Breastfeeding – the best diet for you and your baby (part 3) - Weight loss,Foods to avoid when you’re breastfeeding

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8. Weight loss

It is important to take a balanced and sensible approach to weight loss when you’ve had a baby. It is not a good idea to lose 4 stones in four months, as some actresses reportedly do. Equally, you can’t expect breastfeeding to make the pounds melt away if you eat chocolate biscuits by the packet.

Many new mums feel enormous pressure to lose weight after seeing pictures of super-slim celebrity mums. If you have a nanny, a personal trainer and your own chef, you may be able to follow in their footsteps; however, this isn’t a recipe for successful breastfeeding or bonding with and enjoying your new baby. Trying to lose weight rapidly will also leave you feeling drained of energy and could mean both you and your baby miss out on vital nutrients.

It is estimated that breastfeeding requires about 500kcal per day. You probably need to double this for twins. During pregnancy, fat stores are laid down to supply some of the extra calories needed for breastfeeding, and the amount of food you need now will depend on how much fat you have stored. If you are thin, it’s important to make sure you consume plenty of extra calories. You should make regular meals and snacks a priority and choose more energy- and nutrient-dense foods . However, if you’re overweight then it’s important to get the nutrients you need by eating healthily , while limiting your intake of high-sugar and high-fat foods.

If you have a very low-calorie diet, your milk supply will be affected. However, if you are overweight then slow weight loss won’t adversely affect your milk supply. Research has shown that losing 1–2lb a week, through healthy eating and regular exercise, doesn’t affect the amount or quality of a woman’s breast milk, nor the amount of weight her baby gains. Some women find that breastfeeding makes them hungrier, but eating more low-GI foods can help with this. If you’re struggling ask your health visitor or your doctor for more advice.

9. Foods to avoid when you’re breastfeeding

There aren’t any foods that you need to avoid completely while breastfeeding, but the following should be consumed in limited amounts:

  • Try not to have too much caffeine. You may feel in need of a strong cup of coffee if you haven’t slept well, but caffeine passes into breast milk, so it won’t just be you who enjoys the stimulant effect. Also, babies can’t metabolise caffeine as easily as adults, so it can build up in a baby’s nervous system. There are no specific recommendations for breastfeeding, but following the guidelines for pregnancy would be sensible.
  • Alcohol intake should be limited as, like caffeine, it passes into breast milk. It is recommended that you don’t have more than one or two units once or twice a week. You may have heard that alcohol, particularly beer, is good for breastfeeding, but research has shown this is a myth. It was tested with two groups of mums in Pennsylvania, USA. The first had normal beer and the second non-alcoholic beer. Over the next four hours, the babies in both groups spent about the same amount of time feeding, while the mothers said they had experienced a normal letdown of milk and their babies had fed enough. However, weighing the babies afterwards revealed they consumed significantly less milk when their mothers drank alcoholic beer. In another study, babies were found to suck 15% more but get 30% less milk after their mums drank one to two units of alcohol. It could be that alcohol affects the mother’s milk letdown (release of milk to the nipple area), so babies have to work harder.
       Curiously, babies don’t seem to be put off by the smell or flavour of alcohol in their milk, which seems to be strongest 30 minutes to an hour after drinking. Babies given expressed milk from a bottle consume just as much when it contains alcohol as when it doesn’t. In the long term, having the odd drink is unlikely to affect milk intake, as babies seem to compensate to some extent by drinking more later on. However, drinking alcohol while breastfeeding can have other effects. Alcohol may make mothers feel sleepy, but it actually makes babies more restless and spend less time in ‘active sleep’. Also, in the long term it can affect a baby’s well-being. Regular drinking (one or more units per day) has been found to adversely affect a baby’s motor development.
  • Some herbs are traditionally thought to dry up a woman’s milk supply and, although these haven’t been tested scientifically, it might be best to avoid taking large doses of sage, mint or parsley. Use in normal cooking is fine.

In the past, women with a family history of allergies were advised to avoid eating peanuts while breastfeeding, but this is no longer considered necessary. It was thought that peanut traces could pass into breast milk and increase a baby’s allergy risk. However, recent studies have shown this is not the case and there is some evidence that early exposure to peanuts may even be beneficial.

Planning a night out

If you are going out for a drink, it is best to plan your feeding beforehand. Alcohol clears from your breast milk at about the same rate as from your blood (just over two hours per unit). However, this varies slightly according to your weight. For example, if a 9-stone woman drank six units of alcohol, it would take about 14 hours to clear from her milk, whereas an 11-stone woman would clear the same amount in about 13 hours.

The level of alcohol in your milk isn’t affected by feeding, so ‘pumping and dumping’ is unnecessary. It is best to express enough milk before you start drinking to last your baby until the alcohol has completely left your system.

Women are sometimes advised to avoid orange juice, garlic, spicy meals or other foods while breastfeeding. Although certain foods affect individual babies, there is no need to limit your diet ‘just in case’. It is better to eat as normal and keep an eye out for possible reactions to food, which might include general upset or restlessness, a rash, runny nose, wind, diarrhoea or explosive nappies.

If your baby has green bits in their nappy, it is probably not because of anything you or your baby has eaten. More likely, your baby has not been getting enough of the nutrient-rich hind milk that comes later during a feed, after the watery fore milk. This happens if the baby is switched from one breast to the other before having a chance to get the good stuff. If you’re worried about the contents of your baby’s nappies, talk to your midwife or health visitor.

If you suspect something in your diet is causing problems for your baby, then you could try cutting out a particular food for a week before trying it again. If you see a clear connection, then it may be best to steer clear of that particular food. However, it is important that you don’t cut out whole food groups such as dairy or wheat unless you are completely confident your nutritional needs are still being met. There are many other reasons why babies suffer from problems such as eczema, diarrhoea and discomfort. Before changing your diet drastically it is best to talk to your doctor.

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