Breastfeeding and healthy eating
breast; feeding; breastfeeding; breastmilk; energy; food; eating; calcium; protein; drinks; cola; coffee; tea; caffeine; alcohol; iodine;
Breastmilk gives your baby the best start in life. When you are breastfeeding your body still needs some extra nutrients. These include energy, protein and calcium. You can get these extra nutrients easily by continuing to choose a variety of foods from the five food groups.
- Bread, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles
- Vegetables, legumes
- Milk, yoghurt, cheese
- Meat, fish, poultry, eggs, nuts, legumes
How much extra energy do I need?
Making breastmilk for your baby uses more energy than at any time in your pregnancy. This means it is a perfect time to work slowly towards your pre-pregnancy weight.
Due to the demands of making milk you may feel hungrier than usual. Choosing healthy snacks is a good way to look after yourself and help keep you and your baby well nourished.
Healthy snack ideas
- Fresh fruit makes a quick and easy snack
- Dried fruit, nuts or seeds
- Cracker biscuits with cheese or spread such as peanut butter
- Fruit bread (try toasted), English muffins, pikelets, rice cakes
- Plain fruit buns
- Milk drinks – try fruit and milk blended together to make a fruit smoothie
- Tub of yoghurt – try blending yoghurt with fruit or fruit juice
Where do I get extra protein from?
Most Australians eat more protein than they need. Vegetarians and women with smaller intakes may need to take extra care and increase the amount of protein in their diet. While breastfeeding choose an extra serve from the meat, fish, poultry, eggs, nuts and legume group. Dairy foods also provide extra protein.
Try to include some protein at each meal:
- Cereal and milk, or toast and peanut butter, or baked beans for breakfast
- Meat, fish, chicken, lentils or legumes with the evening meal
Have protein foods for snacks, eg a handful of nuts and dried fruit, cheese and crackers, biscuits with peanut butter, milk drinks, etc
What about calcium?
You still need extra calcium when you are breastfeeding (just like when you were pregnant). Try to include 3 – 4 serves a day from the milk and milk products group. It may be useful to continue taking a calcium supplement if your intake of milk and milk products is low.
Soy milk with added calcium would be a good choice if you do not drink cow's milk.
Extra iodine is needed when breastfeeding. Iodine requirements when breastfeeding are a little higher than in pregnancy. If you needed to take an iodine supplement while you were pregnant, then it is very likely that you will need to continue this.
Speak with your doctor about taking an iodine supplement or using a pregnancy and breastfeeding multivitamin and mineral supplement that contains iodine.
Do I need extra drinks when breastfeeding?
Most women find they are thirstier than usual while breastfeeding. Drink enough fluid to so that you do not feel thirsty, but there is no need to drink overly large amounts. More fluid does not make more breastmilk.
Choose healthy drinks – either water (which is the best drink when you feel thirsty), milk or juice. Limit tea, coffee, alcohol and sweetened soft drinks.
How do I increase my supply of breastmilk?
Extra fluids or extra foods do not help to make more breastmilk. Milk supply is largely based on how often your baby feeds on the breast. If your baby feeds more often you will make more milk. If your baby feeds less you will make less milk.
Therefore the best way to increase your supply of milk is to feed your baby more often - not eating more food yourself. It will also help if your baby empties one breast before you offer the other.
Is it okay to lose weight while I am breastfeeding?
Most women are keen to return to their pre-pregnancy weight once their baby is born. Breastfeeding can help you do this as it helps to use up fat stores gained during pregnancy.
But avoid crash diets or rapid weight loss. Remember it took nine months to put the weight on so it may take this time (plus extra) to lose it again. So don't rush it!
Very restricted diets may reduce your breastmilk supply and can leave you feeling run down and tired. Instead choose a variety of foods from the five food groups and limit the amount of extra foods (eg cakes, biscuits, fatty foods and alcohol).
Some women find they lose weight too quickly while breastfeeding. If this is the case, try to make sure that you eat regular meals and snacks and don't miss meals.
It is easy to forget about looking after yourself with a new baby, but you will be able to care for your baby better and enjoy motherhood more if you take some time for yourself. Try to plan ahead so that you have suitable snacks and food on hand that can be easily prepared. Make time to sit down and eat – try eating healthy snacks while feeding your baby. Milk drinks are an easy way to get more energy as well as other nutrients.
Should I avoid certain foods?
There are many old wives' tails about foods that should be avoided while breastfeeding as they might 'come through' in the milk. However there is no need to avoid any particular foods.
Some strongly flavoured foods such as curries or cabbage may affect the flavour of the milk slightly but they will do no harm. Most babies accept different flavours well. In fact, babies whose mothers eat a range of different flavours are more likely to accept new flavours themselves when they are introduced to solids - so it can be a positive thing.
Try not to cut out too many foods, or whole food groups from your diet if you are breastfeeding. If you are concerned about your baby reacting to foods in your diet through breastmilk, speak to your doctor or dietitian.
Limit tea, coffee and cola drinks
Some caffeine from tea, coffee and cola drinks will pass into breastmilk but small quantities are not considered harmful. Try to limit your intake to 2-3 cups of tea, coffee or cola a day.
Some babies seem more settled if their mothers cut down on the amount of caffeine that they drink.
What about alcohol?
Alcohol, like most drugs, can pass through to breastmilk to a baby. Not drinking alcohol is the best option, but if you choose to drink it is recommended that you:
- Breastfeed your baby before drinking alcohol
- Limit how much you drink to only a small amount, ie one standard drink
- Wait a few hours before breastfeeding again.
If you choose to drink more than this, or need to feed your baby more often it may be best to feed with previously expressed breastmilk (EBM)
Babies under three months old and premature babies are not able to break down the alcohol in breastmilk as well as older babies.
Avoid drinking large amounts of alcohol at one time (binge drinking).
Some people believe that drinking stout or other alcoholic drinks can increase your milk supply, however this is not true.
The information in this topic comes from the booklet ' What should I eat? Nutrition for pregnancy and breastfeeding' produced by the Nutrition department of the Women's and Children's Hospital South Australia.
The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see your doctor or midwife.