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World Breastfeeding Week: Essential nutrients for lactating mothers

A parent friendly workplace is essential for mothers to continue breastfeeding after returning to work. © Shutterstock

The World Breastfeeding Week is on August 1st and on this occasion, we aim to create awareness about breastfeeding. Read on to know all about the essential nutrients that lactating mothers need to boost their babies' health.

Written by Juhi Kumari |Published : July 30, 2019 7:34 PM IST

On the occasion of World Breastfeeding Week on August 1st, it is important to create awareness about breastfeeding. This is essential for the proper development of your child. It not only helps you nourish your child but also protects them from various illnesses. A mother's milk has a perfect mix of vitamins, fats and essential nutrients. And, this is what your baby needs the most to grow up. Breastfeeding should start within one hour after birth till a baby is about 6 months old, recommends WHO.

Some mothers opt for bottle feeding and this a personal choice. But healthcare professionals across the world recommend breastfeeding, at least for the first six months if not more. It protects your little bundle of joy from allergies, obesity, infections, constipation and many other health related problems.

On the other hand, it can also help you burn off the extra calories that you gained during pregnancy. It helps in the secretion of oxytocin hormone, which is essential for the uterus to return to its pre-pregnancy size. Moreover, it also reduces your risk of developing ovarian and breast cancer. According to some experts, it can also prevent osteoporosis.

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To improve the health of babies around the world, it is important to encourage breastfeeding. To do so, the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) first started a campaign called the World Breastfeeding Week in 1992. Now, UNICEF and WHO, along with their partners, celebrate this week globally every year from August 1 to 7.

Notably, this Breastfeeding Week commemorates the Innocenti Declaration. This declaration was signed on August 1990 by government policy makers, WHO, UNICEF and other organisations to protect, promote and support breastfeeding.

This year, these international bodies and their partners will promote the importance of family-friendly policies to enable breastfeeding. This will help parents nurture and bond with their children in early life. Some of these policies include paid maternity leave for a minimum of 18 weeks and paid paternity leave to encourage shared responsibility of caring for their children on an equal basis. A parent friendly workplace is also essential for mothers to continue breastfeeding after returning to work. Working mothers need access to breastfeeding breaks, a safe, private and a hygienic space for storing breastmilk and breastfeeding. Also, they require affordable childcare.


Breastfeeding is not easy. During this time, a mother needs to nourish both her baby and herself. So, it is important to make smart food choices during this time. There are certain nutrients that are essential for a woman during breastfeeding. Read on to know all about them.


Found in foods like eggs, tuna fish, dark leafy green vegetables, oysters, etc., iron is essential for breastfeeding mothers. It helps in maintaining energy and preventing fatigue. Your body efficiently uses iron from plant sources when they are consumed together with vitamin C, which is found in citrus fruits like oranges, lemon, guava, etc. After four months of delivery, a baby starts growing rapidly. This leads to an expansion of blood volume and decrease in iron stores. Also, if you are not eating enough iron-rich foods, your breast milk will contain only a small amount of iron. So, it is advisable to add iron-rich foods in your daily diet as much as you can.

Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)

It is a type of omega-3 fatty acid, which is essential for the development of the retina and brain of your child. During infancy, the brain develops rapidly and requires optimal levels of DHA, particularly in the frontal and prefrontal areas of the brain. But your child will be able to get the required amount of DHA only when you get it too.

DHA is found in foods like salmon, tuna, eggs, cod liver oil, etc. High concentrations of DHA in breast milk is associated with positive outcomes for baby, says a study published in the journal Nutrients. According to this research, a good amount of DHA can help your child to adjust to changes in the environment. It improves attention scores and memory skills.

The Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Dietary Guidelines recommend that a breastfeeding mother should eat at least 230 to 350 grams of low mercury fish per week to meet her DHA requirement. This can be achieved by eating two seafood meals each week.


Everybody has a storage of calcium in their bones. In case of breastfeeding mothers, the calcium from the bones is rerouted to breast milk if they do not include enough calcium in their diet. Various studies have shown 3 to 5 per cent reduction in a mother's bone mass during breast-feeding. This is most likely due to insufficient intake of calcium from food sources. Therefore, it is advised to breastfeeding mothers to consume 1,000 mg of calcium per day. Some of the foods rich in calcium include milk, yogurt, almonds, whey protein, cheese, etc.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is significant for bone formation. It is required by your body to efficiently absorb calcium. Both mothers and babies need sufficient vitamin D either through diet or supplements. Being out in the sun can help you absorb enough vitamin D. But this is not recommended for babies. So, you need to include foods that contain this vitamin in your diet. Some of these foods include salmon, vitamin D-fortified milk, cheese, egg yolks, tuna, etc.

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