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 Nutritional Medicine: Nutritional Programs for Lactation 

Breastfeeding is an important part of the pregnancy and birth process and the best way to nourish the new infant. It is also helpful for the mother to balance her pregnancy. Nursing not only is a calorie and fluid outlet, helping mother reattain her pre-pregnancy weight, it is often vital to her emotional and psychological well-being and to the bonding with the new baby. In addition, the hormone released during breastfeeding, oxytocin, helps contract the uterus back to normal size and health.

Nutritional requirements are much the same as during pregnancy, with even higher requirements for many nutrients and reduced needs for a few. After all, we are feeding a growing baby. An infant requires about 2–3 ounces of milk per pound of weight, so a newborn of seven pounds needs about 18 ounces of milk daily; as he or she grows, more milk is required. Each ounce of milk has about 20 calories, so mother is giving out 300–400 calories a day initially, and more as the baby grows. She needs 200–500 more calories per day than even during pregnancy and 500–1,000 more than before it, depending on her weight. Some mothers will consume fewer calories after birth in order to lose weight, but this is not wise. Too great a reduction in calories can diminish milk production (as can resuming cigarette smoking). Mother should naturally lose weight during breastfeeding, and as she reduces her level of nursing, she may also lessen her calorie intake.

Water is the main ingredient of mother’s milk, so adequate fluid intake is essential. At least three quarts of liquid are recommended daily, including water, juices, and milk. Mother’s diet should also be high in nutrients, mainly from eating those good, wholesome foods. High protein levels are still required, though a little less is needed than during pregnancy; calcium, magnesium, and iron requirements are also similar. Vitamins C and A, zinc, and iodine are needed in higher levels. Folic acid requirements decrease by 25 percent as the mother’s blood volume decreases. Extra B vitamins may be helpful (for stress and fatigue related to sleep deprivation), as breast milk is fairly low in them, but high-dosage B vitamin pills are best avoided during lactation. Specifically, high amounts of vitamin B6 can reduce milk production.

Good nourishment is essential to prevent depletion of mother and to provide the right nutrients for baby. Remember, the food that mother eats provides the nutrients in her milk and thus the infant’s nutrition. Many of the nutrient-rich foods suggested for pregnancy should be consumed—dairy products, eggs, fish, other animal foods, whole grains, vegetables, especially leafy greens, and vitamin C fruits. Standard food-group orientation suggests more portions of most everything. The summary of food group needs for nonpregnant, pregnant, and nursing women shown here is adapted from Mowry’s Basic Nutrition and Diet Therapy by Sue Rodwell Williams.

General Pregnancy Nutritional Plan

Servings per Day
Nonpregnant Pregnant Nursing
Milk foods—low-fat milk (avoid skim), 2 3–4 5–6
cheese, yogurt, butter (1 serving = 1
cup milk or yogurt, or 3–4 oz. cheese)
Cereal grains (1 serving = about 13 4–55
cup grain or 1 slice of bread)
Vegetables—raw yellow or dark green1 22
(1 serving = 1 cup)
Other vegetables (1 cup)1 22
Vitamin C foods—citrus, berries,1 22
peppers, tomato (1 serving = 1 cup)
Eggs (1 serving = 1 egg)1 1–21–2
Meats—fish, poultry, or lean red1 1–22–3
(1 serving = 3–4 oz.)
Legumes (1 serving = 6 oz.)1 1–21–2

(Excerpted from Staying Healthy with Nutrition ISBN: 1587611791)
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 About The Author
Elson Haas MDElson M. Haas, MD is founder & Director of the Preventive Medical Center of Marin (since 1984), an Integrated Health Care Facility in San Rafael, CA and author of many books on Health and Nutrition, including ...more
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