The quantity and flow of your milk supply becomes one of your major preoccupations once you start breastfeeding, and naturally so. You have a little baby who is surviving on breast-milk and breast-milk alone. It is quite natural for you to worry about whether your breasts are producing adequate milk for your baby. As long as you follow a healthy diet and keep breastfeeding on demand, there is no reason for you to worry.
However, a few dietary changes might help you in this endeavor. A lot of food items we use regularly in our cooking platter are believed to increase the milk supply in new moms. While some of these beliefs are handed over from generation to generation, others are properly supported by scientific research. Here are a few of them:
Indian foods to increase lactation
Fennel Seeds (Saunf): Not only do fennel seeds assist in breastfeeding, the presence of fennel in your breast-milk might also aid in keeping colic in babies under control. Being a rich source of vitamin C, they also help in digestion. You can add them to dals, desserts and vegetarian recipes. These seeds can also be consumed on their own as a mouth freshener.
Cumin seeds (Jeera): Cumin seeds will help you deal with the common pregnancy irritants like constipation and acidity, while doing their bit to increase the production of breast-milk. They are also a good source of iron. Adding them in curries will increase the flavor.
Fenugreek Seeds (Methi): Mothers of yesteryears have trusted Fenugreek seeds in aiding them to increase their milk supply. Fenugreek seeds are rich in calcium, iron, minerals and vitamins. Our regular food pattern across the nation has many dishes in which we incorporate fenugreek seeds. However, you need to consume it in careful quantities as it is a diuretic which might increase your trips to the bathroom.
Black sesame seeds (Til): It is a good source of calcium and is believed to increase breast-milk. The easiest and happiest way to add til to your diet is to drop that chocolate bar and snack on til ladoos.
Greens and Gourds: Easy to digest vegetables like lauki, green vegetables like beans and beet leaves are believed to enhance lactation. You can cook them in a lot of delicious ways. If you are a lauki hater, then try making halwa out of it.
Basil (Tulsi): A great source of vitamin K, tulsi often has a calming effect on people. It improves the bowel movements and helps in maintaining a healthy appetite. Make tulsi tea a regular drink and along with other health benefits, you will increase your milk supply too.
Oats: You might have always considered oats to be an easy option for busy mornings. It is easy to cook and cooks within minutes. But that was before you started breastfeeding. Now you can add oats to your diet for a different reason. Rich in calcium and fiber, it helps to keep your weight, blood pressure and cholesterol in check, while increasing your milk supply. If you don’t like the bland taste of oats porridge, try preparing oats upma or oats pulav.
Garlic: If you were a garlic hater hitherto, consider changing your mind. It is a common ingredient in many Indian dishes and is used mainly for flavoring. Garlic not only has several medicinal properties, but it acts as a lactogenic as well.
Pulses (Dals): You might pass through the dal section in supermarkets wondering what difference it makes if the dal is yellow or red. Well, next time you go shopping, make sure you pick the red dal or masoor dal because it is an excellent source of iron and protein. Besides it also improves your milk supply. Cook it like you cook any other dal preparation. You can add it in sambar, rasam and a lot of other South Indian dishes as well.
Spinach: Being a good source of calcium, Vitamin K, A, iron, and folate, spinach is a favorite with breastfeeding mothers. Folate or folic acid is important for women during pregnancy and post pregnancy. Dark leafy green vegetables like spinach contain phytoestrogens which are known to promote lactation.
Beets: The vegetables which are high in beta-carotene such as carrots, sweet potatoes and beetroots are extremely beneficial for the baby and thus are a must in every breastfeeding mother’s diet. You can eat them in a salad, make a curry out of it or even make a halwa.
If you are still entertaining certain questions about your breastfeeding diet, here’s some help:
Do I need extra calories when I breastfeed?
Yes, you do. You would need a few extra calories to keep your stamina up. The fat reserves accumulated in your body during pregnancy will supply some of the calories you will require for the production of breast-milk. However additional calories are also needed to ensure enough energy supply to your growing baby. The quality of your diet will have a direct influence on the quality of your breast milk. Follow a healthy diet, that way you will also ensure that your baby gets good nutrition. Aim for an additional 400 to 500 calories a day while you breastfeed your baby.
How much should I eat while breastfeeding?
Of course you need to increase your calorie intake, ensuring that it is slightly more than your pre-pregnancy intake. But that doesn’t mean you should eat as much as you can or eat double or triple the amount of what you were eating before you got pregnant. The golden rule of pregnancy diet is pretty much applicable to your post-delivery diet as well: Eat nutritious food. Include fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in your diet. Have a tall glass of milk to get those extra calories that you will require to breastfeed. Your diet during breastfeeding doesn’t necessarily have to be a ‘special’ one. As long as you are eating healthy, balanced meals, you don’t have anything to worry about.
What foods to eat when I breastfeed?
Include a variety of whole grains in your diet in addition to plenty of fruits and vegetables. Many Indian communities follow certain confinement practices after childbirth, some of which include special diet for increasing breast-milk. There is no harm in following such special diets if your doctor has given you a nod of approval. As a general rule, include food items that are rich in calcium, iron and protein. Chapattis and parathas made from whole grains, beans, peas, lentils, leafy vegetables and dry fruits serve as excellent sources of iron. Foods that are high in vitamin C will help your body absorb iron better. Milk and dairy products are good sources of calcium while the protein requirements of your body can be taken care of by consuming eggs, lean meat, lentils, nuts and whole grains.
How much fluids should I take while breastfeeding?
It can be a busy life nursing, diapering, working and what not. It is important to keep your body hydrated since it affects the milk production. Make sure you drink some fluids such as fresh juices, milk, butter milk, coconut water or at least plain water before you breastfeed. Expert advice would be to drink at least eight glasses of water. But in the busy days of early motherhood, who has the time to keep a tab on the number of glasses, right? One good way to keep a tab on your fluid intake is to count your visits to the bathroom. If you pee every two hours or so, you should be doing fine.
What foods should I avoid in my breastfeeding diet?
Make sure you control your sugar intake. Also cut down on coffee, as it might play with your baby’s sleep. You wouldn’t want a baby who refuses to sleep, do you? Aerated drinks which contain empty calories can be replaced with lassi, buttermilk, coconut water and lime juice. Keep a mental note of what you eat every day. If you notice that your baby is especially fussy when you eat a particular food item, observe how she reacts when you eat it the next time. If you find an allergic food item which might transfer the sensitivity through breast milk, avoid that till your baby is a little older. Cow’s milk, eggs, peanuts and certain kinds of fish that contain higher levels of mercury are some of the major allergens. It goes without saying that you should say no to those occasional glasses of wine and alcohol.
I am a vegetarian. What should be my breastfeeding diet?
If you are a vegetarian mother, take utmost care to include foods that are rich in iron, protein and calcium in your diet. Snack on dry fruits and nuts; add peas and lentils, leafy vegetables, tomatoes and capsicum to your diet. Make sure you drink a glass of milk every day. If you follow a vegetarian diet, it will be ideal to discuss it with your doctor since there are some vitamins like vitamin B-12 exclusively found in animal products. You might want to take supplements for that.
Special note: Remember, adding specific foods to your post-pregnancy diet is not enough to increase breast-milk. The key to increasing milk supply is to regularly breastfeed your little one. Keeping your body hydrated and taking enough rest are also important for you.