Post delivery Nutrition for lactating mothers

Reviewed on : 10 March 2016

The transformation of a woman into a mother, with the birth of a baby, is a momentous event. In many respects this stage puts even greater demands on the mother, when compared to the period of pregnancy, as she starts to nurse the baby.

Immediately after birth, the child continues to be totally dependent on the mother for all nutritional needs and must be breastfed. As the newborn starts to gain weight and also becomes increasingly active, the food supply from the mother must correspondingly increase to meet the increasing demands for both growth and energy.  The nursing mother must therefore intake several hundred additional calories per day to be able to supply adequate amount of food to the infant.  The food intake of the mother should also be sufficient to prepare and equip the mother to tackle the high energy work of bringing up the baby.

If a nursing mother is producing 850ml of milk daily then, as per the WHO/FAO Committee recommendations, she should consume an additional 500 kcal/day above her regular food intake during the first three months of lactation.  This recommendation is based on a calculation that assumes that maternal dietary energy is converted into energy in milk at about 80% efficiency.  Production of 100ml of milk thus requires 90kcal of energy and includes the calories, which are available to a mother from the fat that she may have accumulated during pregnancy.

In addition to recommending a diet that meets the increased energy requirements of a lactating mother, it is also important that the recommended diet is able to increase the supply of vitamins, proteins and minerals, which may have been depleted in the mother’s body during the course of the pregnancy.

Lactating mothers should have well-balanced, wholesome and nutritious meals that contain carbohydrates, proteins, minerals and all major vitamins. It is recommended to consume a variety of cereals and low fat milk products along with adequate helpings of fresh fruits and vegetables. Supplements to provide major vitamins like B12, vitamin A and Folic acid are also advised. For malnourished mothers, it is particularly important to provide supplements for vitamin A, vitamin C, thiamin, and riboflavin as they will reflect in an increase of these nutrients in the milk fed to the baby.

To cover the requirements of milk production and also to allow for 70% efficiency of protein utilization by the body, FAO/WHO committee has recommended additional intake of 25g of protein per day for the lactating mother.  The high protein diet, rich in pulses and legumes should become an integral part of the meals. Some Dairy products can provide good quality protein and one should hence include low fat yogurts and home made paneer from low fat milk, in the diet.  For non–vegetarians, lean meats can also be a good source of proteins and can also provide the necessary nourishment for both mother and child.

Minerals such as Iron and Zinc are important for both the mother and the new-born baby. Green vegetables such as spinach and fenugreek leaves, which are rich in both calcium and iron, should hence be a part of the daily diet.  Dates can also be included as they are a good source of iron.

Lactating mothers should consume water and other fluids frequently and in sufficient quantities to replace the water secreted in the milk. Small and frequent meals should be preferred over few heavier meals. Post delivery, the mother’s digestive system may be sensitive. She should hence be careful about the kind of foods she consumes and avoid spicy or junk food and foods made from refined flours. Vegetables like bottle gourd and snake gourd from gourd family are easily digestible and can form the mainstay of the diet at this time. Alcohol, caffeine and nicotine should be completely avoided. One should also avoid certain types of fish which have high mercury content.  Ghee (clarified butter) can be consumed in moderation. The mother should closely monitor the baby’s bowel movements and make it a point to avoid any foods that causes or results in colic pain or discomfort for the baby.

The first few months post delivery is a period of both extreme happiness and challenge for the new mother. Even as she is coming to terms with the reality of motherhood, she has to garner adequate physical and emotional strength to cater to the needs of the baby besides recovering and taking care of herself. A well balanced diet can play an important role in ensuring the wellbeing of both the mother and child during this period.

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