The body takes about 2 to 6 hours to absorb food and pass nutrients into breast milk. Generally, nursing moms on healthy diets produce healthy breast milk. Undernourished moms, on the other hand, may produce milk that is lower than normal in vitamins, especially A, D, B6, and B12.
Dr. Rebecca Ramirez-Agcaoili, OB-gynecologist at the Victor R. Potenciano Memorial Medical Center, says that breastfeeding moms should monitor what they eat, even if there is no food item deemed harmful to all babies. This way, if babies react negatively (usually 2 to 4 hours after breastfeeding) to something their mom ate, it will be easy to track which dish most likely caused the baby’s reaction.
Take a look at how certain foods and drinks can affect your breastfeeding infant.
Cow’s milk. In a web article published in www.drgreene.com, American pediatrician Alan Greene, M.D. F.A.A.P., estimates that between 2 and 7.5 percent of healthy infants have significant intolerance to the protein in cow’s milk. This problem is particularly common in families with strong histories of eczema, allergies, and asthma.
Caffeine. Ramirez-Agcaoili cautions, “There is a study showing that caffeine may make babies irritable or cause difficulty in sleeping, especially if too much is taken.” Drinking more than 5 cups daily is considered excessive. Recent studies show that drinking less than 5 cups usually doesn’t have adverse effects for most breastfeeding babies.
Alcohol. Drinking 2 or more alcoholic drinks a day can harm the baby’s motor development and cause slow weight gain. It can also interfere with the nursing mom’s let-down or milk-ejection reflex.
Experts emphasize that what a mother eats for herself is equally important. Take note of the following tips to keep nursing moms in optimum condition.
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1. Eat healthily and heartily. Mothers are hungrier and thirstier when they breastfeed.They burn an additional 500 calories a day, and their need for nutrients significantly increases. In the book Understanding Pregnancy and Childbirth, authors Sheldon H. Cherry, M.D., and Douglas G. Moss, M.D., write, “Those [extra] calories should include an extra 40 grams of protein, at least a quart of milk a day, additional eggs, cheese, butter, liver, and vegetables.”
2. Drink up! Breastfeeding mothers have to produce a quart of milk daily. Sheldon and Moss recommend a daily fluid intake of 2 quarts to maintain the volume of milk produced.
3. Take a snack break. Dr. Ramirez-Agcaoili advises moms to keep snacks handy in their breastfeeding area, and to take a few bites while nursing.
4. Don’t skip meals. Crash dieting in order to lose postpartum weight is forbidden. Dr. Ramirez-Agcaoili purports, “Having energy throughout the day is achieved only by having a well balanced diet. It will be the mother’s body, and not the baby’s, that will feel the effects of low energy.
New mothers’ bodies are going through many changes, usually with less sleep and more physical demands like breastfeeding. In fact, most breastfeeding mothers lose weight without going on a diet. They lose about 2 pounds each month during the first 4 to 6 months of breastfeeding.
To get extra energy, moms may have to resort to some over-the-counter help. Dr. Ramirez-Agcaoili says, “You’ll surely feel drained, not just because of breastfeeding, but because of the sleepless nights and the demands of taking care of a baby. “So, we recommend that mothers continue taking their prenatal vitamin supplements. Some vitamins are made specifically for post-natal care. Compared to usual vitamin supplements, post-natal vitamins have higher iron content, along with additional minerals and amino acids.”
For a natural energy boost, Dr. Ramirez-Agcaoili recommends getting enough sunshine for you and your baby. “Sunlight is a source of energy,” she explains. “Go along with your baby on her early morning sunning routine to get the benefits of vitamin D.”
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This article first appeared in the October 2006 issue of Smart Parenting magazine