During pregnancy the baby is like a parasite and will take all the nutrients that he requires from you. If your diet is sufficient in nutrients for both, it does not cause any problems. If on the other hand your diet is insufficient for both, then your recovery and the ability to produce breast milk after the birth will take longer and if you still do not replenish your body stores during the confinement period, you may remain weak for a long time. If you are breast-feeding, you need to increase the amount slightly because you are eating for two. A nursing mother must continue to eat high quality food recommended during pregnancy in order to establish lactation and maintain an adequate supply of her breast milk. A deficient diet not only upset the nutrient content of her milk but can also reduce the quantity of milk produced. This is probably why our elders make such a lot of fuss about eating well during the confinement period. It is important that you eat nourishing food that includes all of the main food groups at every meal.
Just remember the following pointers:
1. If you are breast feeding whatever you eat will be transferred to your baby via your breast milk therefore it is important that you eat a balanced diet so that your baby will get the right nutrients for optimum growth and development.
2. Some food does cause the baby to become ‘windy’ or have loose stools. If you find that your baby is suddenly quite unsettled, try to think of what you ate during the last 12 hours. Avoid that food for a few days and then try again. If the same happens again, then you should avoid that particular food for a while and re-introduce it into your diet by taking a very small amount and see how baby reacts then slowly increase the amount so that baby gets used to the food.
3. You may find that your appetite is slightly low especially during the first week. This is normal as your body is readjusting to its non-pregnant state both physically and mentally therefore it is better to have small frequent meals instead of the normal 3 big meals a day.
4. You need to drink plenty of fluids in order to make sufficient breast milk and it is best that you get this from sources such as soup or nourishing tea. Drinking too much plain water will dilute the breast milk and therefore is not nutritious for the baby.
So what should you eat?
Protein – The building blocks are amino acids that contain oxygen, hydrogen, carbon, and nitrogen. Only eight amino acids are obtained from the food we eat. It is necessary for growth and repair of cells in the body. It helps make enzymes that enable us to digest food, produce antibodies and hormones. Too much protein in the body are converted into glucose and urea. Sources – Meat, poultry, fish, eggs, cheese, cereals (wheat, oats and rice), pulses (beans, lentils and peas), nuts and potatoes.
Fat Soluble vitamins
Vitamin A – Retinol and Beta-carotene are necessary for cell division and growth. To maintain healthy mucous membranes of respiratory, digestive and urinary tracts and is important for good eyesight.
Retinol – Liver, oily fish, dairy produce and eggs.
Beta-carotene – Carrots, red peppers, mangoes, spinach and kale.
Vitamin D – Calciferols is needed to absorb calcium and phosphorous for healthy teeth and bones. It is also produced by exposing the skin to the sun. Sources – Eggs, tuna, salmon, sardines, fish liver oil and fortified margarines.
Vitamin E – Tocopherols prevent oxidation of free radicals polyunsaturated fatty acids in cell membranes and other tissues. Sources – Vegetable oils, nuts, wheat germ, seeds and margarine.
Vitamin K – Phylloquinone is essential in forming certain proteins and for blood clotting. Sources – Green leafy vegetables especially green cabbage, broccoli and Brussels sprouts
Water Soluble vitamins
Thiamin (B1) is needed to obtain energy from carbohydrates, fats and alcohol and to prevent build-up of toxic waste substances. Sources – Pork, liver, heart, kidneys, nuts and pulses.
Riboflavin (B2) is necessary to release energy from food and for the functioning of vitamin B6 and niacin. Sources – Milk, yoghurt, eggs, meat, poultry, fish and fortified cereals
Pyridoxine (B6) helps to release energy from proteins and is also important for immune function, the nervous system and formation of red blood cells. Sources – Lean meat, poultry, eggs, fish, tofu, wholemeal bread, nuts, bananas, yeast extract and soya beans
Niacin produces energy in cells to form neurotransmitters. Maintain healthy skin and an efficient digestive system. Sources – Lean meat, poultry, pulses, potatoes, nuts and fortified cereals.
Pantothenic acid helps release energy from food and is essential for synthesis of cholesterol, fat and red blood cells. Sources – Meat, vegetables, liver, dried fruits and nuts.
Biotin is important in the synthesis of fat and cholesterol. Sources – Liver, peanut butter, egg yolk and yeast extract.
Folic acid is necessary for cell division and the formation of DNA, RNA and proteins in the body. Sources – Brussels sprouts, liver, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, pulses, wheatgerm, fortified breakfast cereals and bread.
Cyanocobalamin (B12) is necessary for making DNA, RNA and myelin. It helps transportation of folate into cells. Sources – Meat, poultry, fish, tofu, eggs and diary products.
Vitamin C or Ascorbic acid is necessary to make collagen and neurotransmitters like noradrenalin and serotonin. It is an antioxidant in the body and aids absorption of iron. Sources – Fruits, particularly citrus fruits, kiwis, strawberries, peppers, potatoes and vegetables.
Carbohydrates are converted into glucose and glycogen to give the body fuel for energy.
Glucose is in the blood and glycogen is stored in the liver and muscles. If the level of glucose drops, glycogen is converted into glucose for use. Sources – Sprouting grains, starchy root vegetables, fruits, cereals, pulses, milk and diary products.
o Saturated fats
o Monounsaturated fats
o Polyunsaturated fats
Rich source of calories for energy and provide fat soluble vitamins. It maintains healthy skin and body functions. Necessary for the production of sex hormones, synthesis of vitamin D and production of cell membranes and nerve coatings. Sources – Butter, cheeses, fatty meat and all forms of cooking oil.
Potassium regulate heart beat and maintain blood pressure. Maintain fluid and electrolyte balance within cells. Sources – Avocado, fresh and dried fruits, banana, seeds and nuts, citrus fruits, potato and pulses.
Calcium is a vital component of bones and teeth. Vital for nerve transmission, blood clotting and muscle function. Sources – Green leafy vegetables, sesame seeds, tinned sardines, milk and dairy products.
Chloride is vital for stomach acid formation. Maintains fluid and electrolyte balance. Sources – Salt and any food containing salt.
Magnesium is important for muscle contraction and assists in nerve impulses. It is an important constituent of bones and teeth. Sources – Wholegrain cereals, green vegetables, nuts, sesame seeds and pulses
Sodium works with potassium to regulate fluid balance. It is essential for nerve and muscle function. Sources – Table salt, processed meats, yeast extracts and tinned anchovies
Phosphorous help to form and maintain healthy bones and teeth, help to release energy in cells and essential for absorption of many nutrients. Sources – Red meat, poultry, fish and seafood, milk and diary products, seeds and whole grains.
Iron is essential for the production of haemoglobin which carries oxygen. It is needed for synthesis of RNA, DNA and collagen for healthy gums, teeth bones and cartilage. Sources – Liver, kidneys, red meat, sardines, egg yolk, green leafy vegetables, raisins, dried apricots
Zinc is essential for normal growth, reproduction and immunity. It aids the action of many enzymes. Sources – Oysters, animal proteins, beans, nuts, whole grains, pumpkin and sunflower seeds
Selenium protects cells against free radical damage. It is vital for normal sexual development. Sources – Meat and fish, butter, avocados, brazil nuts and lentils.
Water is vital for life. It is necessary for digestion and elimination of waste products. It acts as a lubricant for eyes and joints and regulates body temperature. Sources – Drinks, fruits and vegetables, meat, fish, eggs, bread and cereals, milk and dairy products.
Food for thought
It is not only Asian communities that advocate lactating mothers refrain from eating fruits and vegetables, some Western communities do the same. In my opinion, the reason for avoiding fruits and vegetables is that some contain high levels of oxalate that interferes with calcium absorption. Lactating mothers require high calcium intake for adequate milk production.
Fruits high in oxalate – Kiwi, guava, star fruit, blueberries, figs and strawberries
Vegetables high in oxalates – Tapioca, pumpkin, sweet potato, carrot, garlic, watercress, brinjal, leeks, turnip, chives, lady’s fingers, parsley and spinach
Tip – Blanching the fruits and vegetables could lower the oxalate level.
Fruits low in oxalate – Papaya, langsat, banana, avocado, cherries, lemon, mango, watermelon, honeydew melon, ciku, durian and peeled apples.
Vegetables low in oxalates – Cauliflower, cabbage, kai lan, petola, green pea, capsicum, potato, tomato, cucumber, iceberg lettuce
Tip – If you love your fruits and vegetables and is worried about calcium absorption, then it is best that you have your milk drinks 3-4 hours before or after your main meals.
Avoid taking too much salt as this may reduce breast milk production. Cooling and windy food may contribute to baby becoming colicky. Acidic food may increase bleeding in the mother and diarrhea in the baby. What you eat also depends on what you believe in and who cooks for you. I hope that with the above information you will be able to tell your ‘cook’ what is best for both you and your baby.