Breastfeeding places high demands on the body, consequently the body needs to be fuelled with nutrients to produce energy, have vitality, and provide basic nutrients for infants during the first period of their lives. Having a well-balanced diet is important as nutrients consumed by the mother help to replenish nutrients and resources lost during pregnancy and birth, as well as a be source of nutrients for the body to absorb and provide in breast milk to breastfeeding infants.
Having an appropriate amount of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats will help to provide the body with essential nutrients to help repair and replenish after birth. In addition to this, nutrients help to enrich breastmilk to build immunity, establish a microbiome, support infant growth and development, and help babies to adjust to life outside the womb.
A healthy and varied diet during lactation ensures adequate maternal nutrition and optimal concentration of some nutrients in breast milk. It is important to know that breast milk will be produced regardless of nutritional status. However, some nutrients specifically vitamins A, D, B1, B2, B3, B6, and B12, fatty acids, and iodine are influenced by maternal diet.
Breastfeeding is complex and always changing. Many factors such as age of mother and infant, changes in dietary fat, baby’s weight, time of the day, and stage of nursing can impact breastfeeding and breast milk supply.
Key areas to focus on
- Stayed Hydrated: Choose filtered water as your predominant drink, aiming to drink 1.5 – 2L per day. If you have a particular chair that you nurse in, ensure you keep a bottle of water close to that chair. Automatically drink water whilst your baby feeds.
- Eat well: By following Canada’s Food Guide and include an extra 2 to 3 servings. Women who are underweight, nursing multiple infants, or exercising may need additional food.
- Eat Regularly: Don’t skip of delay meals as you may end up eating unhealthy options; feeding and nourishing you is as important as for your baby.
- Have Snacks on Hand: Prepare nutrient dense snack foods for time poor days, these can include slow cooked meals prepped in the morning for the day, protein balls, lactation cookies, a homemade smoothie, boiled eggs, or nut mixes.
- Prepare: When you have time to prepare foods make a few additional servings and store them in the freezer. Remember to label and date what you made.
- Eat a rainbow: Make vegetables the main part of your meal rather than simple or processed carbohydrate.
Eat Fish: Consume at least 2 servings (one serving is 75g or 2 ½ oz) per week of fatty fish that is low in mercury. It is best to avoid high-mercury fish while you are breastfeeding. High mercury fish include fresh or frozen tuna, shark, swordfish, escolar, marlin, and orange roughy.
- Healthy Fats: Choose healthy fats, such as cold pressed extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil, and nuts & seeds rather than deep fried foods, or sweet or salty snacks.
Limit caffeine: Aim for less than 300mg per day, or about 2 cups of coffee. Caffeine can cause irritability and sleep problems in babies. Caffeine is found not only in coffee but also in tea, soft drinks, energy drinks, and chocolate.
Ask for Help: Don’t be shy about asking for help. Contact family, friends, local mothers’ groups, midwives or lactation consultants.
While we’ve previously discussed herbal galactogogues, thinking of foods as glactogogues isn’t as widely discussed. Some of the common foods which are considered to be galactogogues are: whole grains - specially oatmeal, leafy greens: alfalfa, kale, spinach, broccoli, fennel, garlic, chickpeas, nuts and seeds, ginger, papaya, and spices like cumin seeds, anise seeds, fennel seeds, and turmeric.
Lactation cookies aim to be more than just a way to increase breast milk supply. There is little evidence on how or if they work, however eating nourishing foods will make parents feel better and can improve breast milk quality and support production. You can use this recipe to bake and freeze a batch of lactation cookies prior to giving birth, or you could also give this recipe to a family member or friend to bake for you. Even if your breast milk supply is adequate, these cookies are a nutrient dense and tasty snack.
½ cup oats
¼ cup quinoa flakes
¼ chickpea flour
1/2 cup dried fruits (eg dates/currants/figs)
2 tablespoons brewer’s yeast
1 teaspoon greens powder
1 teaspoon of beetroot powder
2 tablespoons pumpkin protein powder
1 teaspoon chia seeds or pumpkin seeds
1 tablespoon each raw honey, molasses, and maple syrup
30ml rice milk or almond milk
1/2 cup nettle leaf tea
Pinch cinnamon, nutmeg, ground cloves, vanilla
1. Soak dates in the nettle tea, and chia seeds in rice milk for few hours.
2. Drain the dates and discard the tea.
3. Place all ingredients in a food processer and form into a combined dough.
4. Scoop out mixture and make cookie shapes on a lined tray.
5. Bake 350°F forapproximately 15 minutes.
6. Allow to cool and enjoy with some fennel seed or nettle leaf tea.
Lesley O’Connor, BHSc is a certified senior herbalist at Finlandia’s own herbal dispensary. Lesley has a special interest in women’s health, especially postpartum care, and believes that all women should have access to emotional, physical and social support during the postnatal period.
Disclaimer: This article is for information purposes only. Please seek medical advice and treatment in case of illness. If you are pregnant or suffer from any illness, please seek advice from your healthcare provider regarding these or any supplements and herbs you may want t