Healthy Eating Tips During Breastfeeding
- Eat to your appetite. Though you may need more calories or energy, your body’s signals are the best guide.
- Avoid skipping meals. You may find yourself low in energy if you leave long gaps between meals.
- Eat wholegrain carbohydrates at each meal such as wholegrain bread, brown rice, pasta and breakfast cereals to maintain lasting energy and promote bowel health.
- Eat at least 3 portions of vegetables and 2 portions of fruit 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.
- 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.
- Drink at least 8 cups of fluid per day to stay hydrated. Your thirst may be your best guide. Water and milk are your best choices.
- Continue to enjoy a variety of foods, spices and seasonings. The foods you eat lend flavours to your breast milk and may help your baby to accept a variety of tastes later on.
What to avoid
There are some substances that pass into breast milk that may affect your baby:
- Limit caffeine to 3 cups of coffee, tea or cola per day as too much caffeine may make your baby jittery or unsettled.
- 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. These fish contain high levels of mercury and other pollutants which can affect your baby’s development.
- Many medications pass into breast milk and can be toxic to your baby. Check with your doctor, midwife or chemist before you take any medication or remedy even if it does not require a prescription.
- Herbal remedies or supplements can be just as strong as prescription drugs and may pass into your breast milk. Many supplements have not been tested for safety or content. However, herbal teas such as chamomile, peppermint and ginger are likely harmless in moderation but it best to avoid concentrated forms.
- There is no need to avoid any specific foods to prevent your baby from developing allergies. Speak with the doctor, midwife or dietitian if you suspect your baby is reacting to something in your diet.
- Alcohol from wine, beer and spirits passes into breast milk and can have a greater impact on your baby than on you.
- 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 2 and 4 hours to clear one standard drink of alcohol (one small glass of wine or one glass of beer) from breast milk.
- It is best to avoid alcohol completely while breastfeeding until your baby is at least 3 months of age. Once your baby is 3 months old, if you do choose to drink, limit to one drink on occasion with a meal, ideally right after your baby feed.
- Avoid strong spirits (gin, vodka, whiskey, rum).
- “Pumping and dumping” breast milk (expressing and throwing it out) does not speed up the process and may cause your baby to miss a feed.
- Allow at least 4 hours per each drink to pass out of your milk before breastfeeding again.
- If you drink 2 or more alcoholic drinks per day, it is best not to breastfeed.
Advice for vegetarians and vegans
- If you follow a strict vegetarian or vegan diet, you likely need a vitamin and mineral supplement to ensure you have enough of certain nutrients.
- It is wise to take a general multivitamin supplement that has vitamin B12 and vitamin D.
- If you do not take dairy products, be sure to take calcium and vitamin D-fortified alternatives such as soya milk, almond milk or oat milk.
- If you do not eat fish, aim to get some heart-healthy omega-3 fats regularly from rapeseed (vegetable) oil, ground linseed and walnuts.
Vitamin D for your baby
- The HSE recommends that all babies be given 5mcg (200IU) vitamin D every day until 1 year of age. This will aid in absorption of calcium to keep your baby’s bones and teeth strong.
- After your baby turns 1 year, be sure to offer good sources of vitamin D in their daily diet.
Weight loss while breast feeding
- Some studies show that women after pregnancy who breastfeed lose more weight in conjunction with healthy eating and exercise versus breastfeeding alone. Some women who have breast fed their babies do not lose weight at all.
- 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.
For additional information check our other factsheet on breastfeeding information and resources
Updated by Laura Harrington MINDI January 2016.
Review date: January 2019
© 2016 Irish Nutrition and Dietetics Institute, INDI. All rights reserved. May be reproduced in its entirety provided the source is acknowledged. This information is not meant to replace advice from your medical doctor or individual counselling with a dietitian. It is intended for educational and informational purposes only.
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