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Eating During Breastfeeding

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A mother's milk is the ideal source of nutrients for your new-born infant. However what you eat and drink can affect the quality of your milk.

Breast milk: The best food for your baby

It is universally recommended that healthy, full-term infants be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life, as breast milk is the best food for optimal infant growth. Even after your child starts eating solid foods and right through your baby's first year and beyond, breast milk can continue to be an important part of your child’s diet. However, at six months of age, it is important to introduce solid iron-rich foods—such as meat, poultry, egg yolk and cooked legumes. Usually, iron-fortified single-grain infant cereals like rice or barley are what should be offered first.

Everyone benefits

Breastfeeding is a natural continuation of your pregnancy and birthing, and is important to both you and your baby in many different ways. Breast milk provides your baby with the best balance of enzymes, hormones, growth factors, and nutrients. Certain components of breast milk nourish the baby and help the digestion process, while others help the immune system prevent and fight infections. Breastfed babies are less likely to be exposed to foreign allergenic material and they may also develop fewer intestinal and respiratory problems.

Your baby eats what you eat

Essential nutrients are passed-on to your baby through your milk. So, to keep yourself and your baby well-nourished, it’s important to pay attention to what and how much you eat.

Not everything that you eat and drink will affect the quality of your milk. Breast milk will always have the appropriate quantity of major minerals like calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium and potassium, even if your intake of these minerals is inadequate. That’s because your body will use your own mineral stores to meet your baby’s needs. Consuming a poor quality diet doesn’t deprive your baby of these important nutrients, but it does increase your own risk for nutrient deficiencies.

On the other hand, the vitamin content of your breast milk will depend on your own diet. If your diet is consistently low in specific vitamins, your breast milk —and thus your baby’s intake—could be low in these important nutrients too.

Calcium is key

Getting enough calcium is very important when you are breastfeeding, because if you don't, you may decrease your own bone density and put yourself at a greater risk for osteoporosis later in life. There is a very simple way to make sure you get enough calcium, and that is by eating the recommended number of servings of Milk and Alternatives every day according to age. Milk products constitute the most reliable source of calcium and can help you meet your increased fluid needs too.

What about vitamin supplements?

Health Canada recommends that breastfeeding women take a daily multivitamin containing 0.4 mg of folic acid and 16-20 mg of iron.

Sources of important nutrients needed during breastfeeding

Calcium: milk products such as milk, cheese and yogurt are your best source. Other sources include canned salmon and sardines (with the bones), and some dark green vegetables like kale and broccoli.
Magnesium: milk products, wheat germ, spinach, nuts, whole grain products and seafood.
Zinc: red meat, oysters, milk products, sesame seeds and sunflower seeds.
Folate: some green vegetables, such as spinach, asparagus and broccoli, liver, grain products, nuts, bananas, oranges and legumes.
Vitamin B6: organ meat, beef, pork, fish, seeds, legumes and bananas.
Vitamin D: milk, liver, egg yolk, salmon, sardines and tuna.
Vitamin A: milk, egg yolk, green vegetables and orange fruits and vegetables such as carrots, cantaloupe, broccoli, sweet potatoes, spinach and winter squash.
Vitamin C: fruits like citrus fruits, strawberries, kiwis and melons, and vegetables such as broccoli, bell peppers, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, tomatoes and sweet potatoes.

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