What should you eat when you’re breastfeeding?
The truth is that you don't need to eat any special or different foods while you're breastfeeding. Just do your best to follow a balanced diet, which is a combination of healthy foods.
A balanced diet for nursing mothers includes:
- Starchy foods, such as bread, potato, pasta and rice. Choose wholegrain varieties of cereal-based starchy foods for added nutrients and fiber.
- Some dairy produce, such as a yoghurt or a glass of milk.
- Some protein, such as lean meat, fish, eggs, or pulses.
- Plenty of fruit and vegetables.
When you have a baby there may be times when eating is the last thing on your mind, or you simply forget to eat. But you need to keep up your energy levels when you're a new mother.
Here are some ideas of healthy easy-to-grab, nutritious meals and snacks, such as:
- A homemade sandwich, ideally with some salad added to the filling.
- Carrot or cucumber sticks, or bread-sticks, with hummus.
- Fresh or dried fruit, and unsalted nuts.
- Soups with whole wheat bread.
- Eggs or beans on toast.
- Jacket potatoes.
If you don't have time to fix yourself something, ask someone to make you a snack.
What shouldn't you eat when breastfeeding?
As we mentioned before, you don't need to follow any kind of special diet, as long as you're eating healthily. Your body makes breast-milk just right for your baby each time he feeds. However, traces of what you eat and drink can get into breast-milk. If your baby is sensitive to a particular food, it may affect him.
Some babies react to a protein in cow's milk. Babies and children who are allergic to cow's milk protein tend to show symptoms straight away. Look out for:
- Your baby not feeding well, and not putting on weight.
- Poo problems such as diarrhea or constipation.
- Red itchy lumps (hives) on your baby's body.
- A red itchy rash around your baby's mouth.
- Swollen eyes, face or lips.
- Runny nose.
- Re flux.
If you think that dairy is affecting your baby, talk to your Doctor. Something else may be making your baby unwell, and it's important to look at all possibilities to make sure your baby gets the treatment he needs. Once other causes have been ruled out, your Doctor may ask you to cut out cow's milk products for two weeks to six weeks to see if your baby gets better.
If it's confirmed that your baby has a cow's milk allergy, your Doctor will advise you to stop eating anything with cow's milk protein in it for at least six months, or until your baby is a year old.
It's unlikely that anything you eat or drink while you are breastfeeding causes your baby to have colic.
Colic could be caused by a number of things, such as your baby not being latched on well, or gulping milk too fast and taking in too much air. Colic may also be a developmental phase that some babies go through, so changing your diet won't help.
Some mothers worry about eating peanuts while breastfeeding. In fact, there's no evidence that this makes your baby more likely to develop a peanut allergy. Some research even suggests that continuing to breastfeed while introducing solids may protect your baby against developing food allergies.
If you tend to eat a lot of fish, there are some guidelines to be aware of:
- Don't have more than one portion of swordfish, shark or marlin a week. These types of fish may contain traces of mercury.
- Limit yourself to two portions of fresh oily fish a week. Oily fish includes salmon, mackerel, and fresh tuna.
- Canned tuna is not classed as an oily fish, so you can have as much as you like.
Do you need to drink more water when you’re breastfeeding?
You will be thirstier when you're breastfeeding, so drink enough to satisfy your thirst. Keep a big glass of water next to you when you're feeding.
Your body is very good at keeping your milk supply going, however much or little you drink. So, don't worry that your baby will miss out if you suddenly get thirsty. It's about keeping yourself comfortably hydrated.
If you're worried about whether you're getting enough to drink, check the color of your urine. If it's light-colored, you're getting plenty to drink. If it's dark yellow, or smells strongly, or if you feel lethargic or faint, you may be dehydrated, in which case you should drink more water.
Do you need extra calories when you’re breastfeeding?
You don't need to have extra calories as a new mother, because your body is so efficient at making milk.
Be guided by your appetite and eat when you're hungry. It's normal for your body to lay down fat stores during pregnancy to help you prepare for breastfeeding. Breastfeeding your baby can help to convert these fat stores into energy for making milk.
You may have come across different advice about extra calories when you're breastfeeding. But it's hard to say whether you need extra calories every day, because so much depends on:
- your pre-pregnancy weight
- how much weight you gained during pregnancy
- how active you are
Having said that, breastfeeding usually gives you a big appetite. So, if you don't feel like eating, it could be a sign that you need extra emotional support.
Women who have postnatal depression sometimes lose their appetite. If you're finding it a struggle to eat, talk to your doctor.
Can you lose weight while you’re breastfeeding?
You should be fine to lose weight gradually. Losing about 500g (1lb) to 1kg (2lb) a week shouldn't affect the amount or the quality of milk you make.
Can you drink tea and coffee when you’re breastfeeding?
Try not to have too many caffeinated drinks when you're breastfeeding. This can be tough, especially in the early days when you're exhausted from breastfeeding round the clock.
If your baby seems very unsettled or restless, or finds it difficult to sleep, try cutting back on caffeine, or not having any at all. This may help your baby to settle more easily.
Can you drink alcohol if you’re breastfeeding?
Alcohol passes through your breast-milk to your baby. It could harm your baby if you drink too much alcohol more than once or twice a week. It's always best to be cautious, so you may want to cut out alcohol while you're breastfeeding, especially in the first three months.
Read more about breastfeeding and alcohol.
Can you have herbal remedies if you’re breastfeeding?
You can drink most herbal teas when you are breastfeeding. Herbal teas that use ingredients you might cook with, such as fennel, chamomile and peppermint, are safe to drink. Herbal medicines, however, are a different matter. You shouldn't take them while you are breastfeeding, because we don't know enough about how they affect breast-milk. Always check with your pharmacist or doctor before taking any medication while you're breastfeeding.