Good nutrition is important for everyone. It is particularly important for breastfeeding mothers to eat healthy, varied and well-balanced meals. During pregnancy, body stores of certain nutrients such as iron, calcium and vitamin D, can become depleted. Eating healthy, balanced meals could help replenish these stores. If a poor diet is consumed during pregnancy and while breastfeeding, the mother's nutrient stores will be reduced which could in turn affect the nutrients supply to the baby. It is therefore very important that a healthy diet plan is followed by pregnant and nursing mothers so as to fulfill both their nutritional needs as well as that of their babies.
Making breast milk is hard work for the body. Energy requirements increase during lactation (it has been estimated that the energy cost of breastfeeding is around 650 kcal/day). Mothers who exclusively breastfeed are said to require an extra 500 kcal/day on average. Some of this energy is obtained from fat stored during pregnancy. There are additional requirements for other nutrients, most of which can be met by eating healthy balanced meals.
Some nutrient-dense foods a breastfeeding mum could eat include fish and other sea foods, meat, fruits and vegetables, nuts such as groundnuts and walnuts, as well as diary products such as milk, cheese, yogurt etc.
Nutrients in Breast Milk:
With the exception of vitamin D, breast milk contains everything a baby requires for proper development during the first six months of its life. The composition of breast milk is highly regulated, and a mother's diet can have significant effects on the concentrations of some nutrients. If a mother's diet does not provide sufficient amounts of nutrients, it can affect both the quality of her breast milk as well as her own health.
Generally, an ounce (28 ml) of breast milk is said to contain about 19–23 calories, with 3.6–4.8% being from protein, 28.8–32.4% from fat and 26.8–31.2% from carbs, mostly lactose. Unlike baby formula, the calorie content and composition of breast milk varies. Breast milk changes during each feeding and throughout a mother's lactation period in order to meet her baby's nutrient needs. At the beginning of a feeding session, the milk is more watery and usually quenches the baby's thirst. The milk that comes later is thicker, higher in fat content and more nutritious; and may contain 2–3 times as much fat as milk from the beginning of a feeding, and 7–11 more calories per ounce. Therefore, to get to the most nutritious milk, it's important that a baby "empties" one breast before switching to the other.
A new mum might be tempted to lose weight quickly after delivery. It is completely normal to not lose any weight, or even gain some during the first 3 months of breastfeeding. Due to hormonal changes in her body, a new mum may have a bigger appetite and be more prone to holding on to body fat. Restricting calories too much, especially during the first few months of breastfeeding, may decrease both a mother's milk supply and her much-needed energy level.
However, she will likely experience a spontaneous increase in fat burning after 3–6 months of breastfeeding and start losing more weight than mothers who don't breastfeed. By then, losing about 0.5 kg body weight per week through a combination of diet and exercise should not affect her milk supply or milk composition, assuming that she is not undernourished . All in all, a breastfeeding mum should remember that it took her body several months to put on the weight, and it may take months to lose it.