Indian Foods For Breastfeeding Mothers To Increase Breast Milk
Breastfeeding mothers must follow a good diet chart plan to increase breast milk and its quality. Here is a list of Indian foods for lactating moms and the foods to avoid while breastfeeding.
By Pavithra N Raj and Dr Savitha Shetty
The calorie intake for an average Indian woman is 1,800-2,000 kcal. Did you know that a lactating mother requires an additional intake of 550 kcal per day? Since they produce 2–3L of milk every day, it is very important for new mothers to have a wholesome, nutritious diet. Also, there are many Indian foods that help increase the quality of breast milk in mothers.
Good maternal nutrition is vital for health and reproductive performance of women, as well as the well-being of their children. However, these reproductive years are periods of nutritional stress for many Indian women. Pregnancy-related health and nutritional problems affect the quality of their lives and that of their infants well beyond delivery. Therefore, emphasis must be given on the foods for breastfeeding mothers to increase breast milk.
Here is a list of some of the best Indian foods to increase breast milk for breastfeeding mothers along with their nutritional content. Also included are a diet plan chart for lactating moms and a list of foods to avoid while breastfeeding.
Best foods for breastfeeding mothers
1. Foods rich in iron
- Vegetarian sources (non-heme iron): Cereals like rice bran, rice flakes, puffed rice, buckwheat, whole wheat, oats and maize
- Pulses: Chickpeas, soya beans, red kidney beans, Bengal gram (dal and roasted), cowpeas, whole green gram, sprouts, black gram and horse gram
- Nuts and seeds: Almonds, cashew nuts, dried coconut, figs, raisins and sesame seeds
Note: Consume tea and coffee at least one hour after your meal as they decrease iron absorption.
Include foods rich in vitamin C like gooseberry, guava, lime, sweet lime, oranges, broccoli and tomatoes for enhanced iron absorption.
2. Foods rich in calcium
- Cereal grains: Finger millet (ragi)
- Pulses and legumes: Bengal gram whole, black gram dal, green gram whole, horse gram, moth beans, kidney beans and soya bean
- Green leafy vegetables: Amaranth, cauliflower, colocasia, fennel, turnip greens, curry leaves, fenugreek leaves, drumstick, mustard greens, betel leaves and tamarind leaves
- Other vegetables: Field beans, chayote, marrow, dry lotus stem and celery
- Nuts and oil seeds: Almonds, walnuts, dry coconut, gingelly seeds, mustard seeds, poppy seeds and pistachio
- Fruits: Apricot (dry), dates, lime, wood apple and raisins
- Milk: Milk and curd
3. Foods rich in protein
- Chicken breast (without skin), fish (non-fried) and eggs
- Low fat milk and milk products such as curd, paneer and cheese
- Soya — soya milk, tofu, soya beans, chunks and granules
- Nuts (almonds and walnuts, boiled/dry roasted and unsalted groundnuts, etc.)
- Red kidney beans, chickpea (chana and Bengal gram), horse gram, black gram, cowpea and green gram (all whole)
- Mixed grains such as sprouts, green and dried peas, and split gram (dal)
Note: In case of bloating and excessive flatulence, use sprouted pulses and soaked dal.
4. Fruits to eat while breastfeeding
While breastfeeding, new mothers should eat the following fruits to increase quality of milk:
- Custard apple
5. Vegetables to increase breast milk
While breastfeeding, new mothers should eat the following vegetables to increase quality of milk:
- Green leafy vegetables such as amaranth, radish leaves, mustard leaves, colocasia greens, mint and knol-khol greens
- Other vegetables such as pointed gourd (parwal), spring onion, broccoli, dry lotus stem and green plantain
Also read: Do's and don'ts on storing breast milk
Diet for breastfeeding mothers
Include these foods in your daily diet while nursing your baby:
- Eat a variety of foods from all food groups (cereals, pulses, dairy, fruits and vegetables, oils and nuts, and sugar).
- Fluid intake of at least 3L per day (including water, juice, soups, buttermilk, lime water and milk) is a must.
- Have small, frequent meals, three major meals and 2–3 minor snacks per day.
- Maintain a 1½–2-hour gap between dinner and bedtime.
- Have at least one portion of dry fruits (raw, peeled almonds, walnuts, two figs, raisins, etc.) each day.
- Incorporate seasonal fruits and vegetables to meet the requirements of vitamins A, E and C as well as B complex. Consume fruits in the mid-morning or evening only.
- Have a combination of cereals (rice, whole wheat, broken wheat, ragi, jowar and oats) for both meals.
- Restrict foods containing too much saturated fat (butter, ghee, cheese or cream), ready-to-eat foods that contain preservatives, deep-fried foods, dried coconut, alcoholic drinks, soft drinks, savouries, sweets, packaged juices and white sugar.
- Limit intake of coffee and tea to keep a check on weight gain.
- Avoid taking any medicine or herbal supplements without consulting your doctor/dietician.
Note: Include galactagogues (the substance that improves lactation) such as garlic, fenugreek, fennel, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, oatmeal and dill (shepu leaves).
Diet chart (sample menu)
This diet will provide 2000Kcals of energy, 80g of protein and 30g of fat.
6:00 am – 1 glass of warm water and 6 almonds (blanched and peeled)
7:00 am – 1 cup light tea/coffee/milk (skimmed milk)
4 idlis (brown or red rice/rava) with 2 tbsp gram chutney and 1 ladle sambar
Or 3 wheat/ragi/plain/pesaratu dosas with 2 tbsp gram chutney and 1 ladle sambar
Or 2 chapathi/paratha with 1 cup vegetable and 1 cup curd/raita
Or 2 slices brown bread/multigrain with paneer or tofu/omelette made of egg white or 1 boiled egg
Or 1 cup vegetable upma (broken wheat/oats/semolina) or 1 cup poha with 2 tbsp gram chutney
Or 1 cup porridge (oats/broken wheat) or wheat flakes with milk (skimmed)
Or 2 ragi rotis (with onion and vegetables) with 2 tbsp gram chutney
Buttermilk/vegetable juice, 1 cup of salad/cut fruit and mixed dry fruits (50g of raisins/dates/figs/walnut)
3 medium-sized chapathis
Or ½ cup rice and 2 chapathis
Or 1 ragi ball (size of a tennis ball) and ½ cup rice
Or 1 cup broken wheat or millet rice (kichdi/pongal or pulao) with 1 cup sambar or dal (whole dal/soya bean/chole/paneer/tofu)/2 cups vegetables (one green leafy vegetable), 1 cup salad and 1 cup curd
Note: Non-vegetarian dishes like 2 pieces of fish/steamed/boiled or grilled chicken can be eaten on alternate days.
1 cup of tea/coffee/milk with 2 biscuits (oats, ragi, multigrain)/puffed rice
1 cup of vegetable soup and boiled sprouts/2 boiled egg whites
2 medium-sized chapathis/multigrain dosas (ragi, wheat, jowar and millet) with 1 cup of dal, 1 cup of vegetable and 1 cup of salad
1 cup milk (skimmed)
- 1 cup = 100mL, 1 glass = 200mL
- Oil allowance = 2–3 tsp/day
Foods to avoid while breastfeeding
Certain foods cause indigestion, gas trouble or allergy and must be avoided by nursing mothers because they may make the baby sick.
- Foods containing monosodium glutamate
- Deep fried or fatty foods
- Excess tea and coffee, since tannin and caffeine inhibit the absorption of micronutrients
- Peanut/egg/soya/mushroom because they are common allergens
Herbal home remedies
The practice of giving lactating mothers age-old remedies still exists in many Indian households. Herbs and spices such as cumin, oregano, fennel seeds, mint, ginger, garlic, fenugreek, pepper and turmeric are used in general which increase milk production.
Regular intake of alcohol decreases milk production by 20 per cent. In case a nursing mother consumes alcohol occasionally, a time lag of 2 to 3 hours per unit after drinking must be maintained before nursing. This time is essential for the alcohol to be eliminated from the breast milk.
A diet rich in iron and calcium is generally sufficient for lactating mothers who are breastfeeding. But mothers who get an inadequate supply of these nutrients must take iron and calcium supplements.
Tip to stay healthy
Eat fresh, home-cooked food while nursing with 5 kinds of vegetables and 3 kinds of fruit daily. Also, drink 3-4 glasses of milk every day.
Eat a healthy diet while you are breastfeeding because what you eat determines the health of your baby.
About the experts:
Written by Pavithra N Raj and Dr Savitha Shetty on 3 August 2017; updated on 23 March 2020
Pavithra N Raj is the executive Dietician and Dr Savitha Shetty is the Gynaecology and Obstetrics Consultant at Columbia Asia Referral Hospital, Bangalore.
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