The Nutrition Basics of Breastfeeding

Many mothers agree that there are few moments more precious or bonding to them in the beginning of their baby’s life than the experience of breastfeeding. The knowledge that your body is continuing to provide your child with the nutrients that are keeping it alive is a beautiful thing, and if you are faced with the decision to attempt breast feeding please keep reading to learn more from a nutritional standpoint about why you should, what to expect, and how to make the process as beneficial as possible for both you and baby.

Before getting into this information I feel it is important to clarify:

Breast is Best < Fed is Best

There are numerous factors that go into a woman’s choice to breast or formula feed. This blog does not aim to shame any mother who is formula feeding instead of breast feeding. I encourage whichever choice is going to provide the best, most consistent nourishment for baby. With that being said, I hope that this post provides valuable information for those who are ready and able to begin breastfeeding!

Why Breastfeeding?

Breastfeeding has been proven to provide an abundance of health benefits for children early and later on in life. Among countless other conditions, breastfed babies suffer less from asthma, allergies, upper respiratory or ear infections, and diarrhea.

The benefits of breastfeeding come from more than just the milk. The womb is a sterile environment, and when baby enters the world the first bacteria they are exposed to (in the typical birth) is the birth canal. This starts the process of colonizing a healthy microbiome on and inside baby’s body. A component of breast milk called “human milk oligosaccharides” are complex carbohydrates that are only found in breast milk. These oligosaccharides provide nourishment not only for the baby, but are also a wonderful feast for the bifidobacteria that are beneficial to infant digestion. The breast tissue and milk also continue this process of colonizing healthy bacteria inside of baby’s digestive tract.

The composition of a woman’s breast milk changes throughout the day to fit baby’s dietary needs. Even while sick, a mothers breast milk will provide numerous benefits to her child. As the mother’s body creates antibodies (cells devoted to fighting sickness) inside of her they are passed on through the breast milk to the child! This is further establishing the child’s immune system and better preparing them to encounter – and overcome – such sickness in the future.

Breastfeeding Nutrition for Mom

In order to create the right nutrients for baby, you should also be taking care to nourish yourself. Depending on the amount of breast milk that must be produced, breastfeeding may typically burn somewhere between 300-600 calories in a in a day. Try to obtain these calories from nutrient rich sources (meaning that the caloric amount is reasonable in comparison to the nutrient payoff). For example, a slice of cake is high in calories but low in nutrients so it is not nutrient dense, but whole grain toast with hummus and avocado is high in calories but also high in nutrients, so it is nutrient dense. Aim to eat plenty of protein from lean meat sources and high protein plant based items such as beans and lentils. Also make sure to replenish the fluid in your body often. Drink before you feel thirsty.

Studies have shown that what a woman eats can flavor her breast milk for up to 8 hours after consumption. This can be a good and bad. If baby is refusing to drink the milk it may be due to an aversion to something in the mother’s diet. However, this can also play to the mother’s advantage. Studies have also shown that the more variety a woman has in her diet of vegetables, herbs, and spices, the more adventurous the child tends to be with food once they are in the solid-food stages. Because they have been exposed to these flavors through breast milk, they are more likely to eat it later in life. This can reduce the complications of a picky eater later in life.

To read more about how to handle Pick Eaters click here to view my blog on helping your child become a more adventurous diner.

Make sure to test breast milk after consuming any alcoholic beverage. Test strips may be purchased (find some here on Amazon) to test for the presence of alcohol in breast milk.

Tips for Breastfeeding

Although something so natural seems as though it should be so simple and easy, it is not always so. When nursing your baby, there are several tips to make sure that the child latches properly. These following tips come from The American Pregnancy Association:

  • Get in a comfortable chair with great back support to feed your baby. Using a stool to rest your feet on will help with good posture and prevent you from straining your neck and shoulders.
  • Use your breastfeeding support pillow if you have one. (And if you don’t, use whatever kind of pillows you can find to help support you and the baby.) A good breastfeeding pillow can make a huge difference in getting the baby in a proper position to latch on well.
  • Make sure your baby is tummy-to-tummy with you at all times.
  • Make sure you bring your baby to you, and do not try to lean into the baby. Not only will this cause severe strain on your neck and shoulders, but it can affect the baby’s position.
  • Remember to keep your baby’s ear, shoulder, and hip in alignment, which will make swallowing easier.
  • The baby’s nose should be opposite the nipple.
  • You might need to hold your breast to help guide the nipple to your baby’s mouth. Grasp the breast on the sides, using either a “C” hold or “U” hold. Make sure to keep fingers far from the nipple so you don’t affect how baby latches on.
  • Aim the nipple toward the baby’s upper lip/nose, not the middle of the mouth.You might need to rub the nipple across the top lip to get your baby to open his/her mouth.
  • The baby’s head should be tilted slightly back. You do not want his chin to his chest.
  • When he opens his mouth wide with the chin dropped and tongue down, he should latch on to the nipple. If he does not open wide, do not try to shove the nipple in and wiggle the mouth open. It is best to move back, tickle the lip again with the nipple and wait for a wide open mouth.
  • Try to get as much of the lower portion of the areola (the area around the nipple) in the baby’s mouth.
  • The baby’s chin should indent the lower portion of your breast.
  • Look to see if the baby’s bottom and top lip are flanged out like fish lips. If they are not, you may use your finger to pull the bottom one down and open up the top one more

There are two parts to milk – hind milk  and fore milk
Fore milk 
will be more watery and rich in carbohydrates. Switching breasts halfway through nursing could mean that baby is only getting the sugary fore milk and not the protein and healthy fat dense hind milk. The fat in the hind milk also helps the baby to feel full longer, so switching before the baby has the chance to eat hind milk might result in more frequent needs to feed. Allow baby to nurse completely from one breast before switching to another.

Whichever path you decide is right for you and your family, remember to be patient and do not set unachievable standards for yourself. The fact that you have gone in search of this article shows how much you care about providing your child with the best care you can. You are doing great, mama! Keep it up!



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