It's common knowledge that breastfeeding your baby is better for its health, but is there anything you can eat and drink to make your milk even more nutritious? And what about your own health while breastfeeding? Two of the most common complaints amongst breastfeeding women are exhaustion and dehydration, both of which are helped by drinking plenty of water, herbal tea and milk (providing you can eat dairy). Eating a healthy, balanced diet will help to maintain your energy levels, and ensure that your baby is getting all the vitamins and minerals he or she needs from your breast milk.
What is a healthy diet?
You'll need to be eating a variety of vegetables, and lots of them. If you're not a big fan of veggies, try stir-frying them with some garlic or flavoured oil. Stir-frying is the most delicious way to prepare vegetables, and also the healthiest, after steaming & microwaving, as the quick cooking time means you're not destroying so many of the vitamins. (Vitamins are water-soluble, so boiling veg usually means you're boiling away the vitamins, too.)
Lean protein is also crucial. You can get this from fish, chicken, eggs, tofu, beans and Quorn. If you're allergy conscious you may be avoiding nuts while breastfeeding, but if you're not they are very good for you in small quantities. Try to avoid red meats like beef and lamb, as these are hard to digest and can be exhausting. Pork is quite fatty and can cause stomach upsets, so you may wish to avoid this too.
By the way, tuna, although it is good for you, should only be eaten rarely, as this deep sea fish often has high levels of mercury contamination from ocean pollution. Your local health authority website should give information on how much tuna is okay for a person of your size.
Oily fish in general, however, is an excellent health food - mackerel, sardines, salmon and herrings all contain Omega oils, which have a range of health benefits. If you don't eat fish, you can get Omegas from flax seed, although it's less bio-available - buy milled seed to sprinkle on cereal, and don't cook it, as this destroys the Omegas.
Having done a lot of experimentation I can safely say that the best chickens are definitely the free range organic ones. Although they are more expensive, the meat is noticeably better quality. Roast a chicken at the weekend and you can make stock and soup from the carcass, and keep leftover meat for stir-fries (add the cooked meat after you've fried the vegetables) and salads, so it's actually an affordable option if you can handle a little forward-planning.
The health authorities tend to advocate lots of starchy foods as part of a healthy diet, but so many people feel unwell after eating wheat that it might be worth sticking to rice and potatoes if you are feeling at all fatigued. Neither pasta nor white bread contain many nutrients, although they are useful for a last minute, "too knackered to cook" supper; just stick to tomato-based sauces made with lots of vegetables, mushrooms, olives, garlic, lean ham or tuna, instead of the cream and cheese sauces, which aren't healthy. There's actually a lot of calcium in green leafy vegetables, so you don't need to eat lots of dairy to keep your calcium levels up.