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Postnatal Diet

Introduction

After delivery, the mother’s body needs to heal and recover from pregnancy and childbirth, as well as to produce breast milk. The weight gained during pregnancy build up the stores for recovery and breastfeeding. Mothers need to maintain a healthy diet so that they can be healthy and active and able to care for their baby. Many new mothers may be too tired or busy that food tends to be overlooked. Hence, it is important to plan simple and healthy meals that include a variety of choices from all of the food groups from the Malaysian Food Pyramid.

What should I eat during postnatal?

Continue to take healthy diets that you practised during pregnancy. Focus on eating whole grains, cereals, fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as foods that provide plenty of protein, calcium, and iron. The followings are the main food groups that should be included in your daily diet,

  • Different grains (rice, wheat, corn, barley) preferably whole, in various forms, as well as flour products including bread, noodles and pasta;
  • Protein foods from animal sources (eggs, meat and fish) and/or plant sources (lentils, beans, soybeans);
  • Dairy products including low fat milk, yoghurt and cheese
  • Fresh vegetables and fruits of all types, eaten raw or cooked;

A balanced diet can be achieved by eating a variety of foods from each of these food groups as well as by consuming individual foods in different forms, such as eating different varieties of fruits and vegetables or cooking foods in different ways. Some vitamins and proteins are better absorbed if other vitamins and minerals are present at the same time. For example, iron is utilised better if vitamin C is present in the diet. On the other hand, an excess of some kinds of foods can be detrimental. Large amounts of protein, for example, can cause the body to eliminate greater quantities of vitamins and minerals.

Pay attention to iron and calcium

Iron – While breastfeeding, a mother usually does not resume her menstrual cycle for at least a few months, conserving the iron that would otherwise be lost every month. Iron stores could be maintained by consuming a diet that is rich in iron. Iron is present in meat, liver, cockles, beans, green vegetables, whole grains, and some dried fruits such as raisins. Iron supplement is not needed if you are not anaemic.

Calcium – Calcium requirement during lactating is high since breast milk contains calcium. When calcium levels in mother’s blood are not adequate for her needs and those of her child, calcium deposited in her bones is withdrawn for milk production and can cause a temporary decrease in bone mass. This loss cannot be prevented by consuming additional calcium. The primary sources of calcium in the diet are milk and other dairy products, such as cheese, or yogurt. However if you are allergic, do not like or do not tolerate milk, there are other calcium sources that can be consumed including:

  • Canned fish such as sardine, mackerel and tuna which contains bones that become soft during processing and are easier to eat. Ikan bilis (eaten whole) also has high calcium content.
  • Whole grains and whole grain flours.
  • Tofu and soya milk.
  • Green, leafy vegetables.
  • Nuts and dry fruit, such walnuts, almonds, raisins, dates and dry figs.

How much do I need to drink while I am breastfeeding?

In general, drinking to thirst is a good rule. You are usually drinking enough if your urine is light colored. Many mothers feel thirsty when they breastfeed, especially when the baby is a newborn. It is a good idea to have a drink available while breastfeeding. Drinking beyond one’s needs is unnecessary, as it doesn’t help to increase the milk and may be unpleasant.

Are there any particular foods that I should or should not eat when breastfeeding?

A breastfeeding mother does not require any special foods to produce or increase her milk supply. A baby’s sucking determines the quantity of milk that is produced. A breastfeeding mother’s body uses a combination of all the foods that she eats, completing them with nutrients stored in her body to produce breast milk. If her diet is inadequate, her body will make up the difference. In practise, there is no particular food that must be eaten. All the nutrients that are found in one food can be found in others. If you prefer not to eat a food that contains an important nutrient, you can obtain it by eating one or more other foods.

However, there are several foods that should be limited while breastfeeding. Substances like caffeine alcohol, and other toxins can pass from your blood into the breast milk, so excessive amounts should be avoided. Nicotine from cigarettes and drugs also pass into your breast milk and should be avoided.

Can I eat a vegetarian diet while I am breastfeeding?

A vegetarian diet that contains some animal derived food, such as milk, milk derivatives, or eggs is usually complete. Women, who do not eat meat, but consume dairy or eggs usually do not have problems breastfeeding. When a diet does not contain any of these foods (such as in the case of vegan and some macrobiotic diets), a mother needs to include vitamin B12 into her diet in some other way. Many vegetarians use a supplement for their vitamin B12 intake

Can I diet and loose weight while breastfeeding?

Breastfeeding helps to burn up the fat deposited during pregnancy and uses it for producing breast milk. A breastfeeding mother can lose around 0.5 kg a month, simply because of the energy demands of producing milk.

If you decide to cut down slightly on your food intake, wait until at least six to eight weeks after your baby is born. You need enough energy and nutrients to be healthy, active, and able to care for your child. It is advisable to lose weight gradually by combining a healthy, low-fat diet with moderate exercise Rapid weight loss may pose a danger to your baby because it possibly releases toxins(which are stored in your body fat) into the bloodstream and into your milk.

Will fasting during Ramadan affect my milk supply?

Studies have shown that short-term fasting, as in Ramadan, does not affect milk supply, but severe dehydration does. Researchers noted that the women who fasted during the day appeared to super hydrate themselves overnight when fluids were allowed to lessen daytime dehydration. The breastfeeding woman’s body appears to make several metabolic adaptations during short-term fasting to ensure that milk production is not affected. Thus, it is essential that you drink adequately at iftar and sahor.

However, for mothers who are diabetic or others with health problems, fasting could be risky. Consult both your doctor and your religious advisor if you feel that you might have health issues that preclude fasting.

Do I need to take supplements?

Women who are healthy and eat a well-balanced diet that includes meat, fish, fruits and vegetables do not usually need to take a vitamin supplement while breastfeeding. Vitamin and mineral supplements cannot replace a healthy diet. However, you should ensure that you consume an adequate amount of calcium, vitamin D and iron. Discuss with your health care provider before taking any vitamin and mineral supplement.

Conclusion

The best diet for a breastfeeding woman is simply a varied and balanced diet. Every woman should choose a diet that is best adapted to her, depending on culture, lifestyle and personal preferences.

Last review : 20 April 2012
Writer : Fatimah bt. Salim

 

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