Top 7 Essential Nutrients For Breastfeeding Moms

A breastfeeding mother needs to ensure that she gets certain vital nutrients through a well-balanced diet. What are these nutrients? We look at some essential ones.

By Dr Neha Sanwalka Rungta

Top 7 Essential Nutrients For Breastfeeding Moms

Do you know that an adequate and balanced diet is of the utmost importance for lactating mothers? During the first six months after birth, a baby derives all the nutrients from the mother’s milk alone.

If the mother’s diet is lacking in nutrients, the body uses up stored nutrients to ensure good quality milk for the infant. This may affect the health of the lactating mother. So, she must consume nutritious food for good lactation and recuperation post-delivery.

Essential nutrients a breastfeeding mother must not miss

1. Protein

Protein helps in the production of breast milk. This will help optimise the infant's overall growth and development as there will be a steady supply of milk. Protein is also required for new mothers to maintain lean tissue.

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has estimated that infants receive 9.5–10g/day of protein per day for the first six months of life and 6.5–7g/day from 6 to 24 months through breast milk. Low protein intake by lactating mothers reduces the quantity of milk secreted by them. Also, low intake, especially during the first few weeks post-pregnancy, hinders speedy recovery. 

Recommended intake by ICMR: An additional 28g in the first six months and 20g from 6 to 12 months

Sources: Eggs, chicken, freshwater fish, lean cuts of meat, pulses, legumes, soy, etc.

2. Calcium

Calcium is required for strong bones, teeth, contraction of muscles and for the functioning of all vital organs. On an average, infants receive around 300mg of calcium/day through breast milk. If the mother’s diet is low in calcium, it gets leached from her bones, increasing the risk of developing osteoporosis in the future. 

Recommended intake by ICMR: Around 1,200mg/day 

Sources: Milk and milk products, ragi, soy, amaranth, sesame seeds, fish, leafy vegetables, etc.

3. Vitamin C

Vitamin C is essential for the production of healthy red blood cells (RBC), healing of wounds,  prevention of infections and for the baby's overall immunity. Infants receive around 20mg/day of vitamin C through breast milk. 

Recommended intake by ICMR: Around 80mg/day 

Sources: Lemon, Indian gooseberry, orange, sweet lime, capsicum, etc.

4. Vitamin A

Vitamin A deficiency is a public health problem and adequate intake of the nutrient is essential to promote good vision and prevent night blindness. Vitamin A is also essential for healthy teeth, bone and skin. It also helps reduce inflammation. 

On an average, infants get around 350µl (microlitres) of vitamin A per day from mother's milk. 

Recommended intake by ICMR: 950µl of vitamin A or 7,600µl of beta-carotene (a yellow-orange pigment found in plants and fruits, which gets converted into vitamin A)

Sources (for vitamin A): Milk and milk products, egg, oily fish, meat, etc.

                 (for beta-carotene): Yellow-orange fruits and leafy vegetables

5. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)

This is an essential fatty acid and is beneficial both for the mother and infant. DHA reduces the risk of post-partum depression in mothers. It is also essential for the baby's brain development. 

Recommended intake by ICMR: At least 200mg/day 

Sources: Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, tuna, etc., and nuts such as flax seeds and walnuts; vegetarian mothers may have to take additional DHA supplements to meet their daily requirement

6. B complex vitamins

B complex vitamins are water soluble vitamins, i.e., any additional intake is not stored in the body but is flushed out with urine. Infants get their B complex vitamins through mother’s milk. If the mother’s diet is inadequate in this vitamin, she may not be able to produce adequate breast milk. Hence, it is important for the mother’s diet to include B complex vitamins like folic acid, B12 and pyridoxine as they help in the baby's nerve and brain development, and building immunity.  

Recommended intake by ICMR: At least 500 micrograms (mcg) a day

Sources: Grains, pulses, leafy vegetables, egg, mushroom, sunflower seeds, etc.

7. Energy

Energy, in the form of calories, is important for a breastfeeding mother. This is because she requires increased vitality and vigour for taking care of the baby and herself, ensuring good lactation and hastening post-partum recovery.

Recommendation: According to the National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) and the ICMR, a lactating mother needs 600kcal/day over and above the normal calorie requirement. After six months, as the total quantity of milk reduces, an intake of additional 520kcal/day is recommended for Indian mothers.

Sources: Eggs, brown rice, oatmeal, fruits and vegetables, and nuts. 

A lactating mother must consume a well-balanced diet comprising all food groups to meet the increased nutrient demands of lactation. This will not only ensure her good health but her baby's health as well.

The author is a paediatric nutritionist and director of NutriCanvas.

Do you have doubts or questions about breastfeeding? Join our community to interact with experts.