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Why Breast is Best
It is no secret that breast milk is the best food for your baby during their first six months of life and beyond. Even Health Canada and the Canadian Pediatric Society recommend exclusively breastfeeding for several reasons. It is a complete food source and contains all the nutrients your baby needs, including hormones and disease-fighting compounds. And apart from the brain-building, infection-fighting benefits of a mother’s milk, studies show that solely breastfeeding an infant may help prevent gastroenteritis, respiratory illnesses, and other health related conditions.
There’s no doubt that breast is best for achieving optimal health for your baby from the get-go. However, there is a lot of conflicting advice about breastfeeding, which tend to discourage many new moms from taking it on. These myths and misconceptions about breastfeeding exist due to skewed studies and flawed facts, leading many of us to perpetuate these false rumours. Hopefully, this article will offer some clarification and help set the record straight- once and for all.
How Much Is Too Much?
For starters, don’t feel the pressure to drown yourself in water. Only consume enough to satisfy your thirst. You may have been told that you must drink plenty of fluids in order to keep your milk supply up. Whether you drink an excess amount or just enough, won’t actually affect your milk production. Your body is very efficient and is able to regulate its reserves to make sure it maintains an adequate supply.
Nonetheless, it is important to stay hydrated and satisfy your thirst, but placing too much emphasis on the amount of intake is less significant than meeting your individual requirement. In any case, it is a good idea to replenish before, during, or after a feed because your body releases the hormone oxytocin, which makes you feel more parched than usual. Also, keep in mind that If your urine is dark yellow, you may be dehydrated and should increase your fluid intake.
Diet & Exercise
Another common misconception is the amount of food you should include in your daily diet. Just to reiterate, your body is very good at producing milk, so you shouldn’t have to take in too many extra calories while breastfeeding. Health Canada recommends that breastfeeding moms ingest an extra 330-400 calories per day. This number of calories can easily be found in two or three Canada food guide servings, roughly the equivalent of an extra snack a day such as a yogurt with nut and fruit toppings.
In general, breastfeeding usually gives you a big appetite. In turn, you tend to burn approximately 500 calories a day, so matching your heightened hunger with the increase in your metabolic rate runs parallel. In fact, if you’re healthy and want to shed some of your pregnancy poundage, gradual weight loss should not affect your amount of milk. It is, however, wise to consult your health care provider and/or nutritionist before initiating any weight loss program. Strict dieting, though, is not necessary to reach your goal weight. Gentle exercise after your medical clearance (usually 6 weeks postpartum) and a healthy balanced diet is enough to ensure you get your pre-baby body back.
Just remember that it took 40 weeks to gain the pregnancy weight, so give yourself that much time to lose them without the guilt-trip. As long as you maintain a healthy, well-balanced diet you can eat anything you wish- that is in moderation.
Foods to Avoid
What you should and shouldn’t eat when breastfeeding are based on cultural traditions rather than scientific facts. In one culture women may avoid a particular food while breastfeeding, whereas in another culture, breastfeeding moms may eat that same food every day. It is possible that some types of food and drink that enter your milk may trigger an unsettled baby to act fussy. Since every mom and baby are different, there are no set rules about what you should or should not include in your meals. If you think a particular food has affected your baby, you could try cutting it out for a few days to a couple of weeks to see if it makes a difference.
It is believed that cruciferous vegetables and onions, as well as cow’s milk, spices, caffeine, and chocolate can irritate a baby’s tummy. If you encounter an issue with a particular food, try eliminating it from your diet and then try reintroducing it when your baby is a few months older and their digestive tract is more mature and ready. As long as you are having a variety of healthy foods, this process of food or drink elimination shouldn’t impact either of your nutritional uptake. If you suspect a certain food is upsetting your baby’s digestion, but you’re concerned about cutting it out because it is important to your own health, ask your doctor to refer you to a dietitian to assist you in planning a healthy diet without it.
Health & Nutrition
Taking a multivitamin with high doses of vitamin D and Omega fatty acids while you are breastfeeding is highly recommended- read my post “Mommy Brain” for more on essential nutrients pre- and post-natal. According to Health Canada, your nutrient needs do undergo slight changes from pregnancy to breastfeeding. For example, you need less iron during breastfeeding but more zinc. If you took a prenatal vitamin when you were pregnant, you can continue taking it while you are breastfeeding. Adding emulsified vitamin D3 to your supplementation is a good idea such as Metagenics’ liquid D3 drops, which offers enhanced absorption. This supplemental vitamin is the most bioactive form available. It offers added lifelong health benefits for both you and baby such as bone, cardiovascular, neurological, and immune health.
When it comes to Happy Hour, alcohol consumption will pass through your milk to your baby when nursing. If you want to drink alcohol, the Motherisk program at the Hospital for Sick Kids in Toronto recommends waiting two hours per drink before breastfeeding your baby. You can also feed your baby first and have a drink afterwards. This is due to our body’s way of metabolizing the alcohol. Alcohol uptake usually peaks at about 30 to 60 minutes after one drink. Drinking plenty of fluids, resting, or “pumping and dumping”, won’t rid the alcohol from your body any sooner. Substances diffuse in and out of breast milk over time, so if you just wait, the alcohol will eventually be metabolized out of your breast milk. However, if you pump and dump- the substances like alcohol in your breast milk will remain the same, that is until they’ve had time to be absorbed into the rest of your body. Keep in mind that if your baby is a newborn, they may feed more frequently so you may want to err on the side of caution and stick to non-alcoholic drinks in that case.
Coffee, Tea, or Me?
There is so much contradicting advice on the effects of caffeine. Some studies suggest that coffee drinking has no impact on babies via nursing. Yet, others warn against it. After considering all the arguments and speaking from my experience, I have come to the conclusion that one or two cups of coffee a day won’t have much impact on your baby. Although, try to avoid caffeine or at least reduce your intake while you’re breastfeeding, especially during the newborn stage. Research indicates that your baby may seem more irritable and feed more frequently if you ingest a lot of caffeine, with a lot being more than 5 cups per day. Babies can’t get rid of caffeine efficiently, so it can build up in their systems. Remember, caffeine can be found in chocolate, soft drinks, and some herbal teas and medications. This in addition to coffee and tea, so the levels accumulate quickly and easily. Too much caffeine can also cause sleep disturbances and nervousness. Be mindful that with a newborn comes other causes of sleep problems, so you may want to limit any additional culprits if you’re already insomniac.
Toxins in Breast Milk
In terms of toxins, the small levels of toxins in your body fat can pass into the fat in your breastmilk. Your milk only contains traces of environmental toxins, so it’s unlikely that the toxins in your breastmilk will harm your baby. Although, if you are worried about toxins accumulating- there are steps you can take to reduce the levels in your body and your breast milk: Eat a healthy, balanced diet so you’re not exposed to high amounts of toxins from a specific source. This means having a good range of fruit and vegetables, dairy products, meat, fish and carbs.
Avoid the following things whenever and wherever possible:
- Fatty foods
- Eating predatory fish (they contain particularly high levels of toxins)- read post “Mommy Brain” for everything there is to know about fish oils
- Plastic bottles/containers, and canned foods
- GMO, artificial, and non-organic foods
- Toxic cosmetics and other chemically-laden beauty products- read post “Do You Know What You’re Wearing?” for more information
Rule of thumb, only eat ingredients you can pronounce. Also, be sure to read post “How to Naturally Detoxify Your Home” for tips on minimizing environmental pollutants in your home.
With regards to medicine, The Society for Obstetricians and Gynecologists advises that you treat herbal remedies with the same level of caution as you would with over-the-counter or prescription drugs during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. You should only use them under the care of a healthcare professional. Although herbs are considered natural alternatives to certain drugs, they can be just as powerful and just as toxic. Like drugs, chemical ingredients from herbs do get into breast milk.
Herbs taken in tea such as chamomile, ginger, St. John’s wort, echinacea probably pose no danger to your baby. In general, drink any herbal tea with caution, especially when you don’t know all the ingredients (stay away from goldenseal, which often comes with echinacea and has been linked to causing brain damage in newborns). Most teas are safe, but some have been known to cause liver toxicity.
The benefits of breastfeeding outweigh any potential risks or challenges you may be faced with. Deciding to breastfeed does require a major commitment and certain sacrifices, but it is by far the healthiest way to feed an infant. It is also a wonderful way to bond with your child, which has lasting positive effects on your relationship. Rehearse and repeat the following rule when encountering an obstacle to ensure greater success and remember that with time it does get easier and it’s totally worth it.
The 4Ps to Breastfeeding:
Photo Credit: katiek2