Eating healthily and regularly is one of the best ways of looking after yourself and your baby. Dietitian Frankie Phillips explains how to eat well for breastfeeding.
Everyone wants to give their baby the best start in life, and breastfeeding is one way of helping to achieve this. Starting from the beginning, a new mother’s body produces all of the nourishment her little one needs. Newborn babies bring a lot of upheaval, and in taking care of all of your child's needs, it's easy to forget that you need to look after yourself too, both physically and emotionally. In this respect, making sure you eat well is a great place to start.
Why does breastfeeding make me so hungry?
Despite the myth of eating for two in pregnancy, only an extra 200 calories per day are needed in the last three months of pregnancy. Compare this to the estimated 330 calories per day used up by breastfeeding – that's the equivalent of running a couple of miles! While a new mum’s body can use up the stores of energy in the fat deposits laid down during pregnancy, eating a bit extra can still mean helping to ease off the baby weight, but it’s best to ensure a good healthy balance of nutrient-rich foods. When exhaustion and sleep deprivation kick in, eating well is one of the things that can help get you through.
Healthy eating for breastfeeding mums
General healthy eating advice, based on the Eatwell Guide, is a good place to start planning as this will help to ensure that you're getting the essential nutrients your body needs. Stores of nutrients will be used up to ensure that the baby’s milk is kept at its best, so nursing mothers need to ensure they replenish those nutrients. Here are some of our favourite quick and healthy meals:
- Bircher muesli with apple & banana
- Green fritters
- Porridge with blueberry compote
- Cinnamon porridge with banana & berries
- Healthy breakfast recipes
- Carrot & hummus roll-ups
- Smoked trout & cucumber open sandwiches
- Spicy tuna & cottage cheese jacket
- Courgette, potato & cheddar soup
- All our healthy lunch recipes
- Spanish meatball & butter bean stew
- Smoky hake, beans & greens
- Red lentil & squash dhal
- Tex-Mex beans on toast
- All of our healthy recipes
Getting enough fluid is vitally important when breastfeeding as it ensures a good milk supply. Many mums find that breastfeeding makes them thirsty, and dehydration saps precious energy, so having a drink each time you sit down to feed is a good idea. Water is probably the easiest and best choice, but low-fat milk and even unsweetened tea or coffee (being careful of the amount of caffeine you have) are all good choices. Don’t forget a drink of water by the bedside for night-time feeding.
Some mums find that they have an increased appetite, so make sure that healthy snacks are close to hand. Fresh fruit, dried fruits (like apricots, figs and prunes), breakfast cereal with milk, toast or oatcakes are all ideal and quick.
There’s no need to buy expensive supplements when breastfeeding, but a vitamin D supplement is advised. Some people can get these free via NHS Healthy Start. Just ask your midwife or health visitor.
Should I avoid any foods when breastfeeding?
The good news is that a lot of the foods that were off limits in pregnancy can now be eaten again – so pâté and blue cheese are back on the menu. No foods are completely off limits when breastfeeding, but some come with a note of caution...
Despite granny’s advice, sadly a bottle of stout won’t enhance milk supply, and there's some evidence that shows that regularly drinking more than two units of alcohol daily may affect a baby’s development. However, an occasional alcoholic drink is unlikely to do any harm, so don’t worry about having the odd glass of wine. As alcohol passes into breast milk and affects its taste and smell, a baby’s feeding might be affected. Avoid this by feeding two to three hours after drinking alcohol or expressing milk before drinking alcohol.
While breastfeeding, it’s best to limit caffeine to 200mg per day. A mug of tea contains around 75mg, filter coffee 140mg and a can of cola (including diet) 40mg. Caffeine passes into breast milk and, while it’s not harmful, it can make some babies restless, so it might be worth switching to decaffeinated varieties.
All adults should aim to eat around two portions of fish each week. Oily fish is fantastic for providing omega-3 fats, which are essential for a baby’s development, but when breastfeeding, aim for no more than two portions per week of oily fish, such as mackerel, salmon and sardines. It's probably unlikely that shark makes up a big part of your daily diet, but the NHS does recommend avoiding shark, marlin and swordfish as they can be high in mercury and other contaminants - if you can't resist these fish completely then they should be eaten no more than once per week.
Dispelling some myths
Old wives' tales abound when breastfeeding, but few have any evidence. While some herbs such as fenugreek are reported to help milk supply, others such as parsley are thought to stop milk. In fact, there’s little evidence for either, so using culinary herbs is fine. Spices are also safe, although they can transfer flavours to milk, making some babies fussy.
Some foods, such as cabbage, beans and sprouts might affect an infant's gut, making them more windy and potentially uncomfortable. If you enjoy eating these foods, they're fine, but try limiting them for a couple of days if they seem to provoke a reaction. Overall, there's no evidence that a mother's diet causes colic in breastfed children.
Finally, peanuts, including peanut butter, are safe to eat and won’t make baby at greater risk of developing a peanut allergy. Peanut butter on oatcakes is a great nutrient-rich, energy-boosting snack!
Do you have any tips for eating well with a newborn? We'd love to hear from you below...
This article was last reviewed on 7th October 2019 by Frankie Phillips.
Dr Frankie Phillips is a registered dietitian and public health nutritionist specialising in infant and toddler nutrition with over 20 years' experience.
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