Breastfeeding your baby gives them the best nourishment they will probably ever have in their lifetime. It’s a unique food that is tailored to your babies stage and growth needs. However, mothers often worry if the food they’re eating is negatively impacting the milk they produce. Lets begin by allaying those fears. Regardless of what you eat, your body will the prioritise the production of high quality breastmilk for your baby. There is no need to avoid any specific foods.
What foods should I eat?
- Eat to your appetite. Although research has show that you many need more calories or energy, following your body’s hunger signals are the best guide. Anyone who has breastfed a baby will tell you of the intense hunger pangs it can induce and it’s important not to ignore these.
- Avoid skipping meals. Try to have quick and simple snacks that will give you energy & strength. e.g. fruit, yoghurt, cheese & crackers, nuts, dried fruit, breakfast cereals, baked beans on toast, soups or a glass of milk.
- Eat wholegrain carbohydrates at each meal such as wholegrain bread, brown rice, pasta and breakfast cereals to give you long lasting energy and encourage a health bowel.
- Eat at least 5-7 servings of fruit and vegetables daily to provide vitamins and minerals in your diet.
- Eat 2-3 portions of protein sources daily such as lean beef, chicken, fish, eggs, beans, nuts and seeds.
- Take 3 portions of milk, cheese or yoghurt daily to ensure you are getting enough calcium to support your bone health.
- Take vitamin D rich foods such as vitamin D-fortified milk every day and salmon, mackerel and trout up to twice weekly to help with calcium absorption in the body. You may wish to take a vitamin D supplement during the winter months. Discuss this with your GP, Pharmacist or Dietitian.
- Aim for 2 portions of fish per week. Try to make at least one portion oily fish, a great source of an omega-3 rich, for example salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines or fresh tuna. Omega-3 fats are important for a healthy heart and your baby’s brain development.
- Continue to enjoy a variety of foods, spices and seasonings. The foods you eat can be passed to your breast milk and may help your baby to accept a variety of tastes later on.
It’s important to stay well hydrated while breastfeeding. Don’t force fluids but make sure to drink plenty of water whenever you feel thirsty. Leave a water bottle beside your usual breastfeeding spot as a reminder to stay hydrated.
What about Caffeine?
Caffeine can reach your baby through your breast milk and may keep them awake or make them unsettled. The recommended limit for breastfeeding mothers is 6 cups of tea or 2 cups of coffee a day. For filtered coffee, you should only have one cup a day. Try decaffeinated tea and coffee, herbal teas, fruit juice or water. Avoid energy drinks, which can be very high in caffeine.
Avoid shark, swordfish and marlin. Limit fresh tuna to one steak/week or if using tinned tuna limit this to two medium sized tins per week. This is due to mercury levels, which can impact the human nervous system and the developing brain.
What about allergies?
There is no need to avoid any specific foods to prevent your baby from developing allergies. Keeping a food diary may be helpful if you suspect something in your diet is causing a problem for your baby. If you’re not sure about a particular food, start by introducing it in small amounts. If your baby has any problems such as extra gas or wind, cut out this food for now and try to reintroduce it at a later stage. If you suspect that your baby is reacting to something you have eaten, they’ll usually show signs of this within 2 to 4 hours. Most babies can handle problem foods when they get a little older. Try to re-introduce certain foods every 2 to 3 months. It’s important to consultant with your doctor, public health nurse or dietitian before removing a food from your or your baby’s diet.
It’s best to avoid drinking alcohol until your baby is more than 1 month old. In the first few weeks, you and your baby are getting used to breastfeeding. When you drink alcohol, it passes from your bloodstream into your breast milk. Babies are not as able to clear alcohol from their bodies as adults and it can have both temporary and lasting affects on their health. It can take between 1 and 2 hours to clear one standard drink of alcohol (one small glass of wine or one glass of beer) from breast milk. The alcohol level in your breast milk will peak at about 1 hour after consuming 1 standard drink. That is why we recommend that if you’re breastfeeding, wait 2 hours per standard drink before you feed your baby. If you have more than 1 standard drink, you will need to wait longer. As alcohol leaves your body, it also leaves your breast milk. “Pumping and dumping” breast milk (expressing and throwing it out) does not speed up the process. But it can help to maintain your milk supply and relive discomfort if your breasts are very full.
Can some foods increase milk supply?
A substance that increases milk supply is called a galactagogue. Some of the most commonly used herbal galactagogues are fenugreek, blessed thistle, and alfalfa. However, there is limited scientific research to support their effectiveness. Remember that any galactagogue will be most effective in increasing milk supply when combined with increased breastfeeding frequency and milk removal. Some galactagogues can have potential side effects and drug interactions. More high-quality evidence is needed to support the recommendation of herbal galactagogues . You should talk to your doctor, public health nurse or lactation consultant (IBCLC) if you are concerned about your milk supply or before introducing galactagogues.
Weight loss while breastfeeding
Some women who breastfeed will naturally lose more weight than women who don’t breastfeed. Some women who have breast fed their babies do not lose weight at all despite the same levels of exercise and a healthy diet. Gradual weight loss may be harmless while breastfeeding if you have a bit extra to lose. Aim to lose no more than 1 to 2 pounds per week (0.5-1kg). It may be best to wait until you and baby are well settled into breastfeeding before embarking on weight loss. Just as babies are fed on demand in response to their hunger signals so too should mothers. For more support on breastfeeding and weight loss consult a registered dietitian.