Parenting

Diet dos and don’ts for breastfeeding – advice from a midwife on what your body needs


Breastfeeding can really take if out of you – pun intended (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

It’s no secret that there are lots of benefits to breastfeeding your baby, but it can also take its own toll on you.

Not only do you burn more calories when you’re breastfeeding, but you also need to make sure you’re getting enough fluids to replenish what you’ve lost and enough key nutrients in your diet.

That’s why Marley Hall, a registered midwife and an ambassador for breastfeeding brand Lansinoh, has put together answers to common questions regarding breastfeeding and diet.

How many calories should you have while breastfeeding?

Since you burn more calories when you breastfeed, you need to ensure you consume more calories as well.

Marley said: ‘The general recommendation for calorie intake during lactation is an additional 450 to 500 calories per day, compared with the number of calories you were consuming before pregnancy.

‘It’s important during this time that mums eat a balanced diet, including:

  • Fruits and vegetables – aiming for five portions each day
  • Starchy foods
  • Protein
  • Dairy
  • Healthy snacks

‘Your healthcare professional may recommend that you continue to take your prenatal multivitamin supplement while you are breastfeeding.’

However, she added that you shouldn’t feel as though you’re forcing yourself to eat, explaining: ‘When you’re in the postnatal period and are breastfeeding, it’s natural to feel a lot hungrier and you will find that you do want to eat more – it shouldn’t feel forced.

‘You’ll find that if you don’t consume these extra calories, you may end up feeling more lethargic and your breast milk supply can go down. So it’s important to ensure you’re adequately nourished whilst breastfeeding.’

It’s generally recommended that you consume 450-500 more calories on a daily basis (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

How much water should you drink when you’re breastfeeding?

You also shouldn’t forget to keep your fluid levels up – you are giving up a lot of liquid after all.

Marley said: ‘As you’ll be feeding baby on average 710 millilitres of milk in 24 hours, this fluid needs to be replenished. 

‘It’s recommended that you drink around 3 litres of water per day.

‘This will help ensure that your body is getting sufficient fluid to produce enough milk for your baby.’

What foods should you eat while breastfeeding?

A balanced diet is always important, but it’s important to remember that you’re still technically eating for two while you breastfeed.

It’s recommended that you try to eat a healthy, balanced and nutritious diet when you’re breastfeeding to keep your body fuelled and also to help you provide enough milk for baby,’ said Marley.

‘Starchy foods like wholemeal bread, pasta and potatoes are good carbohydrates to introduce to your diet to keep your energy levels up.

‘It’s also advised that you eat lean meat, particularly fish or white meat such as chicken, as well as lots of fruit and vegetables.

‘Ensuring a balanced and healthy diet will support you and your baby’s nutritional needs.’

Remember, you’re still eating for two (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

There are also key nutrients that you should be mindful of when thinking about what to eat.

According to Marley, these include:

  • DHA: Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) supports healthy infant growth and development in terms of brain and eye health. Recent research suggests it may also help to decrease the development of childhood food allergies, such as egg and peanut. Additionally, research suggests there is a link between DHA levels and better sleep. DHA can be found in prenatal supplements as well as in fish, such as salmon.
  • Vitamin A: Your vitamin A intake needs to increase when breastfeeding. Vitamin A is important for visual health and immunity. During pregnancy, it’s important for foetal growth and development. Food sources of Vitamin A include yellow fruits and vegetables, eggs, fortified dairy, and dark green leafy vegetables like broccoli and spinach.
  • Iron: You need less iron while breastfeeding than you do when pregnant, but this nutrient is still important, especially for those who are vegetarian or vegan. Lacking in iron can lead to increased levels of tiredness and low energy, and as a new mum, keeping those levels of energy up is really important. Iron can be found in dietary supplements, and in foods such as red meat and dark green leafy vegetables like spinach and legumes.
  • Vitamin D: Breastfeeding women are more at risk of Vitamin D deficiency. 90% of the body’s Vitamin D is formed in the skin with the help of sunlight, meaning getting the right amount of Vitamin D from your food alone can be quite tricky. Because of this, your GP or health visitor can advise you on Vitamin D supplements to help boost your intake.
  • Choline: Research suggests that choline may also be important for infant brain development in pregnancy and breastfeeding. Plant-based sources of choline include cruciferous vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.’

What foods should you avoid while breastfeeding?

Marley said you don’t need to worry about cutting things out of your diet completely when you’re breastfeeding, but there are some things you should be careful with, including:

  • Oily fish: Fish is a great source of nutrients for both mum and baby. However, there can be certain toxins in oily fish that can be harmful. Because of this, it’s advised that you don’t have more than two portions of oily fish a week.
    ‘The Department of Health advises a limit on oily fish for women because it can contain low levels of pollutants that can build up in the body.
  • Caffeine: Too much caffeine while breastfeeding can keep your baby awake, or make them unusually fussy, so it is better to limit the number of drinks you have containing caffeine.
    ‘As caffeine does pass through breast milk, the UK National Health Service recommends less than 200 mg caffeine per day for breastfeeding or pumping women – this tends to equate to about two cups of coffee.
  • Alcohol: Alcohol passes to breastfed babies in very small amounts, and it is unlikely that having an occasional drink will harm your baby. 
    ‘However, it is sensible to drink very little (no more than one or two units once or twice a week) when you are breastfeeding.’

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