We all know how important breastfeeding is for infants, with so much research linking it with better health outcomes for your child now and in future years in their adulthood. However, breastfeeding is harder than most people realise.  Pop them on the boob and off you go right? Well for a lot of women this may not happen and for some, they may never be able to experience breastfeeding due to medical conditions and/ or poor instruction.

Many women will struggle with breastfeeding due in part to poor information and in a lot of cases from feeling mentally overwhelmed with the first few weeks of being a mother. This being the case I often have new mums asking me for advice especially around milk supply issues, milk quality and situations such as mastitis. There are some things that you can take control of to help breastfeeding come more naturally and be more comfortable for you.

Breast milk is only as good as the raw products from which it is made, with this in mind checking on your diet is a great place to start. Having the right amount and type of specific food groups can help your milk, your health and therefore the ease you have with breastfeeding.

Individual requirements for breasting diets will vary but below is a basic guide on which to build on.  

Protein is a vital building block for breast milk and very important in maintaining a good healthy milk supply.  Requirements for protein during pregnancy and breastfeeding increase substantially for the growth of the baby and if not monitored carefully breastfeeding women can easily become depleted. Sticking to pregnancy guidelines is helpful; ensuring quality protein with each meal.  This includes meat, nuts, seeds, eggs, dairy if tolerated, fish, tofu etc. Ideally, snacks should have a protein component as well to boost your intake. Protein will also help reduce those sugar cravings that often come while breastfeeding due to its ability to help balance and maintain blood sugar.

Essential fatty acids are crucial to build nourishing milk essential for brain health, nervous system, visual, gut and cognitive development. Not only do they help with your child’s development but they may also help baby feel satiated (hopefully a more content baby!), act as natural protection against allergens and help build a strong immune system in your child. They also have an anti-inflammatory effect on your body which can help maintain mum’s general health while breastfeeding. So small oily fish 2 times weekly, fresh nuts and seeds, avocados and good quality cold pressed extra virgin oils in meals can help your intake.

Calcium, zinc and iron are just some of the nutrients that are needed in higher than normal levels when breastfeeding. All are essential for building healthy strong babies and all of the above nutrients will play a part in the function of milk production, breast and nipple tissue health and prevention of infection. You can absorb this from a well-balanced diet however in some cases prescribed supplementation may be necessary from your naturopath.

Water accounts for 87% of breast milk so drinking more water is critical for a nursing mother. If you forget to top up your water intake breast milk supplies can reduce and it can stop the supply completely. It can also thicken your milk which will mean its less hydrating for your baby. On average your intake of water should be one and a half times the amount that you usually would be drinking. Herbal teas that help to encourage the production of breast milk such as fennel or relaxation for you and the baby such as chamomile would be a lovely and helpful addition to your fluid intake. Good quality organic and loose leaf teas are a must. Tea bags do not give a therapeutic effect and there is something lovely in the ritual of making a good pot of tea.

Rest?  This may sound like a joke when you have a newborn, and, rest essential for a steady supply of breast milk. Making breast milk takes energy so if you are exerting yourself too much it can compromise your milk production. Ensure you take rests during the day, if possible sleep when your baby sleeps, otherwise at least put your feet up and actually rest. The jobs can wait but your body needs attention to rest now.

Having a happy tummy with healthy gut flora in breastfeeding women may mean easier breastfeeding free of infection or candida. The latest research has found that certain strains of flora can protect against mastitis, candida infections of the nipples and possibly help blocked milk ducts.  This also has the added bonus that if you have good healthy flora your baby will get their share of it too which in turn has been found to protect against allergies, eczema, and linked with setting up healthy immune systems in bubs. So how do I maintain good healthy tummy flora? Ensure your diet has less refined sugar, more vegetable matter and include plain yoghurt or kefir in your diet. In some cases, specific supplementation may be needed to boost your own stocks of flora which can be prescribed by your naturopath.

Breastfeeding isn’t easy for everyone but the above tips can make a difference with a little perseverance. Always ensure that you do get advice from your qualified naturopath and lactation consultant if you’re having problems to make sure you have all the information you need.

Samantha Van Dort  

Naturopath, Nutritionist

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