The calorie intake for an average Indian woman is 1800-2000 kcal. Did you know that a lactating mother requires an additional intake of 550 kcal per day? Since they produce 2-3 litres of milk every day, it is very important for new mothers to have a wholesome, nutritious diet.
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 infant well beyond delivery.
Eat smart for maximum nutritional benefit
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 3 litres per day (including water, juice, soups, buttermilk, lime water and milk) is a must
- Have small, frequent meals, 3 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, 2 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 midmorning 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).
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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.
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Foods rich in iron
Vegetarian sources (non-heme iron): Cereals like rice bran, rice flakes, puffed rice, buckwheat, whole wheat, oats and maize
Green leafy vegetables: Amaranth, radish leaves, mustard leaves, colocasia greens, mint and knol-khol greens
Other vegetables: Pointed gourd (parwal), spring onion, broccoli, dry lotus stem and green plantain
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: Almond, cashew nuts, dried coconut, figs, raisins and sesame seeds
Fruits: Watermelon, pineapple, custard apple, apricot and pomegranate
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.
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, walnut, dry coconut, gingelly seeds, mustard seeds, poppy seeds and pistachio
Fruits: Apricot (dry), dates, lime, woodapple and raisins
Milk: Milk and curd
Diet chart (Sample menu)
This diet will provide 2000 Kcals of energy, 80 g of protein and 30 g of fat.
1 glass of warm water and 6 almonds (blanched and peeled)
1 cup light tea/coffee/milk (skimmed milk)
8:00 - 8:30 am
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 (50 g of raisins/dates/figs/walnut)
1:00 - 1:30 pm
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 (kichadi/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 = 100 mL, 1 glass = 200 mL
• Oil allowance = 2-3 tsp/day
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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.
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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.
With inputs from Executive Dietician, Pavithra N Raj and Dr Savitha Shetty, Gynaecology and Obstetrics Consultant at Columbia Asia Referral Hospital, Bangalore.
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