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Breastfeeding Moms: What are you eating?

Auntie Molli shares her knowledge on what food is best for you and your baby.

Breastfeeding mothers are the sole source of nutrition for their young infant. Therefore a healthy and well balanced diet is important to ensure that what you eat gives your baby the best start in life. Breast milk has unique antibodies that help prevent numerous acute and chronic illnesses in babies. Breastfeeding mothers should consume nutritiously well-balanced foods similar to a pregnancy diet. Good nutrition is very important when you are nursing to maintain your own health and energy levels.


Breastfeeding mothers need plenty of nutrient-rich foods and fluids to maintain their stamina while producing milk. Typically, a breastfeeding mother would need an additional 500 kcal per day. This extra requirement can be met by healthy snacks such as sandwiches, dried fruit, milk, homemade popcorn, nuts and fresh fruit in between meals. You should eat sensibly and not try to lose weight drastically post birth. When you breastfeed, the fat stores you accumulated during pregnancy will be utilised during milk production. Most breastfeeding mothers are able to get back to their pre-pregnancy weight as long as they do not over eat.

Crash or fad diets are not recommended, as these diets do not provide balanced nutrition for you and your baby. An ideal diet is balanced and varied, with a focus on ensuring that all-important nutrients are accounted for. A well balanced diet should consist of the food categories below:

Variety of cereal and grains

Cereals and grains provide the much needed carbohydrates for nursing mothers. Choose whole grain for the additional benefit of fiber and minerals. You can experiment choosing whole grain products by having brown rice porridge, fried brown rice, whole grain pasta and whole wheat breads or chapattis.


Nursing mothers need an additional 20 grams of protein per day. Proteins are vital for healthy body tissues. Include portions of lean meat, eggs, fish, dairy, lentils, and beans in your main meals. Fish is also a good source of proten iand essential fatty acids. However breastfeeding mothers should limit their consumption of large fish such as swordfish and king mackerel, as these large fish may accumulate heavy metals such as mercury. Choose oily fish such as salmon, herring and anchovies for the extra boost of omega 3 fatty acids, critical for proper development of the baby’s brain and nervous system.

Fresh vegetables and fruits

Aim to have 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. Meet your requirements for this category by adding on fruits with your breakfast or have power-packed smoothies made out of fruits and veggies to start your day. Aim to have 2 types of vegetables with your main meal. In Malaysia, certain confinement practices may limit you from having certain types of ‘cold’ fruits and vegetables. It is important that you find substitutes for these as the elimination of this food group robs you of vital nutrients. For example, if your confinement practice prohibits you from consuming kangkung (Watercress), substitute it with mustard leaves or another green leafy vegetable.

Dairy products

I’ve had many mothers ask me if they “need to drink milk in order to produce milk” for their baby. The answer is no, you do not. Nevertheless, during lactation, your intake of dairy products is important as a source of calcium and protein. Aim to have 3-4 servings of dairy products such as milk, cheese and yogurt. For milk, choose fat free, skim or low fat versions instead of the full fat variety. If you are allergic to dairy products, talk to your dietitian about suitable substitutes. Your dietitian may advise you to include nuts, soymilk, seaweed and tofu as a substitute.


Small quantities of fat are needed in the daily diet. Choose unsaturated fats from vegetable oils, nuts and seeds.


Breastfeeding mothers will find themselves often thirsty and wanting to drink more fluids. However, some Malaysian confinement practices may limit the fluid intake of a new mother, which can result in dehydration. There is no need to force yourself to drink more, just use your natural thirst as a cue. Fluids are inclusive of low fat or fat free milk, fresh juices, soups and broths. Do ensure that you keep fluids available in your favourite breastfeeding spot and make it a habit to drink a glass of fluid or water after each breastfeeding session to ensure you stay well hydrated.

Other Precautions

Nursing mothers can safely consume any food they like. Certain foods flavour breast milk but it doesn’t affect most babies. If you notice that your baby is fussy or reacts in unusual way to breast milk after you have eaten something different, the best thing to do is to avoid that particular food for a period of time and try it again at a later date to see if the response is the same. Seek professional advice to determine whether your baby has any food sensitivities.

    Nutrition Tips for Breastfeeding mothers

  • Eat and drink using hunger and thirst as your cue
  • Avoid using supplements in mega-doses
  • Have variety in daily diet
  • Ensure good intake of fruits and vegetables
  • Choose whole grain food

Alcohol does pass freely into breast milk. As a general rule, it takes 2 hours for an average woman to get rid of alcohol from 1 standard drink. Alcohol may decrease the flow of your milk. If you intend to drink alcohol during confinement period, discuss it with your dietitian. It is best to avoid alcohol in the first month until your breastfeeding pattern is established. Ideally, plan your alcohol intake so that your breast milk will have as little alcohol as possible. Once you have established your breastfeeding pattern, try to leave a few hours in between drinking and breastfeeds so that your baby gets only a small amount. However, alcohol used in cooking is allowed as it evaporates during the cooking process.


Being vegetarian does not hinder you from breastfeeding successfully. A well-planned vegetarian diet can provide good quality nutrition. Do ensure that you include beans, nuts and legumes for added proteins, fortified food and soya beans to provide some vitamin B12. For vegetarian mothers whom do not consume dairy products, you can fulfil your calcium requirement through food such as tofu, almonds, sesame seed paste, bok choy and spinach. Iron requirement can be met by consuming fortified cereals, dried fruits, legumes and dark leafy vegetables. Do note that you should consume these foods with vitamin C enriched food such as fruits to aid absorption of iron. The need of extra supplementation depends on type of vegetarian diet and restriction of food categories. If you are worried that you are not getting adequate nutrients through your food, do discuss your concerns with your dietitian. Do not take any over-the-counter medication or supplements without the guide from your doctor and dietitian.

Being new mom is exciting and absorbing and this may hinder you from looking after yourself well. However, one of the best gifts you can give yourself is to eat healthily and have a varied nutritious diet so that you can be the best mom you can be. Follow the diet best suited to you. Remember, it does not need to be complicated and you do not need to be eating unusual foods in large quantities.

The content was originally published at Stemlife Regen Magazine on July 2012.

Author : Auntie Molli | Guest Featured Writer
Ms. Kanimolli Arasu is a dietitian and a graduate of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. She advises women of all cultures and ages on the right nutrition and food intake to ensure optimal health from pregnancy to motherhood.


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