rich foods and lots of fruits and veg. Here are some nutrient-savvy tips to help you achieve this: 

  • Eat when you can! Postpartum recovery and tiredness can mean our hunger and fullness cues are a little off. Even if you’re not hungry, if you find yourself with 5 minutes to yourself then think about eating something nourishing…who knows when you’ll get another chance.
  • Optimise on the eating opportunity! Always aim to pair a carbohydrate and protein. In doing so, the meal or snack will sustain you for longer and is more likely to give you a range of nutrients. Some nutrient-rich foods to keep handy; wholegrain or granary bread and crackers, Greek yoghurt, nuts & nut butters, seeds, fruit (e.g. bananas and avocado).
  • Fibre fix. Some simple swaps can ensure you’re still getting the necessary fibre to keep your gut happy; opt for wholegrain pasta, bread and rice, use microwaveable mixed veg bags (so you’re having more than one type!), buy mixed nuts rather than single nut bags and have fruit at the ready.
  • Ask for help. Having food bought, prepared, and brought to you in those early days is a saving grace! Don’t be afraid to ask for support.
  • Hydrate. Dehydration can leave us feeling more tired, and if you’re breastfeeding fluid requirements are increased. Remember that milk, squash and juice all count although water or flavoured water is preferable. A good idea is having a drink with every breast or formula feed, and additional at your own meals & snacks.
  • Calcium-rich foods. If breastfeeding, calcium intake is essential as your little one has first dibs on your stores. Aim for at least 3 portions of dairy per day (e.g. roughly 125g yoghurt, 20g cheese or 100ml milk). If avoiding dairy, ensure plant-based alternatives are fortified with calcium and include plenty of other calcium-rich foods such as almonds and broccoli.

Are there particular foods I should avoid if breastfeeding?

There are no specific foods to avoid when breastfeeding, but there are foods to limit.

Owing to mercury content, it is advised that breastfeeding women eat no more than two portions of fish per week. Given omega 3 content, it is good for one of these to be an oily fish, such as mackerel or salmon. Only one portion of shark, swordfish or marlin is advised for all adults.

Since caffeine may enter the breastmilk, it is advisable to limit caffeine intake to less than 200mg per day whilst breastfeeding. Similarly, alcohol may enter the breastmilk and the NHS advises that breastfeeding mothers can have occasional, small amounts of alcohol but not drink heavily or regularly. 

Are there certain foods that increase milk supply?

Milk supply is determined by how much milk is removed from the breast (e.g. through feeding or pumping). If milk supply is low aside from this there is usually a physiological underlying reason, and nutrition cannot address this. If you are worried about your milk supply speak to a healthcare professional.

Should I be taking specific new mum vitamins or supplements?

Owing to the risk of vitamin D deficiency in the UK, it is advised that all pregnant and breastfeeding mums take a 10 mcg vitamin D supplement daily. 

There are no other routine vitamin and mineral supplements advised for new mums, however, calcium requirements are extremely high when breastfeeding and supplementation may be advisable alongside inclusion of good calcium sources in the diet.  

Otherwise, a balanced diet containing a range of foods should meet all nutritional requirements. However, if you are limiting certain food groups, such as in veganism, or your diet is limited in some way then additional supplementation may be advisable.

Is it safe to drink alcohol whilst breastfeeding?

Since alcohol can pass into breastmilk, it is typically advised to avoid or limit alcohol intake when breastfeeding as excessive alcohol can be harmful to your baby. Alcohol can slow milk release, as it’s an oxytocin inhibitor, so a baby’s growth may be compromised if alcohol is drunk regularly. If drunk excessively, it can also impact a baby’s sleep and poses a risk to their safety if a mother chooses to bed share, for example. However, the effects are directly related to the amount mother ingests and occasional, small amounts of alcohol have not been shown to be harmful to your baby. 

Some things to consider;

  • Alcohol passes freely into breastmilk, so the quantity amounts to what’s in the blood stream.
  • Waiting for 2-3 hours, for each drink, for alcohol to be removed from the breastmilk is a good rule of thumb.
  • Eating whilst drinking slows the rate of alcohol absorption into the bloodstream. If not eating, blood alcohol levels peak about 30-60 minutes after a drink, and 60-90 minutes if eating.
  • Babies under 3 months metabolise alcohol at roughly half the rate of adults, and older babies metabolise alcohol more quickly.
  • It’s important to still enjoy social occasions, and to not feel breastfeeding is a restricting factor and thus be inclined to stop as a result. If you want to drink but are concerned, pumping in advance and feeding expressed milk can be a good idea. 

As well as stating that “an occasional drink is unlikely to harm your breastfed baby”, the NHS refers to the general guidance on alcohol intake for breastfeeding mothers; limiting alcohol intake to no more than 14 units in a week, and spreading intake out over 3 or more days*.

* https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/baby/breastfeeding-and-bottle-feeding/breastfeeding-and-lifestyle/alcohol/ 

Another useful read; https://www.laleche.org.uk/alcohol-and-breastfeeding/#LLLI  

Should I adjust my diet so that my baby doesn’t develop allergies?

There was a time when women were advised to avoid peanuts in pregnancy and when breastfeeding owing to fear this increased the risk of allergy for their baby. However, a 2009 review led to government advice changing given the absence of evidence to support avoidance.

Unless you’ve an allergy yourself, or a healthcare professional has advised against it, breastfeeding women can enjoy peanuts and other common allergens as much as they like! 

If you are looking for support through your post natal journey I would highly recommend taking a look at our Post Natal Program. Amy provides a weekly lesson along with other post natal experts in pelvic floor health, yoga, pilates and of course me taking you through a back to exercise program.

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