I have a two week old baby girl who I am breastfeeding. I’d like to breastfeed as long as possible but I’m a vegetarian and I am worried I may not be passing on the right nutrients to my baby. Is there any food I should eat in particular to support breastfeeding? How will I know if she is getting enough of what she needs?
Breast milk provides all the nutrition a baby needs up until around six months of age and it also offers prevention against infection. The nutrients in breast milk will only be affected if a mother is very undernourished. Baby’s requirements tend to take priority and it will be the mother rather than baby that becomes depleted.
In general, a vegetarian diet containing a variety of foods from each of the food groups will provide all that is needed: a balance between carbohydrates, protein, fruit and vegetables and dairy foods.
There are three nutrients that can be a little more difficult to obtain when following a vegetarian diet: iron, vitamin B12 and vitamin D. Iron can be obtained from vegetarian sources such as pulses, green leafy vegetables, fortified breakfast cereals, eggs; B12 from milk, cheese and yeast extract (such as Marmite).
All pregnant women (regardless of whether vegetarian or not) are advised by the Department of Health to take 10 micrograms of vitamin D each day whilst pregnant and breastfeeding as this is difficult to obtain from dietary sources. Vitamin D can be purchased from supermarkets and pharmacies, either alone or in a combination vitamin and mineral supplement specifically for breastfeeding mothers.
Requirements for calcium, protein and energy are increased whilst breastfeeding. To support this base all meals and some snacks on carbohydrates and ensure at least three servings of food containing good sources of calcium each day, such as dairy foods, tofu or bread or cereals fortified with calcium (e.g. Ready Brek and Hovis ‘Best of Both Bread’).
The British Dietetic Assocation produce a factsheet on calcium. Mothers need around an extra 500 kilocalories per day whilst breastfeeding. Fluid requirements are also increased and mothers should aim for 6-8 drinks daily (1.5 – 2 litres). This fluid includes all drinks but try to keep caffeinated drinks to a minimum as the caffeine passes into breast milk.
Breastfeeding itself stimulates production of milk, and both the quantity and composition of this milk changes as the baby grows to meet their changing requirements. Your baby will be weighed at various intervals by the midwife and the health visitor and good weight gain is the best indication that your baby is getting everything they need. Other good indicators are that baby is settled after feeds and is having plenty of wet and dirty nappies(from day five this will be six wet nappies and two dirty nappies daily).