Breastfeeding Nutrition: What You Need to Know


If you’re a mum-to-be things can seem pretty daunting, especially when you begin contemplating the new responsibilities and decisions you’ll be faced with.

So, learning exactly how to look after yourself is really important so that you can in turn look after your little one.

If you decide to breastfeed the breast milk will provide all the energy, liquid and nutrients your baby needs for growth and development.

In fact, the rate of growth at this stage in your baby’s life is greater than at any other time, and therefore it’s important that you get the extra energy and nutrients you need to help sustain this growth.

If your diet is well-balanced and varied, and you drink plenty of fluids, this shouldn’t be an issue.

Studies have shown that in the first three months, mothers of fully breastfed babies produce about 800mls of milk each day. Producing this amount of milk uses around 500 calories each day, you will be able to meet these extra energy requirements via:

  • Your diet
  • Fat stores gained during pregnancy
  • Energy saved from changes in your metabolic rate, or becoming less active

So, what are the benefits of breastfeeding?

  • Breast milk contains the perfect nutrient make up for your baby.
  • It contains antibodies that boost the immune system and help your baby fight illness and infection.
  • Breastfed babies are less likely to become constipated, have stomach upsets, develop eczema and asthma, be overweight, or have childhood diabetes.
  • For you, breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast and ovarian cancer, and osteoporosis later in life.
  • In addition to all of the above, it can also help you lose the excess weight gained in pregnancy.

How long should I breastfeed for?

You should try to breastfeed your baby for as long as possible because of the health and psychological benefits that it provides.

Your baby will not need anything other than breast milk for the first six months. When you begin weaning after this time you can continue to breastfeed until your baby is at least one year old.

It is important to note that most babies will not benefit from taking solids before 4 months of age.

Can I exercise while breastfeeding?

After the birth of your baby and in the early stages of breastfeeding you should rest as much as possible. However, once breastfeeding is established, regular physical activity such as walking is ideal.

You should aim for at least 30 minutes of moderately intense activity 6 times each week.

What should I eat while breastfeeding?

Try not to restrict your food intake by dieting during breastfeeding, as this could result in your diet being nutritionally inadequate for both you and your baby.

Put simply: make sure you eat according to how hungry you feel, and drink according to your level of thirst.

While it can be difficult finding time to eat properly when you’re looking after a new baby, it is extremely important. Here are a few tips:

  • Keep mealtimes simple so that preparation doesn’t take too long.
  • Eat small meals frequently.
  • Make sure your snacks are nutritious.
  • Cook in bulk and freeze for later. This will save you time in the long-run.
  • Ask for help from friends or family members if you’re having difficulty.

Eating a well balanced diet, based on the 5 main food groups, will help to make sure you’re getting all the nutrients you need to remain fit and healthy:

1. Fruit and vegetable group: Eat fruit and vegetables with each of your meals, and aim for at least 5 servings per day.

2. Grains and potato group: Try to eat a source of carbohydrate (bread, rice, pasta, other grains, potatoes) at each of your meals, choosing wholegrains where possible.

3. Meat and beans group: This group is made up of meat, poultry, fish, eggs, pulses, nuts. You should try to include these in 2 of your meals each day.

4. Milk and dairy group: Include these foods 2-3 times per day – go for reduced fat produce where possible.

5. Fat and sugar group: Try to limit your intake of these foods as much as possible. Small amounts are acceptable as an occasional treat.

Make sure you are having at least 8 glasses of fluid per day. Water is preferable, but low calorie squash, pure fruit juice, milk, tea, coffee and clear soups will also provide your body with fluid.

To make sure you’re getting enough fluid, it’s a good idea to have a drink by your side each time you settle down to breastfeed.

Vitamin supplements
In the UK it is advised that 10mcg of vitamin D should be taken each day to prevent vitamin D deficiency in both mum and baby.

Also, all mothers who are likely to become pregnant again should take 400mcg of folic acid each day. You should be able to get all your other vitamin and mineral needs by eating a varied and balanced diet.

Vegan mothers
If you are vegan you may need to take a supplement containing vitamin B12, vitamin D, and calcium.

If you’re worried about the nutritional adequacy of your diet, arrange for a dietary assessed by a registered dietitian.

What foods should I avoid during breastfeeding?

Try to eat oily fish each week, but don’t exceed 2 servings per week (oily fish are fresh tuna, mackerel, sardines, trout).  Larger fish such as shark, swordfish and marlin should be avoided because they contain mercury.

Small amounts of alcohol pass into the breast milk making it smell different to your baby. This may affect your babies feeding, sleeping or digestion.

When you are breastfeeding ideally you should cut alcohol from your diet, and certainly don’t drink within two hours of a feed.

Try to limit your intake of caffeine, especially if your baby seems to be affected by it. Food and drink to watch out for include chocolate, tea, coffee, cola and ‘energy’ drinks.

You may have heard in the past women chose not to eat peanuts when they were pregnant and breastfeeding.

This was because Government guidelines previously stated pregnant women should avoid eating peanuts if there was a history of allergy in their child’s immediate family (such as asthma, eczema, hayfever, food allergy or other types of allergy).

However, this advice has now changed as a result of the latest research, which showed there is no clear evidence to say eating peanuts during pregnancy affects the chance of your baby developing a peanut allergy.

Therefore, you do not need to avoid eating peanuts or peanut products during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Remember that medicines and illegal drugs may pass into your breast milk, so check with your doctor if you are unsure.

Some breastfed babies do appear to react to certain foods or drinks eaten by their mother. If you notice this talk to your doctor or health visitor first.

Useful resources for pregnant and lactating women:

  • – maternal and infant nutrition
  • – breastfeeding
  • MyPyramid – pregnancy and breastfeeding

Photo source

Post updated 5-Oct-2009 (re: new peanut guidelines in pregnancy and breastfeeding)

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About Melanie
Melanie is a Registered Dietitian who started Dietriffic in March 2007. Her aim is to make good health attainable and sustainable, without guilt and torture, making her approach popular with those who desire a level-headed approach to good health. Have you got your copy of her free book yet?

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Suzannah May 30, 2009 at 8:00 am

Great post, Melanie! Thanks for the tips.


Melanie June 3, 2009 at 8:17 pm

Hey Suzannah,
Glad it was useful! :-)


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