Eating well while you’re breastfeeding is crucial

Woman eating while breastfeeding

You should be confident you can breastfeed even if your diet is not optimal but eating well while you’re breastfeeding is beneficial for several reasons. Firstly it means you’re passing on plenty of good nutrition to your baby. Secondly, it’s fuel for you– giving you plenty of energy to make it through sleepless nights and bounce back after giving birth. Thirdly, producing breast milk is a continuous process for your body, and this requires around 480-500 calories (approx. 2000 kJ) of extra energy every day if you're exclusively breastfeeding your baby. It's no wonder you may feel extra hungry, so try not to go for too long without food. Rather than eating 3 large meals per day, you may need to swap to 3 meals plus snacks in between to keep you going.

Choose a variety of foods from the four foods groups every day:

1. Fruit and vegetables – Eat at least six servings per day: at least four servings of vegetables and at least two servings of fruit. Whether they’re fresh, frozen or canned they are all excellent sources of vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

2. Bread and cereals (e.g. breakfast cereals, bread, grains, rice, and pasta) - Eat at least seven servings per day, choose wholegrain options for more fiber.

3. Protein-rich foods: lean meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, legumes, nuts, and seeds - Eat at least two servings per day. A great source of protein, zinc, iron, and other minerals. 

4. Milk and dairy products (e.g. milk, cheese, yogurt) – Eat at least three servings per day, choose low or reduced-fat options. These are great sources of calcium and protein.

Water – try to get at least eight glasses of water or other fluids each day. Breastfeeding can make you thirsty! Having a big bottle of water beside you on the couch, or in the bedroom can be a good reminder to drink more. Drinking plenty also helps with healthy bowels.

A daily Iodine tablet - It's recommended that breastfeeding women take a daily iodine tablet for the duration of breastfeeding. This helps make sure you and your baby get enough of this very important nutrient. Generally, the best source of all the other essential vitamins and minerals is a well-balanced diet. If you are concerned you’re not eating well and might be missing out on important nutrients talk to your GP for advice.

Whilst breastfeeding, your body needs extra energy and nutrients. This means eating an extra 480-500 calories (approx. 2000 kJ) per day. In terms of extra food, add in one of the following choices to your usual food intake daily:

  • a large handful of nuts, a large banana, and 2 slices cheese on a few crackers

  • a homemade egg and salad sandwich and a fruit yogurt and an apple

  • a cheese and tomato toasted sandwich, an apple, and a fruit yogurt

  • a large bowl of natural muesli with chopped fruit and nuts, topped with low-fat milk

  • a cup of thick soup (e.g pea and ham) with 2 slices of toast and cottage cheese, and a banana

  • berries, banana, milk and yogurt smoothie, and 2 slices of fruit toast with a little margarine

Keep in mind these are fairly general guidelines, some women won't need to eat as much extra food as others. It all depends on your individual metabolism and whether you are exclusively breastfeeding or not.

A couple of things to watch out for while you’re breastfeeding:

Alcohol – this can pass into your breast milk, so it’s best to avoid it for now.

If you choose to drink alcohol, follow these safety tips.

  • Talk with your doctor before you start drinking alcohol.

  • Wait until your baby is at least 3 months old and has a breastfeeding routine.

  • Drink only in moderation – for women, this means no more than 1 drink a day.

  • Plan ahead for how you’ll feed your baby if he gets hungry. For example, pump (express) some breast milk before having any alcohol.

  • Wait at least 4 hours after having a drink before breastfeeding. If you don't wait that long, alcohol in your blood can pass into your breast milk.

Caffeine – this can affect your baby's feeding, sleeping, and digestion. Limit your intake for now or choose decaffeinated versions of your favorite hot drinks. Breastfeeding women should limit their caffeine intake to a maximum of 300mg per day. This is roughly equivalent to one large long black, or 3 cappuccinos, or 4 cups of plunger coffee, or 6 cups of instant coffee, or 6 cups of tea, or 400g plain chocolate.

Geoffrey Nevine — IT Services and IT Consulting

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