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Important Nutrient Needs of a Mother during Lactation

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Like pregnancy, adequate nutrition for the mother during breastfeeding is also of vital importance.

Monday, March 6th, 2017

As your nutritional needs increase when you are breastfeeding, you need to follow a diet that is well balanced and rich in nutrients.

You should exclusively breastfeed your baby till 6 months. The quality of the milk depends on your diet. Therefore if you do not eat a balanced diet, you are likely to drawnutrientreserves from your body to meet the lactation needs of your baby.

Nutritional requirements of a mother.

The recommendations of a breastfeeding mother for various nutrients is given on the basis of the composition of breast milk and the milk secretion of the mother. The milk secretion continues to increase in the early periods of lactation, reaching to a maximum by about 6 months. The lactation period thus has been divided into two i.e 0-6 months and 6-12 months of lactation.  The various nutrients required by you during breastfeeding are as follows:


The major source of energy in the average Indian diet isprovided by carbohydrates. Theyaccount for about 55-65% of the total energy intake. Lactating mothers need additional energy for the production of milk. Considering the energy requirement for appropriate breast milk production and feeding and the need for recovery, the daily additional energy requirement of a lactating mother for the first 6 months is 600 kcal and for partial breast feeding during 7-12 months, is approximately 520 kcal.

Carbohydrates range from simple sugars to complex carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates (monosaccharides like table sugar, refined flour or maidaetc) are easily digestible and absorbable bythe bodyand give out energy very easily. While, complex carbohydrates like whole wheat, fruits and vegetablestake time to digest and form the part of dietary fibre.


During lactation, protein is secreted in milk per day. So, considering the amount of protein required for milk production and the requirement of your own body, the additional protein needed for a lactating mother has been set at 18gm/ day from 0-6 months and 13 gm/day from 6-12 months.Along with the quantity of protein you take, it is also very important to keep in mind the quality of protein that you are consuming. A good quality protein is one which supplies all the essential amino acids required by your body to function and to produce good quality breast milk. This provides the baby with all the essential amino acids required for her growth and development.

Milk and milk products like curd,paneeretc should definitely be consumed daily to keep your good quality protein intake high.  Pulses are also a good source of proteins that can be included in the diet. Non vegetarian foods like eggs, lean meats, fish and poultry also give you good quality proteins. For vegetarians, a combination of cereal pulse is the easiest form in which you can ensure the intake of full amino acid profile.


Fats have a very high calorific value as compared to carbohydrates and proteins. 1 gram of fat provides you with 9 kcal of energy.Fat also provides taste and also enhances the palatability of a food. Though they are the main sources of energy, however, the type of fat you consume should be considered. However, fatty acids perform major critical roles in the human body and essential fatty acids like EPA and DHA have specific crucial roles in the growth and development of infants. DHA needs of the baby are met through the breast milk. DHA content of the human milk is atleast 30 times of the milk of other mammals.

The DHA requirement of the nursing mother can be further improved by giving adequate supplements and a diet rich in DHA.Seafood is the richest source of DHA. Although no specific vegetarian sources of DHA have been recognized, the sources of linoleic acid (the precursor of DHA) can help in building DHA levels It is found in walnuts, mustard seeds, mustard oil, olive oil, flax seeds, fenugreek ( methi) seeds, kidney beans, soya bean and canola oil.   Common dietary sources include eggs, meat and fish. DHA is also found in smaller amounts in green leafy vegetables.

A lactating mother should consume fat so as to provide 20 % of total energy intakethat equates to 30 gm of visible fat each day. However the type of visible fat consumed should be largely from the sources of MUFA’s &PUFA’s and some amount of SFA’s.


Additional calcium is required for breast milk secretion and you need about 1200 mg of calcium every day. The additional intake of calcium is essential to enable retention of the extra calcium daily.  The recommendations cover both the calcium needs of you and your baby.

Calcium needs can be met by adequate intake of milk and milk products like curd, paneer etc. Cereals, pulses, green leafy vegetables make low but useful contribution to dietary intake of calcium.

Iron requirements during breastfeeding is the sum of the requirements of the mother and that required to make up the iron secreted in breast milk. You require about 21 mg of iron per day to fulfill your nutritional requirements.

You can get iron from seafood, meat, pulses like soyabean, peas, lentils and cereal grains. You should also increase vitamin C sources like citrus fruits like oranges, lemon, lime etc as it helps in better absorption of iron in the body.


Your baby gets vitamin A from your milk. Vitamin A is essential for your baby’s vision and a wide variety of metabolic functions. Vitamin A can be stored in the liver and used when the need arises. The additional intake of 350 mcg per day is required during lactation.

Vitamin A can be found as beta carotene in vegetarian sources and as retinol in non vegetarian sources, Retinol is better absorbed by the body and unlike beta carotene does not go through any change in the body. Beta carotene sources of vitamin A are green leafy vegetables, yellow and orange fruits and vegetables whereas retinol sources include milk and milk products, egg, meat, liver , fish etc.

Vitamin C has a very important role of play in the body. Along with aiding iron absorption, vitamin C helps build immunity, collagen formation etc.

Vitamin C in the diet can be obtained from citrus fruits like oranges, lemon, lime, other fruits and vegetables also contain vitamin C etc.

Tips to ensure healthy nutrition.

BALANCE YOUR PLATE:The food that a lactating mother consumes should be well balanced and comprise of all the major food groups, fulfilling the requirements of all the nutrients. Include more of dietary fibre as it will help your digestive system and also boost your heart health.

Increase your water intake : Water is a major constituent of breast milk. So water intake should be high for a lactating mother. Make sure to consume at least 10-12 glasses of water each day. You can keep your beverage intake highby including liquids like chaach, lime water, juices, soups, lassi, coconut water etc.

INCLUDE GALACTOGOGUES:Theseare foods that help you in producing the milk efficiently to fulfill the needs of your baby. Examples of such foods are fenugreek seeds, fennel seeds etc. You should include them in your as ingredients in your diet as well. ( LINK TO THE ARTICLE ON GALACTOGOGUES).

CHANGE YOUR MEAL PATTERN:You should aim at consuming 3

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