The good news is that you don’t need to stick to a special diet when you are breastfeeding. Just make sure that you are eating a good balanced diet, drinking plenty of fluids and avoiding a small number of things that may get into your breast milk (see below).
Although breastfeeding requires an extra 500 calories a day and more fluids, you do not have to force yourself to eat and drink in order to maintain an adequate milk supply. You may find that you are very thirsty at the beginning of the breastfeed. This is thought to be stimulated by the hormone oxytocin, which is produced by breastfeeding mums. It’s a good idea to have a big glass of water to hand when you breastfeed your baby to slake this sometimes huge thirst.
When it comes to food, you should stick to a standard healthy diet:
- Five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables a day (but only one portion should come from fruit juice as it has little fibre and lots of sugar)
- Lots of protein from lean meat (including chicken) and oily fish (aim for one to two portions per week – but don’t eat more than one portion per week of high-mercury fish like marlin, swordfish and shark). Lentils are also good for protein
- Slow-release carbohydrates from brown rice, wholemeal pasta and bread, and high-fibre crackers (try to avoid highly-refined breakfast cereals as they often contains lots of sugar, which can cause big surges and drops in your blood sugar)
- Dairy foods such as milk, cheese and yoghurt. These contain calcium for your baby’s bones but you also need to include vitamin D in your diet (see below)
Vitamin D supplement
If you live in the UK you may not get adequate levels of vitamin D from the sun between October and March (and it is not possible to get everything you need from food). Vitamin D is important for your baby’s growth and development so you should take a supplement containing 10 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin D each day.
Vitamins and minerals
It is possible to get the other vitamins and minerals you need from eating a good balanced diet but if you are concerned there is no harm in taking a multivitamin for breastfeeding women.
Speak to your health visitor or GP about vitamin D as some mums may be eligible for free vitamins as part of the Healthy Start programme.
Quick snacks for busy breastfeeding mums:
- An omelette with grated cheese or mushrooms
- Sardines on toast
- Baked potato (put it in the oven an hour before lunch) with baked beans
- Houmous or roasted aubergine dip with carrot sticks
- Poached salmon in the microwave
- Make a big batch of homemade soup with lentils and freeze it in portions to have with toast
Foods to avoid
Some foods and medicines can pass into your breast milk. If would like advice on safe medicines to use while nursing contact The Breastfeeding Network for advice.
If you see a pattern in your baby being very unsettled after you have eaten a certain food or drink talk to your health visitor or a breastfeeding counsellor at your local drop-in clinic. It may be a coincidence but keeping a food diary can help.
High-sugar foods and drinks
Avoiding high-sugar foods and drinks (chocolate, cola and so on) is a good idea for everyone and especially for busy new mums. While they may give you a temporary burst of energy this will often be followed by an energy low leaving you more tired than you were before.
Caffeine can pass into your breast milk and act as a stimulant to your baby. You may want to limit the amount of hot and cold drinks with caffeine during the day (caffeine is also in chocolate and some medicines). In the US, it’s recommended that breastfeeding mums have no more than two coffees or fizzy drinks containing caffeine per day. Drinks containing caffeine can affect your baby and may keep them awake. When your baby is young, drink caffeinated drinks occasionally rather than every day.
Peanuts are not listed by the Department of Health as a food to avoid when breastfeeding. But if you have concerns or a family history of allergies, speak to a GP or paediatric allergy specialist.
Small amounts of alcohol can pass into your breast milk. An occasional drink isn’t thought to harm your baby but it is best to limit alcohol drinks to fewer than two units a week. If you have established breastfeeding and your baby is able to also take a bottle you can express milk for your baby ahead of a special occasion. All parents need to avoid being drunk when caring for a baby and should not share a bed or fall asleep with their baby.
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