Written by Coralie Costi, dietician-nutritionist - Updated on Jun 23, 2023
Feeding during breastfeeding... a subject that is a source of many questions for young mothers !
Coralie Costi, a nutritionist in Paris (6th arrondissement), will shed some light on the subject!
Each of us approaches breastfeeding in our own way, but if there is one thing that all mothers, breastfeeding or not, have in common, it is wanting the best for their child.
The composition of breast milk adapts regularly, according to the age of the baby of course, but also according to the time of day: for example, like our meals, it is richer in proteins and lipids at lunchtime and in the evening! As the baby feeds, its concentration changes. One thing is certain: it is generally perfectly suited to the needs of our child. What about us? All we need is a balanced diet. And that's it. So that's it? Is that all?
Shall we stop here?
Well, no, of course not, because you can imagine that we inevitably ask ourselves questions. Because we are never sure if we are the exception that proves the rule, because we are overloaded with contradictory information and overwhelmed with doubts. About breastfeeding yes, but then about feeding! It's already complicated under normal circumstances, but then again! Who still knows what to eat when from one year to the next a food is sometimes praised, sometimes demonised?
And what does it mean to have a balanced diet anyway? After all, we've just spent nine months watching what we eat and squinting at sushi...
First of all, what is a balanced diet when breastfeeding?
It is a diversified diet, with three meals a day and possibly one or two snacks, depending on your hunger. It should provide a sufficient supply of calcium, which you will find in milk and dairy products, or, failing that, in so-called "calcium-rich" mineral waters (Hépar, Courmayeur, Contrex, etc.).
It should also provide you with iron. The best iron is found in meat, but also in shellfish, eggs and fish. Pulses are a significant source of iron, but it is less well absorbed. To help its absorption, it is a good idea to add foods rich in vitamin C.
Fresh fruit and vegetables, preferably local and in season, will obviously be part of the menu, but in reasonable quantities: a source of fibre, excessive consumption could cause diarrhoea in your child.
What is the impact on the composition of the milk ?
The protein, carbohydrate (including lactose) and fat content of milk is generally very stable and is very little affected by your diet. On the other hand, it is important to consume good quality fats, rich in essential fatty acids, as their concentration in your milk depends exclusively on your diet. These are essential for your baby's brain development and can be found in grapeseed, sunflower, walnut and rapeseed oils.
DHA, the most famous of the omega-3s, is found almost exclusively in fish, and the fatter the fish, the higher its DHA content (salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring, smoked trout). However, be careful to limit the consumption of fatty fish to once a week as they may contain pollutants.
Lean fish, at a rate of two portions per week, can also cover your needs (red mullet, anchovy, trout, sea bass or bass, sea bream, turbot, pike, smelt, halibut). And if you don't like fish? The famous cod liver oil that has made so many generations cringe is the best alternative!
Your diet will also affect the taste of the milk. Indeed, certain "strong" foods such as garlic, onions, cabbage or spices will change the taste. Should you avoid drinking it? If you were already eating them during your pregnancy, no: your baby has already tasted everything through the amniotic fluid. If not, it's better to keep them away for a while, as they can slow down your baby's consumption.
Should we eat more ?
Actually, it depends. While it is true that lactation consumes a lot of energy, the weight gained during pregnancy already constitutes a more or less important reserve. The body will draw on the fat it has stored for months.
Some mums will be hungrier than usual, so it is advisable to increase their energy intake and add one or two snacks during the day. It is therefore essential to listen to your feelings of hunger and satiety.
However, starving yourself or following a restrictive diet is out of the question! This would be counterproductive and dangerous for you and your baby.
Should we drink until we are "thirsty" ?
Water is the only drink that is essential to our bodies, and this cannot be repeated often enough. However, contrary to popular belief, lactation does not require the mother to drink extra litres of water. 1.5 to 2 litres of water per day may be enough for one woman, while another will need to drink more.
It is not uncommon for us to feel very thirsty during feeding. In this case, it may be a good idea to keep a bottle of water close at hand.
But there's no need to force yourself to drink several litres of water a day "without thirst", because you won't produce more milk.
It is mainly the stimulation of the mammary gland and your baby itself that affect milk production. Also, there is no need to drink milk to produce more milk.
In other words, here again, it is very important to listen to our feelings, which is not always obvious when all our attention is focused on baby.
Are there any prohibited drinks ?
You can drink coffee, but no more than 2 or 3 cups a day, unless it is decaffeinated. Black tea should also be moderated, because of its high theine content but also because it limits the absorption of iron.
On the other hand, it is strongly discouraged to drink alcoholic beverages while breastfeeding.
First and foremost because alcohol passes into the milk at a rate equivalent to that which passes into the blood. In other words, for an adult, one glass is not much... but for your baby, it could cause significant cellular damage.
In addition, alcohol will considerably reduce the ejection reflex and therefore make feeding more difficult.
What about beer ?
We often hear that beer stimulates lactation because it increases prolactin levels. In fact, when we are breastfeeding, our prolactin level is constantly stimulated, in Bluetooth, by our baby! The feeling of having "fuller" breasts reported by mothers who drank beer while breastfeeding is mainly due to the fact that, as the ejection reflex is reduced, baby sucks less. And if he seems full... it's probably because he's a bit... tipsy. Non-alcoholic beer should also be avoided, because it still contains a little alcohol.
In the event of incidental or very occasional consumption, there is no need to express your milk and throw it away, or even to panic. Just make sure you space out your next feed at least two hours or more after ingestion, which is not always easy to do... so if you can avoid it, avoid it!
If there is one thing to remember in all this, it is to listen. The best advice I've ever been given, and perhaps one of the only pieces of advice I've ever been given, is "Trust your baby". That's your best indicator. Trust yourself too. As a rule, your feeding will be enough to cover your baby's needs: not only is it a perfect remote control, but it helps itself first... and you give it the best.
A few words about Coralie Costi
Today, I am delighted to have joined Adélaïde D'Aboville's dietetic practice in the heart of Paris, in the 6th arrondissement. I welcome you and accompany you in a friendly manner and as close as possible to who you are, with one watchword: to reach your goals while enjoying yourself!"
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