Breastfeeding is a stage where the nutritional needs of the mother are different from those of a woman who is not lactating. The question is knowing if we can cover all these needs with our diet or if we need to receive a vitamin supplement to guarantee that our milk has the ideal composition for the newborn.
Breastfeeding women need a healthy and varied diet
The mother who is breastfeeding has to eat healthy and varied and must let herself be guided by her sensation of hunger and thirst . That these women have to eat for two, or drink so many liters a day, are myths. They must be guided by their sensation of hunger and satiety.
It is also a myth that certain foods should be avoided because they give the newborn baby taste or gas. Except for alcohol (which they should not drink at all), caffeine (which they can take in moderation) and large fish with a high mercury content (swordfish, shark, giant pike and bluefin tuna) which they should avoid, they can eat and drink everything.
It is recommended that diets for weight loss be avoided during this lactation period; It is not the time, in fact during lactation it is estimated that about 500 kcal more per day are consumed).
It is advisable to eat from all food groups (cereals, fruits, vegetables, dairy products, meat, fish, eggs…) and drink at least three dairy products a day. If we do not take dairy, we can opt for other foods rich in calcium.
How does our nutrition affect breast milk?
The body is wise and the priority of the body of a woman who is breastfeeding is to produce breast milk. In general, there is no “poor quality milk”, no “watery milk”, no “milk that feeds less”. Women all over the world produce enough breast milk with the right nutrients, even those with suboptimal diets. Only in cases of extreme malnutrition would breast milk be less nutritious, and in this case it would contain less fat.
The composition of breast milk remains fairly stable among women. And it is so well designed that it adapts to the needs of our baby (the milk of a mother who has given birth to a premature baby does not have the same composition as that of a mother who has had a full-term baby; in the same way that the milk of a 2-3 day old baby does not have the same composition as that of a one month old baby or a one and a half year old).
Some of the components of breast milk are obtained by the mammary gland from the mother’s reserves and others are made by the mother herself .
The amount of water-soluble vitamins (B and C) in breast milk varies greatly depending on the mother’s diet.
The levels of calcium, fat-soluble vitamins (A,D,E,K) and minerals in breast milk, on the other hand, are less modified by the mother’s diet. To make breast milk we get these nutrients from maternal stores, so it is important that we replenish them.
When is it necessary to supplement?
Let’s go then to the important thing: in which situations or which mothers should receive supplements?
– Iodine : although the evidence is slight, it is considered that all lactating women in Spain should receive iodine supplementation (200 micrograms per day) , since it is estimated that a significant percentage of the population has a deficit of this mineral. Iodine is involved in the manufacture of thyroid hormones and is essential for the development of our baby’s thyroid. An iodine deficiency in early childhood can cause growth problems and affect brain development.
– Vitamin B12 . This vitamin is found in foods of animal origin; thus. Women who follow a vegan or vegetarian diet should receive vitamin B12 supplements, whether or not they are breast-feeding. In the case of lactating mothers, it is especially important, since the levels of vitamin B12 in breast milk depend on the levels in the mother . A mother who follows a vegan or vegetarian diet and takes Vitamin B12 supplements can exclusively breastfeed without any problem. Vitamin B12 is involved in maintaining the nervous system and in the formation of red blood cells.
– Calcium . This mineral is also essential. Calcium is not only present in milk or dairy products but in many other foods: nuts, legumes, green leafy vegetables, sardines… Those women who must follow a dairy-free diet, for example because their babies suffer from an allergy to the proteins in cow’s milk, they may need to receive a calcium supplement. Calcium needs during lactation are around 1000mg/day. Calcium is essential for bone formation. It has been observed that women who breastfeed do not have an increased risk of osteoporosis.
– Vitamin D. This vitamin is fundamentally synthesized in the skin through solar radiation; only a small part is obtained from the diet. Many women have low vitamin D levels without this affecting the amount of vitamin D in breast milk. Even so, if the mother has vitamin D deficiency, she should receive a supplement (also important during pregnancy).
As we have mentioned that most of vitamin D is obtained through sunlight and newborns should not be exposed to the sun, so they should all receive 400IU of vitamin D until they are one year old.
– Iron . Many women during pregnancy and after childbirth have iron deficiency since iron needs at this stage are greater and losses increase during childbirth. In cases where this deficit is verified, it must be supplemented. The amount of iron in breast milk is also not affected by the mother’s diet or the mother’s iron levels.
Breastfeeding women should follow a varied and healthy diet. In these cases, they do not need to receive any vitamin supplements except 200 micrograms of iodine per day . Those mothers who follow vegetarian or vegan diets should receive a vitamin B12 supplement. Only those women in whom low levels of iron or vitamin D are observed should receive these supplements.
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