March 25, 2013

Lactation - Diet and supplements

Someone close to me requested that I write about suggestions for diet and supplements during lactation, so that's our topic for today!

The nutritional content of a woman's diet is closely monitored during pregnancy, and well into lactation, because whatever the mother eats is passed on to her child. Therefore, it is important to consume a diet adequate in proteins, healthy fats, complex carbohydrates, essential vitamins and minerals, as well as fiber. It is also very important to remember that if you don't meet the nutritional requirements for both yourself and baby, your body will draw from its reserves and pass them on to the baby. This is nature's law. A balanced diet is very essential for the continued health of the mother as well as her baby.

Below is a brief list of some foods containing the above-mentioned nutrients that can be included in a vegetarian diet. This is a general list of foods. Some diets restrict the consumption of some foods during the period of lactation. Follow a diet of your preference, while making it balanced with all the nutrients.

  • Protein - All beans and lentils. Chickpeas, eggs, fermented soy products (tempeh and miso - they contain enzymes and are easier to digest), quinoa, nutritional yeast, milk and dairy products like yogurt and cheese. Try not to get your protein from artificial sources like protein shakes. They are highly processed and contribute to digestive problems and kidney disorders.
  • Healthy fats -  All nuts and seeds. Sometimes it is advised to avoid peanut or cashew nut to prevent nut allergies; however, all seeds can be freely consumed. Flax, chia, sesame, sunflower, pumpkin seeds are great snacks or can be used to make dips. Walnuts and almonds are additionally good sources of proteins and minerals.
  • Complex carbohydrates - Complex carbohydrates are more slowly digested than simple carbohydrates, providing a steady source of energy and maintaining blood sugar levels. They also contain more vitamins and minerals than simple carbs. All whole grains can be included in this list - oats, brown rice, barley, ragi, jowar, wheat - as well as many vegetables.
  • Vitamins and minerals - All fruits and vegetables. Apart from the regular Indian fruits and vegetables, try including locally available foods in your diet so that you get your nutrients from a variety of foods. To name a few:
  • Broccoli (Vitamin B complex)
  • Purslane (iron)
  • Mushrooms (potassium)
  • Prunes (vitamin C and fiber)
  • Different types of squash (beta-carotene, vitamins B and C)
  • Bean sprouts (protein, vitamins B and C)
  • Bok choy (vitamins C and K)
  • Asparagus (vitamins C and A)
  • Brussel sprouts (vitamin K)
  • Kale (calcium)

With regard to lactation supplements, I have listed all the foods and supplements that help in lactation. These are a compilation of tips and advice from friends and family, and I hope it will help anyone who is looking for guidance. Apart from optimum rest and sleep (That's a tough one, isn't it!), it is important to stay stress-free. Also, continue taking a multivitamin supplement.

  • Take 3 - 4 cups of milk and 6 - 8 glasses of water per day.
  • Fenugreek seeds - Soak in warm water and take 1 tablespoon 3 times a day with meals. 
  • Fenugreek leaves (methi), drumstick (moringa) leaves, dill leaves, and raw papaya, can be all be cooked into dry curries (subzi).
  • Garlic - Cook 5-10 cloves with milk and consume the milk along with the garlic. Or, saute crushed cloves in ghee or butter and eat with meals.
  • Poppy seeds (khus khus) - Roast the seeds, crush and cook with milk. Add jaggery to taste.
  • Oatmeal porridge
  • Yellow moong dal (pesarapappu in Telugu) - use in dals, soups, desserts
  • Bottlegourd and ridgegourd - Use in curries
  • Tapioca pearls (sabudana) - Use in halwa or khichdi
  • Dill seeds, cumin seeds, fennel seeds - Soaked in water (separately) for 1 hour and boiled in the same water. Cool and drink along with the seeds.
  • Supplements - Mother's milk tea, fenugreek tablets, Shatavari (ayurvedic), Lactare (herbal) tablets.

Remember that the period of pregnancy and breastfeeding is a special one for both the mother and the baby. Do whatever makes you and your baby comfortable. You might need to change your diet depending on what the baby likes or digests better. There is no one-size-fits-all plan. Make your own plan to suit your self and your baby as best as you can! If you need help, don't hesitate to contact your hospital's lactation consultant or the La Leche League.

Additional information on breast feeding:

  1. Kellymom website
  2. 'Making more milk' book - Highly recommended by a good friend as the 'Bible of breastfeeding'


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