Is it hard for postnatal moms to get the nutrition they need?

By Rosie Schwartz, RD on July 07, 2015

Question

I've been noticing various foods and supplements aimed at breastfeeding moms. Is it hard for postnatal moms to get the nutrients they need?

Registered Dietitian Rosie Schwartz weighs in:

New moms definitely need an assortment of nutrients for both themselves and their babies. While a shortfall of nutrients may affect the quality of the breast milk, it won't affect the quantity.

Anxiety (especially about your milk supply), fatigue and skipping meals can all lead to reduced milk supply. Medical issues such as low levels of the hormone prolactin can also be a factor.

Anxiety can halt the release of the hormone oxytocin and thus delay the let-down of the breast milk – think of it as what opens the tap to allow the breast milk to flow. If you're worried about your breast milk supply, the let-down won’t occur and over time your fears of too little milk may become a reality.

Foods that claim to increase your milk supply may provide some nutrients and boost your confidence about your breast milk but in fact, there’s no scientific evidence that they are actually increasing your milk supply.

Be wary of products claiming to improve breast milk quality. Consuming omega-3 fats to make your breast milk better for baby brain development is ineffective unless they are docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). To get DHA in your breast milk, eat coldwater fish such as salmon or sardines, or take DHA supplements derived from algae.

Breastfeeding women do require more iron. Along with eating iron-rich foods, continue taking prenatal vitamins throughout the breastfeeding period.

Keep up your fuel

When you look at schedules and newborns, it’s easy to see how you can go for hours without food or drink. Many moms go back to sleep after nursing during the night. All of a sudden, the clock says it’s almost noon and you haven’t had anything to eat or drink. That’s definitely a recipe for fatigue.

Decide on a time (say, 9 a.m.) when you won’t go back to sleep without eating first. Keep your pantry, fridge and freezer stocked with easy-to-grab choices such as:

  • canned legumes, fish and soups
  • hard-boiled eggs (a quick protein hit)
  • Frozen vegetables (a nutritious addition to prepared soups)
  • Frozen fruit (a flavourful topping to Greek yogurt)
  • Whole grain crackers, cheese and an apple or cherry tomatoes (makes a quick snack or meal).

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian in private practice and author of The Enlightened Eater’s Whole Foods Guide (Viking Canada). Visit rosieschwartz.com for more.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, July/August 2015.


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