Breastfeeding can be physically and emotionally demanding, with a new mum having to be available 24 hours a day to feed her baby – especially during the early weeks when feeding is likely to be frequent.
It’s essential that as a mum, you’re eating and drinking properly to ensure you feel strong and healthy and that your breast milk provides all of the nutrients, vitamins and minerals that your baby needs.
Our guide outlines all the foods you should be eating when breastfeeding, and those you should avoid with some helpful advice from breastfeeding expert Angie Jefferson.
Why is my diet while breastfeeding 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’s 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’s eating, so concentrating on a well-balanced diet is really important.
Foods to eat when breastfeeding
Breastfeeding mums should eat a variation of foods to try and maintain a relatively healthy and balanced diet. Only small amounts of what you’re eating pass through to your milk, but if you’re noticing that your baby seems unsettled it could be that you’re not eating enough or the right things.
If you’re aiming to eat the optimum diet for your breast milk, try and get a mixture of the following food groups:
Fruit and vegetables
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 new mums 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.
Foods to avoid when breastfeeding
Although there are some obvious foods and drinks to avoid when breastfeeding, largely you’ll notice what works best for your baby. If you notice that your baby becomes fussier after you eat certain foods keep taking a break and testing out what works best. Your baby will usually feel the affects of what you’ve eaten or drank two to six hours after consumption.
You don’t need to avoid eating all fish, but particular fish have a high mercury content which is not good for your baby. Try not to eat more than one portion of tuna, marlin or swordfish each week.
Although having your usual morning coffee is fine, any more than one or two a day will increase the caffeine level in your milk and is most likely to affect your baby. You can expect them to start having disturbed sleep and becoming more fussy as an affect of the caffeine. Remember that caffeine isn’t just found in coffee and tea, you could be consuming it without realising in sodas, herbal teas or painkillers.
Drinking alcohol isn’t advised while you are breastfeeding. Any more than one drink and the alcohol level in your milk will increase which can be harmful to your baby. If you do want to drink, wait two hours per glass before breastfeeding again.
Although there is no factual evidence that babies react badly to spices, it has been noted by many mums that their children tend to be fussier after they have eaten spices such as cinnamon, garlic, curry and chilli powder. The best thing to do is test this out for yourself and see how your little one reacts.
Some new mums say that eating particularly citrusy fruits like oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruit tend to unsettle their babies. This can be because your babies GI tract is immature and finds the citric acid irritating, causing them to spit up or even get a diaper rash.
If there is a history of nut allergies in your family it’s better to be safe and not eat nuts before nursing your baby in case they have an allergic reaction to them.
Parsley or peppermint
Parsley and peppermint, although seem pretty harmless, have the potential to reduce your milk supply. Watch out for dips or intensely flavoured foods with these herbs as they could create a problem for milk production.
Sorry about this one! As much as we love chocolate, babies tend not to. There’s a few different ingredients that act as culprits, from the caffeine to the dairy content, but some mothers find that it t can unsettle their babies and even act as a laxative.
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.