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Breastfeeding - looking after yourself

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For your baby's and your own sake it is important to take good care of yourself. Rest when you can and don't rush to do all the housework while your baby is sleeping; it will keep. Your partner is an important source of help and support. Encourage and allow him to be involved in baby care.

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Breastfeeding is a very special time for both mother and baby and it is good for the health of babies and their mothers as well. Many mothers who breast feed have some ups and downs at the start, and sometimes even after they get going. Don't give up unless you really want to - there is a lot of help available and most problems can be overcome.

Take care of yourself

You are the most important person to your baby right now. For his or her sake and for your own, make sure you take good care of yourself.

  • Have a rest when you can. Do not rush to do all the housework while your baby is sleeping; it will keep.
  • Your partner is an important source of help and support. Encourage and allow him to be involved in baby care.
  • Accept offers of help and ask for help.
  • Get rest when you can, and gradually start to be more active.
  • As well as your post-natal exercises, try walking in the fresh air. This is good for you and your baby.
  • Get some time out. An occasional short break from baby care helps you feel like a person again, and gives you more energy for your baby when you return.
  • You will need support and encouragement from relatives or friends.
  • You may like to join a new mother's group.
  • Perhaps you could look through the topics on our Pregnancy website 'After the birth - yourself'.

Eating and drinking well

You do not need to eat a lot of extra food or any special foods to make breast milk. However, you will feel better and have more energy if you eat and drink well. Your appetite and thirst will be a good guide.

  • You need to eat at least three times a day.
  • It is normal to put on extra weight while pregnant and you are likely to gradually lose this while breastfeeding. Avoid weight reducing diets though. They may not provide enough energy for you and your baby.
  • If you gain weight after the birth it may mean you are eating too much or the wrong types of food. Regular exercise will help control your weight also.

A guide to eating well

  • Eat a variety of foods each day.
  • Eat plenty of breads and cereals (including some whole grains), rice and pasta.
  • Eat several different vegetables and fruits each day.
  • Eat protein foods every day: meat, fish, chicken, eggs, cheese, legumes (dried peas, beans, lentils).
  • Eat foods containing calcium every day (calcium from your body will go into breastmilk). Milk and dairy products (eg cheese, yoghurt and custards) are the easiest way to get calcium. You can also get calcium from:
    • soymilk that has had calcium added (check the label)
    • tinned fish with bones (salmon, sardines)
    • tofu
    • legumes, almonds, hommus, green vegetables (smaller amounts).
  • Your body needs even more iodine when you are breastfeeding. Try to have two to three serves of ocean fish a week and, if you use salt, use iodised salt.
  • Vegetarians can get all they need by eating a good variety of non-meat foods.
  • Vegans who do not eat any animal foods (milk, cheese or eggs) may have more difficulty. They will need to take Vitamin B12 supplements while pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Make sure that you have plenty to drink. Most mothers like to have a drink (of water, milk, juice, tea or coffee, etc) at each feed time. Drinking more than this will not increase your milk supply.

There is more information about this in What should I eat? Nutrition for pregnancy and breastfeeding (Women's and Children's Hospital South Australia)

Food and your baby

There are many "old wives tales" about foods you should not eat for fear of upsetting your baby.

  • Some mothers find that if they eat a lot of rich or spicy foods, or particular fruits or vegetables, their babies may be upset, but others can eat anything. If you think something is upsetting your baby, stop eating it for a couple of days, then, if your baby has become more settled, try it again if it is a food you like, and see what happens.
  • Rarely, dairy foods in the mother’s diet can cause a reaction in the baby (eg eczema, colic). See the topic Reactions to foods for more about this.
  • If you find you need to avoid several foods from one of the groups listed above, check to be sure that you are still getting all the important nutrients.
  • Don't have too many drinks with caffeine in them (avoid too much strong coffee). See the related topic Breastfeeding - medicines and drugs

Exercise and breastfeeding

  • Regular, moderate exercise is good for your health and it helps you to feel good.
  • Most women can exercise regularly without any effects on breastfeeding.
  • An occasional baby may be fussy at the breast if fed straight after the mother has exercised.
    • This may be due to lactic acid in the milk, which changes the taste of the breast milk but does no harm to the baby, and will disappear in an hour or two.
    • If your baby is fussy when fed soon after you exercise, give her a feed before you exercise.
  • If you have been exercising a lot you may find you need to cut down on exercise to prevent your milk supply from dropping off.
  • Make sure to have plenty of drinks when you are breastfeeding and exercising.

Sex and breastfeeding 

A new mother needs her partner to be patient and sensitive as she recovers from the birth and increases her confidence in breastfeeding. Help from her partner is important for a new mother.

Not all women are ready for sex at the same time after birth. For some women the emotional and physical effort of looking after a baby makes them feel 'out of touch' by the end of a day. Soreness, hormones, lack of time and extreme tiredness are just some of the reasons why some mothers lose interest in sex for a while.

Some mothers experience vaginal dryness while they are breastfeeding. This can make intercourse uncomfortable, but it can be easily overcome by using lubricating products available at supermarkets or pharmacies.

If there are physical symptoms that make sex uncomfortable seek help from your doctor.

Breastfeeding delays the return of a woman's periods, but cannot be relied upon as a form of contraception. If you are returning to sexual activity you should use some form of contraception. A discussion with your doctor or family planning clinic either before the birth or soon after is a good idea to help you choose the method that's best for you both. 

Breasts leaking milk can be an issue for some couples, but others don't have a problem with it. If this is an issue, try feeding and settling the baby just before you have sex.

There is more about sex after babies in the topic New mums.

Hair loss

  • About 3 months after child birth many mothers notice that a lot of their hair is falling out. During pregnancy less hair falls out and the hair is often thicker than usual.
  • After child birth hormone levels change. Many hairs stop growing and fall out about 3 months later.
  • This hair loss is not due to breastfeeding. Stopping breastfeeding will not change the amount of hair lost, or how fast it grows back.
  • Hair loss gradually stops, and thickness returns to normal.

Resources

South Australia

Parent Helpline
- 24 hours a day, every day - Telephone: 1300 364 100

Your local Child and Family Health Centre 1300 733 606 for an appointment (Monday to Friday 9am to 4.30pm)
- see Locations for more information 

Australia

Australian Breastfeeding Association
Helpline 1800 686 2 68 (1800 mum 2 mum) (24 hour service)
http://www.breastfeeding.asn.au   

Book

Child and Family Health Service South Australia, Breastfeeding your baby  

Additional links

Breastfeeding Resources
http://www.cyh.com/SubContent.aspx?p=423

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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).

This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn - please change to suit your child's sex.

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