Postnatal & Breastfeeding Support Diet
by Sue Kira, Naturopath & Clinical Nutritionist
After the birth of your little bundle of joy, you will need the best diet possible to rebuild all that has been given to your child during pregnancy, and to boost your supplies for breastfeeding.
If you feel that post-natal depression could be creeping in, then you will be pleased to know that the foods in this diet will also boost the nutrients needed to best support you, but please also check with your doctor and health practitioner who may prescribe a supplement or other therapies to support you during this time.
Foods to keep you and your little one strong and healthy are high in calcium, magnesium, B6, B12, folate, iron, iodine, with lots of phytonutrients, antioxidants, and vitamin D. Let’s have a closer look at these important nutrients….
Also known as folic acid (which is its synthetic name), folate is essential for the normal growth and rejuvenation of all cells including your blood and nerve tissues for you and your baby. Your folate levels may have been depleted during pregnancy, so it is a good idea to eat plenty of folate rich foods.
These include asparagus, broccoli, tomatoes, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, chickpeas, lentils, nuts, avocados, oranges, all leafy greens including salad greens, kale, and spinach.
B12 is essential during breastfeeding and for post-partum (after delivery) regeneration for the healthy development of you and your baby’s blood cells, energy levels, and healthy nervous systems. Vitamin B12 can easily get low after pregnancy, so ask to have your B12 tested when visiting your doctor.
Good sources of B12 are found in all meats, especially red meat. Fish and seafood also have good levels. In vegetarian and vegan diets it can be a little tricky to get adequate B12 levels from the diet alone, so supplementation is best if you are not a meat eater. Vegetarians can get B12 from egg yolks.
Calcium is an important mineral to rebuild after pregnancy as your baby will have used much of your calcium to make bones. You need to re-build your levels and have plenty for your baby’s needs during breastfeeding.
It’s good to know that your intestines are designed to absorb more calcium from your diet via certain hormones during pregnancy and breastfeeding, but you still need to eat plenty of calcium rich foods to allow this to happen.
Good sources of calcium are figs (quite high), nuts and seeds, seaweeds, and in small but easily absorbed amounts from most fruits and vegetables, especially the greens. Sesame seeds (hulled) ground into a paste as Tahini is one of the richest sources of calcium and it makes a great dressing mixed with lemon or lime juice plus water and drizzled over vegetables or salads.
Very much needed to rebuild the lost blood from childbirth, you and your baby need iron to have plenty of energy and support for your immune systems. The amount of iron needed will depend on whether you are breastfeeding and if you have resumed menstruation.
If you are breastfeeding but not menstruating then you need around 10mg per day, but if breastfeeding and menstruating, then your requirement triples to around 30mg per day.
Avoid drinking tea or coffee near meals as this blocks iron uptake. Good sources of iron are found in meats, especially beef, kangaroo, and liver from any organic animal, along with chicken, fish, leafy greens, legumes, nuts, and gluten free grains. It is good to eat iron rich foods along with foods that have vitamin C such as broccoli, capsicum/bell peppers or tomatoes to aid the absorption of iron.
Iodine is a mineral not often thought about for post-partum and breastfeeding, but it is required in small amounts for the normal growth of your baby and to restore what was lost during pregnancy. Iodine is required during breastfeeding for your baby’s brain development and for you to regulate metabolism and a healthy thyroid.
Women with thyroid conditions need to check with their doctor before using iodine, especially as a supplement. With iodine from the diet, provided you don’t live off sushi, you will be fine. Seaweed sheets, nori sheets, seafood and fish are all good sources of iodine. If you are not into seafood or seaweed, then iodised salt is an option for iodine.
Vitamin D is important for balanced hormones and a healthy immune system, for you and your baby. It also helps to build and maintain good bones and muscle strength and protect you both from other diseases.
Food sources of vitamin D include oily fish and egg yolks, but only in small amounts, so the best way to get adequate vitamin D is from the sun. As breast milk and formula foods are low in vitamin D it is important for your baby to get a small amount of sunlight to reduce the risk of bone deformities.
Check your risk of low vitamin D with your doctor – a simple blood test will show if you need supplementation. If your levels are fine then your baby will also be fine until infancy, then they will need to get their own supply from the sun. If you and your baby cover your skin with clothes or sunscreens, spend little time outdoors, or are naturally dark skinned, you will need more vitamin D.
Be aware to not overdo sun exposure or be in the sun in the middle of the day because you may burn or increase risk of skin damage/cancer.
Phytonutrients and antioxidants
These help to replace all those tiny micronutrients lost during pregnancy, but also help to repair any damaged tissues and regenerate healthy cells in the body. They are also great for the baby’s immune system.
Probiotic rich foods
These foods are important during pregnancy, but also important while rebuilding after giving birth and to ensure that good levels of friendly bacteria are passed onto your baby via breastfeeding. If you are not breastfeeding you can purchase baby probiotic powder and place some into the milk formula for added protection. Get advice on the dose.
Speak to your health practitioner about what is best for your baby. This will depend on whether you had a natural birth, C-section, any antibiotic use, any infections that your baby had or has, any allergy signs like eczema or dermatitis, or breathing difficulties etc.
If you are breast feeding and had a natural birth then you may not need supplements and diet will supply good bugs for you both, but if in doubt check with your health practitioner. Probiotic rich foods are fermented foods, including foods like coconut yoghurt. Take care with these, especially if there are issues with baby’s flatulence and colic.
I don’t recommend dairy yoghurt because I have seen too many babies suffer from intestinal upsets from dairy products in mothers’ systems delivered via breast feeding.
Which brings me to my next topic…
Colic is very unpleasant for babies. Their little tummies become full of wind that seems so difficult to pass. Some babies who have colic are ‘air suckers’. They suck in too much air as they feed and don’t burp easily, but others get their wind as a reaction to certain foods that mum eats.
If you baby has colic and isn’t being breastfed, then consider changing the formula that your baby is drinking, as they may have an intolerance to something in the mix, especially if it is dairy based. But soy formulas can be just as problematic for some.
There is no ‘right blend’ for all – only the right blend for your baby. Speak to your doctor, health practitioner, chemist, and baby health clinic for recommendations on formula alternatives.
Most of the time I found that colic is a result of something that mum eats. The best way to work this out is to first eliminate all potential foods for two weeks that could be creating problems. Then if your baby settles, you may choose to re-introduce one food at a time to see which food causes the pain and wind.
The top colicky producing foods are dairy, gluten, other grains, windy foods like onions, garlic, legumes like chickpeas, lentils, beans of various types, and brassica family foods such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, rocket/arugula. Some babies will even react to lettuce.
If eliminating foods on this first list doesn’t help, then you may need to get your baby checked for bacterial overgrowth/imbalance in the gut or you may need to try an Elimination Diet. You will need the help of an experienced and qualified health care provider for these tests and extra diet support.
See your medical or health care professional for qualified guidance about what foods and supplements are best for your body. While on the diet do not stop any medications or supplements previously prescribed unless advised otherwise by your medical or health care professional.
During the early stages of a new diet, you may experience symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, or body aches, which may occur because your body is detoxifying. However, if you are unsure about a symptom at any time, check immediately with your medical or health care professional.
Client names and identifying information changed
Michael was born by C-section after a 10hr labour turned into foetal distress. Apart from the birth process, all seemed normal for little Michael, that was until he started to scream in pain every 90 minutes. The only thing that seemed to settle him was being fed, so he constantly needed to be on the breast. Soon after he finished a feed, he fell asleep and an hour and a half later he woke again in pain.
Not only was this distressing for poor Michael, mum was distraught and not getting any sleep. A visit to the doctor and the baby health clinic nurse revealed that Michael was quite healthy but had colic. Mum was advised to go to the chemist and get colic drops which contained rhubarb (a laxative), but this did nothing for her baby. The colic went on for several months before Michael’s mum saw me.
I immediately took her off all wind-forming foods plus gluten and dairy as a starting point and within three days Michael was sleeping well for 6hrs at a time (and so was mum).
Foods were slowly re-introduced into the diet, but it seemed that all foods originally eliminated gave Michael wind pains. Michael was then put onto some baby probiotics and mum was put onto adult probiotics.
By the time Michael was eating solid foods a couple of months later, he seemed to tolerate most foods well, except for gluten grains and dairy products which gave him dark colouration under his eyes – a sign of allergies affecting the kidneys. Tomatoes also gave him a rash but not wind.
I advised mum not to feed Michael any gluten, dairy or tomatoes until he was two years old to allow his digestive system to mature. Then she could re-look at these foods and if symptoms were still showing, he would need to be tested for allergies and intolerances.