Ask the experts: Breastfeeding and salt
Q: “Why am I craving salt? I am breastfeeding my third child, who is three months old. We have a balanced diet and we live rurally so we eat very little processed food or takeaways. I have also increased the omega-3 fat content of my diet for the last six months to help ward off postnatal depression. Would this have an effect on my desire for salt? What does a salt craving mean and what can I eat to help reduce it?”
A: Dietitian Amanda Johnson responds:
“Cravings are certainly common during pregnancy and can sometimes persist after the birth. The exact cause is unknown but hormonal changes may be a factor. Salty foods are one group of foods often craved, but I am not aware of any link between intake of omega-3 fatty acids and a craving for salt.
In terms of what you should eat when breastfeeding, it’s great that you are having a balanced diet as it is very important to ensure you are consuming a wide range of nutrients. It is also important to have enough energy; the average extra daily energy requirement for a mother fully breastfeeding her baby is 2000-2100kJ (476-500 cals).
Aim to include at least seven servings a day of breads and cereals – preferably whole grain varieties – and at least two servings of fruit and four servings of vegetables each day. Foods that provide iron (e.g. lean meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, nuts and seeds, and legumes) are also important. The same is true of foods that provide calcium such as milk and milk products (yoghurt, cheese and fromage frais), remembering to go for lower-fat versions. In general, it’s a good idea to choose foods that have minimal fat and are low in sugar and salt.
Also, make sure you have an adequate iodine intake while breastfeeding for the optimal development of your baby: include foods such as low-fat milk products, eggs, fish and seafood, and seaweed, and when you do use salt, use iodised.
Finally, remember to drink plenty of fluids. As a rough guide, aim for 10 cups per day; having a drink with each breastfeed is a useful guide. It’s also a good idea to enjoy regular moderate physical activity, such as walking with your baby.”