What nutrients do babies get through breastfeeding?

what to eat after child birth

Breastmilk is a miraculous thing; it’s a complete food source that can sustain an infant’s growth and energy requirements for the first six months of their life. Breastmilk contains all the essential nutrients and vitamins your little one needs to grow and thrive. And it can even provide antibodies to protect your baby when they're sick. 

Although many baby formula companies have worked very hard to create a formula that replicates breastmilk, it’s impossible to duplicate it because breastmilk is a living substance that’s constantly changing. It changes as your baby grows and their needs change, and it even changes during a single feed. Breastmilk is made up of two parts, the ‘first milk’, which is waterier and thirst-quenching and the ‘last milk’, which is more filling and creamier. 

The Nutrition Profile of Breastmilk – Breastfeeding Nutrition for Baby

  • Water 
  • Protein, carbohydrates, and fats 
  • Vitamins, minerals, and trace elements. 

Combined, these nutrients provide everything your little one needs for growth and development. In addition to the nutrients, breastmilk also contains an array of non-nutritional compounds, including hormones, enzymes, and antibodies, which help to protect against potential diseases, infections, and illnesses. 

What Nutrition Do Babies Need?

The current recommendation from the World Health Organisation (WHO) is that babies should breastfeed exclusively for the first six months of their life. Considering how dizzying those early days are, it’s a big relief knowing that — at least when it comes to feeding your baby — you’re pretty much covered.

At six months of age, babies require extra calories and nutrients from food, but the WHO recommends that breast milk be included in a child's diet until two years of age and beyond. 

Although some people believe that breastmilk loses its potency with time, research shows it's still a powerhouse of nutrition and protective enzymes even after two years. 

Do I Need to Follow a Healthy Diet to Breastfeed?

You don't need to maintain a perfectly healthy diet to breastfeed your baby. However, if you don't eat healthy food and your intake of nutrients is low, your body will take from your nutrient stores to add them to your breastmilk for your baby. This will leave you depleted with low energy and mood. You need extra nutrients when you are breastfeeding as you are supporting yourself and your baby. 

A healthy diet is always important, but it’s especially important if you are breastfeeding. Breastfeeding uses a lot of energy and nutrients. It is important that your diet supplies the nutrients you need during breastfeeding, including protein, calcium, iron, iodine, vitamin D and other vitamins.

Eating healthy is recommended when you are breastfeeding. It will support your energy needs, mental health, and recovery. It will also begin to shape your baby's future taste preferences. 

Flavours pass through breastmilk, so your baby will taste this if you're consuming a diverse diet full of wonderful flavours. And research shows that babies who are exposed to more flavours from a young age are more likely to be less fussy and have healthier eating habits. 

When a mother consumes something, whether it's food, a drink or medication, it's broken down by the digestive tract into tiny molecules and absorbed by the blood. These molecules then diffuse into the alveoli and through to the milk. This explains why breastfeeding mums must avoid drinking alcohol before feeding and only take breastfeeding-safe medications. 

Breastfeeding Nutrition 

Your body requires extra nutrients while breastfeeding to support your additional energy requirements. Below are the recommended serves for each of the five main food groups. 

  • Vegetables: 7.5 serves per day
  • Fruit: 2 serves per day
  • Whole grains: 9 serves per day
  • Protein 2.5 serves per day
  • Dairy: 2.5 serves per day 

While breastfeeding, there are some nutrients that are in higher demand. The below four nutrients are worth focusing on. 

Calcium: Calcium is super crucial in baby's bone development. The best food sources include dairy products, fish with edible bones like tinned salmon or sardines, tofu and green leafy vegetables. 

Iodine: Iodine plays a vital role in your baby's nervous system and brain development. Dairy products, seafood and iodised salt, are your best choices. 

Vitamin B12: Vitamin B12 is also important for your baby's developing nervous system. As adults, we get Vitamin B12 from animal products like meat, fish, eggs and milk. So, if you follow a vegan diet, you should speak to your doctor or naturopath about supplementation. 

Vitamin D: Vitamin D is required for calcium absorption, which is essential for your baby's bone health. The best way to ensure vitamin D efficiency is to sit in direct sunlight every day for about 10 minutes. Our skin makes Vitamin D from sunlight which is then transferred through breastmilk. 

The excellent nutrients in fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy fats from oily fish, protein from foods like eggs and yoghurt and carbohydrates from legumes and whole grains will pass through to your baby, helping to give them the best start in life. 

What Should I Eat to Maintain my Milk Supply?

The best thing you can do to maintain your milk supply is feed your baby on demand. Breastmilk works on supply and demand, so the more you feed, the more you make. However, you can do some additional things to support your milk supply. 

1. Eat enough calories

Breastfeeding mums generally require an additional 250 calories per day when partially breastfeeding (breastfeeding as well as solids/formula) and an extra 500 calories per day when breastfeeding exclusively. It is important what you eat is healthy. 

A healthy example of 250 calories is a combination of the following: one boiled egg, one apple, and six almonds. 

A healthy example of 500 calories is a combination of the following: 100g chicken breast, ½ cup cooked quinoa, 2 cups mixed salad, one banana, an In Shape Mummy Smoothie (made of one glass of almond milk, 2 tbsp In Shape Mummy Health Shake mix, and ½ tbsp peanut butter). 

The total number of calories required in a day is different for every mum. The number of calories your individual body requires is influenced by your current weight, age, height, activity level and whether you are partially or exclusively breastfeeding. Click here to find out how many calories you need to get in shape while supporting your milk supply using our calorie calculator.   

Listening to your hunger cues while breastfeeding is super important. Some days you might find yourself starving even though you've eaten the same amount as usual. This could be due to your little one going through a growth spurt and taking in more milk, which requires you to make more milk. It is OK to eat more when you are hungry. Just try to ensure that the food you eat is healthy.  

2. Drink enough water

Breastmilk is more than 80% water, so it is important to drink enough water. Aim for around 9-15 glasses of water per day, and try to hydrate before, during and after feeds. Carry around a water bottle with you throughout your day to make it easy to drink water.

3. In Shape Mummy Health Shakes

The In Shape Mummy Health Shake for Breastfeeding Mums is a great way to help ensure you're getting your daily essential vitamins and minerals.

Each serve of the In Shape Mummy Health Shake provides 25% of your daily intake of essential vitamins and minerals, over 12g of protein to help keep you feel full, and probiotics to assist with your post-partum recovery. It also contains a special blend of herbs that have been used for centuries to support breast milk production.

Shevi is a qualified nutritionist with a bachelor’s degree in nutrition and food sciences. As a new mum herself, she is passionate about postnatal-related nutrition. Shevi has worked alongside some of the most famous leaders and celebrities in the fitness industry throughout Australia and the UK.

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