Breastfeeding diet: What to eat

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It's easy to find advice for what to eat when you're pregnant, but many new mums forget that it's also important to make sure you eat the right foods, once their baby is born and they're breastfeeding.

We spoke to dietitian Angie Jefferson and consultant to Pregnacare, who gave us these tips on making sure a mum's breast milk flows properly.

Why your breastfeeding diet is important

The nutritional needs of infants are high - in the first year a baby will triple its birth weight and increase its length by 50%, so it is important that the food a baby receives contains sufficient nutrients to meet its high demands.

Breast milk not only provides complete nutrition for the first 6 months of life, but also mirrors how healthy the mother is and the diet she is eating, so concentrating on a well balanced diet is really important.

What you should eat

The Food Standards Agency advises breastfeeding women to eat a variety
of foods.

One of the most important food groups to make sure you're getting plenty of is fruit and vegetables (fresh, frozen, tinned, dried or a glass of juice). Aim for at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables a day, and eight if you can manage it, to maximise all those lovely nutrients.

Starchy foods such as bread, pasta, rice and potatoes will give the extra energy women require. Try to opt for wholegrain options as they will sustain you longer and avoid the sharp blood sugar spikes and crashes that white varieties tend to lead to.

Plenty of fibre, found in wholegrain bread and breakfast cereals, pasta, rice, pulses (such as beans and lentils), fruit and vegetables, is also important. After childbirth, some women experience bowel problems and find constipation particularly painful, but fibre helps with both of these.

Next up? Protein. Sources such as lean meat, chicken, fish, eggs and pulses are all good for breastfeeding mothers. If you can manage it it's also good to include some oily fish at least twice a week to keep your diet balanced.

Finally, dairy foods, such as milk, cheese and yogurt contain calcium and are a useful source of protein. So make sure you're getting plenty of this group too.

What you should drink

It's really important to drink enough fluid to make sure you don't get dehydrated, which can cause headaches and fatigue. Try to aim for at least 6 to 8 glasses of water a day.

It's also worth drinking an extra glass of water, milk or fruit juice every time you breastfeed to help keep you topped up and feeling your best.

More breastfeeding diet tips

  • Take a 10mcg vitamin D supplement daily
  • Avoid eating more than one portion of shark, marlin or swordfish each week due to their high mercury content
  • Continue to avoid eating peanuts and products containing them if there is a history of allergy in the family
  • Limit intake of caffeine and alcohol.

  • Balancing your breastfeeding diet around your time

    A mum has to be available 24 hours a day to feed the baby, especially during the early weeks while feeding is likely to be frequent. This is exhausting and so it is important that mum receives a lot of encouragement, support and adequate time to rest during these first few weeks.

    If a mum eats and drinks properly, her breast milk should provide all of the nutrients, vitamins and minerals that the baby needs. If you have family and friends around make sure to ask for their help around mealtimes. Meal prep can also be a life savior. Try to rustle up a big batch of something while your baby is napping to see you through a few days.

    Getting enough vitamins while breastfeeding

    If a mum hasn't taken in enough vitamins and minerals during pregnancy, (which is common in the UK) she will be having to build them up again and supply them for breast milk, so needs may be higher than anticipated. Regular and continued use of a one-a-day multivitamin and mineral supplement which is suitable for breastfeeding is definitely a good idea for many women.

    Your baby's growth

    Lots of women who choose to breastfeed worry about whether they will supply the baby with enough milk, because they cannot see or measure how much the baby is getting.

    A small dip in birth weight is perfectly normal and your baby will put the weight back on.

    A woman's ability to produce milk far outweighs the volume the baby is likely to consume. A baby that is happy and gaining weight, then there's nothing to worry about.

    Continued below...

    If you have any concerns about whether your baby is getting enough milk or about breastfeeding in general, then make sure you talk to your local health visitor or doctor before you give up and resort to bottle feeding.

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