Top Diet Secrets for Breastfeeding Moms to Nourish their Baby and Regain Shape

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Neena recently gave birth to her daughter and is overwhelmed with joy. However, managing multiple aspects of her life over the last six months has been challenging. Naturally, baby care is no easy task for any mother.

As a new mom, Neena has prioritized her child’s needs above everything else. She has recently noticed significant changes in her body, from fluctuating energy levels to body pains.

In hindsight, she realized that she hadn’t been taking adequate care of herself since her child’s birth. Her increasing body aches have made her feel unfit and in need of immediate attention.

She took a blood test, which revealed deficiencies in calcium, vitamins D, A, C, and B12. Her sugar and cholesterol levels were also borderline.

This scenario is common among new mothers. Studies have indicated that breastfeeding moms are susceptible to vitamin and mineral deficiencies, as well as protein malnutrition.

What is lacking in a new mom’s diet? What are the health concerns of new moms?

What is lacking in a breastfeeding mom’s diet?

Breast milk is often referred to as liquid gold and is the staple food for newborns. New mothers are focused on their babies’ feeding and satisfaction but often neglect their own health needs.

Research indicates that breastfeeding mothers face dietary inadequacies and are deficient in folic acid, vitamin B12, vitamins A and D, calcium, iron, and iodine. They also lack omega-3 fatty acids and healthy fats. These deficiencies, observed in the initial stages of postpartum, can lead to serious health concerns as they age.

New moms also experience a loss of muscle and bone density after childbirth. A poor diet is common in many Indian households, with a particular lack of protein, which is a major concern for breastfeeding mothers. Insufficient protein intake can lead to decreased breast milk production.

What are the major concerns of a new mom?

  • Low protein diet.
  • Lack of awareness about what to eat.
  • No guidance on vitamin supplementation.

Vitamins and Minerals for new moms:

  • Vitamin B12, folic acid, and iron are effective supplemental combinations for new mothers to increase red blood cell production.
  • When blood cell counts are low, a new mother can develop anemic conditions, leading to fatigue, dizziness, and tiredness.
  • A combination of vitamin D3 and calcium should be supplemented for the first six months post-childbirth to prevent loss of bone mineral density.
  • Vitamin C, zinc, and selenium improve lost immunity and protect against infections, supporting faster recovery.
  • Magnesium supplements can reduce body pains and promote quality sleep in new mothers.
  • It is always advisable to seek professional help to understand deficiencies and address health concerns.

Dietary support for new moms:

  • A new mom’s diet should focus on protein-rich foods like lentils, pulses, chickpeas, moth beans, black-eyed peas, eggs, chicken, hummus, quinoa, khichdi (lentils, rice, and vegetables that are cooked into a creamy consistency), and dhokla (steamed chickpea cakes).
  • Do not avoid lentils and pulses! Lentils do not cause gas and constipation by themselves. Always soak your lentils before cooking and combine them with vegetables and leafy greens to prevent bloating and indigestion.
  • Say yes to butternut squash, sweet potatoes, broccoli, yogurt, leafy greens, edamame beans, fatty fish and salmon, shrimp, canned beans, soy and tofu, pumpkin, and seasonal fruits.
  • Say no to alcohol, smoking, processed food, caffeine abuse, and high-mercury fish.
  • A Mediterranean diet is always a safe choice for lactating mothers. However, along with proteins, a moderate carbohydrate intake is also essential to elevate their energy levels.
  • Foods like lasagna, pasta, casseroles, meatballs, whole wheat bread, peas and corn, sweet potato soufflé, cornmeal polenta, oatmeal recipes, cheese, and bananas play an important part in a new mother’s diet to improve their glycogen storage (energy).
  • Idli and dosa made from urad dal (black lentils) are rich in protein, iron, phosphorus, and calcium, which are great for bones.
  • Healthy fats like ghee, olive oil, avocados, cashews, almonds, walnuts, and sunflower oil can be included in meals.
  • Foods such as fish, chia seeds, and soaked or roasted nuts are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which support heart and brain health.
  • New moms should also consume plenty of fiber-rich foods and avoid sugary treats to prevent constipation.
  • Drinking plenty of fluids like coconut water, soups, water, buttermilk, and barley water is essential for breastfeeding moms. This not only improves their milk supply but also helps balance their electrolytes.
  • Include lots of fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet and eat small meals every 2 hours to maintain your energy levels.

Guidance for new moms:

Breastfeeding is a magical way of transferring essential nutrients from a mother to her baby. During this process, mothers might lose their valuable nutrients and find themselves in difficult health situations.

New moms who neglect their health in the initial stages of postpartum may consequently fall into the metabolic syndrome bracket. This means they are at risk of developing diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol levels as they age.

My message to new moms:

It is important to take care of your own health needs along with your baby’s needs. Postpartum is a vulnerable phase, and it’s important to prioritize your psychological needs as well. Poor sleep, vitamin deficiencies, and lack of support can sometimes lead to significant mental chaos. Always seek professional help for your physical and psychological needs. Happy Mother’s Day!

Manisha B K is a clinical nutritionist, psychotherapist, astrologer, registered yoga teacher, and medical writer.

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