Written by Laila Helena | Sunday, 6 August 2023
Breastmilk is finally getting the attention it deserves. More and more research is showing us just how incredible it is. Breastmilk isn't just baby food; it's a dynamic, living substance that changes to meet a baby's needs. And guess what? Mama's diet and lifestyle can play a significant role in shaping its composition. Yet, mamas are often overworked and underappreciated. Asking them to now think about the nutritional value of breastmilk can feel overwhelming. So here are a few naturopath-recommended tips that are easy to implement.
Postpartum pathology tests
First things first, let's talk about postpartum pathology tests. Usually done around six weeks after birth, these tests are vital for ensuring mama's nutritional levels are optimal for breastfeeding. Not only does this prevent burnout and exhaustion, it also helps ensure the baby's nutritional needs are met. These tests can help identify deficiencies that may affect breastmilk composition or a mama's health, allowing for timely intervention. In saying this, it is never too late to get postpartum pathology tests done. Check iron studies, full blood count, vitamin D, zinc, liver and kidney function, thyroid studies and fasting insulin. Ensure you speak with a qualified naturopath or nutritionist accustomed to reading pathology tests.
Incorporating nutrient-dense, easy-to-digest foods into your diet
Diet plays a crucial role in breastfeeding, managing sleep deprivation and postpartum recovery. Incorporating nutrient-dense foods that are easy to digest can help ensure that a mama gets the nutrients she needs to support herself and produce breastmilk. Think of foods like meat stock and bone broth, organ meats, pasture-raised meats and eggs, vegetables, and healthy fats. These foods nourish the mama, stabilise her energy levels, and influence the nutrient density in her milk. This postpartum chicken soup is perfect for supporting a healthy gut and immune function.
Prenatal vitamins: your nutritional insurance policy
Getting all the necessary nutrients can be challenging even with a balanced diet. That's where prenatal multivitamins come in. Think of them as your nutritional insurance policy. Often mamas will stop taking their prenatal supplements once their baby has arrived. Continuing to take them during breastfeeding can help fill nutritional gaps in a mama's diet, supporting optimal breastmilk composition and maternal well-being.
Staying hydrated for breastfeeding
Hydration is also a key factor during breastfeeding. Breastmilk is about 88% water, so drinking enough fluids is essential for maintaining milk production, avoiding maternal dehydration, and slowing down maternal digestion. An easy way to ensure a mama drinks sufficient water is to encourage her to always carry a stainless steel bottle with her, aiming for two to three litres daily. But remember, hydration isn't just about water – soups, herbal teas, smoothies, fruits, and vegetables can also contribute to her fluid intake.
Seeding and feeding the microbiome
Did you know that a healthy gut microbiome can influence the amount of beneficial bacteria found in breastmilk? Breastmilk can contain anything between 100 to 600 species of microbes that help to colonise a baby's microbiome. When necessary, it's possible to support a mama's microbiome through probiotic and prebiotic foods. Probiotic foods such as sauerkraut, kefir, yogurt, beetroot kvass and others have undergone fermentation, which introduces beneficial bacteria into the gut. Prebiotic foods are high in plant-based fibres such as leeks, apples, oats, cooked and cooled potatoes etc. Supporting a breastfeeding mama's gut health can have long-term benefits for her baby's gut health and immunity.
Sunlight, stress management, and vitamin D
Spending time in nature and absorbing sunlight plays a crucial role in our health, and it's no different for breastfeeding mamas. Exposure to morning sunlight helps trigger the cortisol awakening response, setting the rhythm for the day and helping a mama wake up in the morning. It also helps to regulate a mama's stress levels by promoting the release of serotonin (the happy hormone). Spending time outdoors in nature can also help reduce cortisol levels (the stress hormone), reducing cortisol in breastmilk. Plus, sunlight is a natural source of vitamin D, which can support the vitamin D levels in breastmilk. Remember that if the mama's vitamin D levels are suboptimal, supplementation will likely be required – test first, don't guess.
In addition to a balanced diet and a prenatal multivitamin, other specific supplements can support breastfeeding. Often mamas who have had antibiotics during labour, birth or postpartum benefit from a prebiotic and probiotic supplement. What’s more, emerging research suggests that pomegranate juice may have potential benefits for breastmilk composition. You can find pomegranate juice in health food shops, which you can water down and drink twice a day. Any supplementation should be considered in consultation with a healthcare provider, such as a naturopath or nutritionist.
So there you have it, some simple steps to improve breastmilk's nutritional and microbial composition. Yet, before you go, I would like to honour those struggling with breastfeeding or who have had to stop breastfeeding for whatever reason. We are all doing our best within the social, economic and environmental factors we find ourselves in.
Do you have any questions?
Make an appointment with a naturopath or nutritionist to find out how best to support your breastfeeding journey.
Laila Helena BHSc is a qualified naturopath who specialises in helping busy couples ditch fatigue and nagging health issues to confidently optimise their fertility and pregnancy. Ultimately, making and raising healthier babies. She supports infants in their first 1000 days of life – from the moment they are conceived until they have reached two years of age. She is also passionate about fertility and preconception because infertility and chronic health conditions among children are steadily rising, most of which are preventable. Laila uses her holistic investigative skills to find the root cause of any disease and treats it with naturopathic medicine and functional nutrition. Supporting the health of parents, parents-to-be and infants. Her mission? To improve global health one baby at a time.