Healthy eating for breastfeeding

Breastfeeding provides the best start for your baby and has many health benefits for you as well. You’re not only giving your baby all the nourishment they need for the first six months of life, you are also giving your baby protection from a variety of infections and illnesses.

Why a healthy diet is important when breastfeeding

The benefits of breastfeeding include giving your baby protection from infections and illnesses, such as gastroenteritis, stomach, ear, chest and kidney infections, as well as allergies.

You benefit too by reducing your risk of developing breast and ovarian cancers and osteoporosis. That’s why it’s important to eat a healthy, balanced diet when you are breastfeeding,

You may feel a bit more hungry and thirsty while breastfeeding. This is common, so make sure you eat lots of healthy snacks and drink extra fluids throughout the day.

Diet does not have a big effect on the amount or quality of your milk. However, it is important to look after yourself to make sure that you stay healthy.

In order to maintain a good milk supply, it’s important that you feed your baby often and that your baby is well attached to your breast. The number of feeds each day can vary a lot but could be around eight to 12 feeds in a 24 hour period. If you’re not sure if your baby is well attached to your breast, ask your midwife or health visitor to check.

What you should eat

Healthy eating during breastfeeding is exactly the same as at any other time. You will need to eat around 500 calories extra each day, but you can easily achieve this by having one or two extra healthy snacks throughout the day.

While breastfeeding, calcium requirements increase significantly, so aim for five to six servings a day to meet the extra demands (1 serving = a glass of milk or pot of yogurt or 25g/1oz of cheese). Milk in sauces, puddings and milky drinks are great ways of getting enough calcium. Lower fat varieties such as semi-skimmed milk, half fat cheddar and low fat yogurts all contain as much calcium as the whole mil alternatives.

Snacking

Whenever you are breastfeeding, you will need an extra 500 calories a day, which you can easily get from one or two extra healthy snacks. See the healthy eating in pregnancy page for a list of healthy snack suggestions.

Important vitamins and minerals

Iron

During breastfeeding, iron requirements do not increase, so eating iron rich foods will usually be enough to provide all the iron you need. If you have suffered from iron deficiency anaemia throughout pregnancy, a supplement may be advisable. Speak to your GP or midwife if you are concerned.

Vitamin C

It is recommended that extra vitamin C is taken during breastfeeding. The extra amount will be provided by an orange or a small glass of orange juice. Citrus fruits, tomatoes, broccoli, blackcurrants and potatoes are important sources of vitamin C. Try to eat some of these foods every day.

Vitamin A

During breastfeeding, requirements for vitamin A increase. However, most people get all the vitamin A they need by eating a varied, balanced diet. Vitamin A deficiency is rare and supplementation is generally not needed.

Vitamin D

During breastfeeding, vitamin D is important for bone development. A deficiency in vitamin D can lead to a condition known as rickets in children. Only a few foods, such as margarine, breakfast cereals and oily fish contain vitamin D, although one of the best ways to get vitamin D is by exposing the skin to sunlight.

Women are recommended to take a 10 milligram supplement of vitamin D each day during breastfeeding. If you receive Income Support or Job Seekers Allowance, you are entitled to free vitamins A, C and D supplements from maternity and child health clinics.

Foods to avoid

While it’s true that some strongly flavoured foods may change the taste of your milk, most babies seem to enjoy a variety of breast milk flavours. Don’t omit foods without speaking to your doctor or midwife, as avoiding certain foods may mean you are not getting all the nutrients you need.

Small amounts of alcohol and caffeine pass into breast milk, so try to limit the amount of tea, coffee and caffeinated soft drinks and alcohol you consume. Caffeine and alcohol may affect your baby’s sleeping, feeding and digestion.

Allergies

If you would like to eat peanuts or foods containing peanuts (such as peanut butter) when breastfeeding, you can choose to do so as part of a healthy balanced diet, unless you are allergic to them or your health professional advises you not to.

More information on breastfeeding

For more information on breastfeeding or breastfeeding issues, visit www.breastfedbabies.org.

A comprehensive booklet, 'Off to a good start: all you need to know about breastfeeding your baby', has been made for mothers in Northern Ireland. It is distributed to women at their antenatal visits.

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