You don’t need to eat anything special when you’re breastfeeding, but it is a good idea to make sure you’re eating a range of healthy foods and getting all the nutrients you need to keep your energy up. Easier said than done, perhaps, when you are looking after a small baby! Finding time to look after yourself can be tricky, so we’ve come up with some simple suggestions for meals and snacks. First, though, a quick recap of what makes a healthy, balanced diet.
Fruit and veg
At least five portions of fruit and veg a day, which can include fresh, frozen, tinned, dried or juiced. Remember, variety is the spice of life – and consuming a wide variety will ensure you receive a diverse portfolio of essential vitamins and minerals, along with fibre.
Also, remember that fruit juice and smoothies can only be counted once towards your 5-a-day.
Should make up a third of overall food eaten. Starchy foods are a source of energy, fibre and some vitamins, so aim for a good range of starchy foods as the basis of every main meal, such as potatoes (which are not counted towards your 5-a-day), bread, pasta, noodles, rice, couscous, millet, oats, other cereals etc. (Include wholegrain varieties to increase fibre intake and always opt for lower salt, sugar and fat varieties where possible)
Such as lean meat and chicken, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, soya foods and pulses, which provide a diverse range of vitamins and minerals. Aim for at least two portions of fish every week – one of which should be oily, such as salmon or mackerel.
You don’t need to limit the amount of white fish or canned tuna while breastfeeding, but it’s advisable not to eat more than two portions of oily fish, and no more than one portion of shark, swordfish or marlin each week.
Dairy & Alternatives
Such as milk, cheese, fromage frais and yoghurt contain calcium and other important nutrients. Choose lower fat and lower sugar options.
Choose unsaturated oils such as rapeseed or olive oil, and spreads made from these, and consume in small amounts.
To help reduce your fat intake further, opt for leaner cuts of meat and mince, and limit or avoid processed meat like bacon, ham, and sausages, as well as canned or smoked fish, as they can contain high amounts of salt.
If you choose to include foods or drinks high in fat, salt and sugars, such as biscuits, cakes, pastries and salty snacks, have them less often and in small amounts.
It’s so important to keep hydrated while you’re breastfeeding, so always keep a drink handy. Water is your best option, but if you prefer something with a bit more flavour, why not try adding sliced fruit, mint leaves or cucumber to your water? With a straw and one of those paper umbrellas, you could pretend you’re at a spa!
You could also make up smoothies – either by using up excess stocks in your cupboard, or by buying frozen, pre-cut fruit and vegetables that take a lot of the work out of smoothie-making. Vegetable smoothies have a lot less sugar in them, so are less likely to leave you with that dreaded sugar crash. You can also use the smoothie as a way to up your intake of fibre and other nutrients by including ingredients like oats, almonds and chia seeds – though maybe not all in one glass!
Why is fibre important? Well, it can help improve digestive health– very important in the post-partum phase when women can develop bowel problems and constipation. There are lots of healthy foods and snacks you can incorporate into your diet to increase your fibre intake.
Breakfast is a great opportunity to get fibre into your system. Cereals like bran flakes, Weetabix and shredded wheat, porridge and wholemeal toast are all good sources of fibre. Add fruit, nuts or nut butter and seeds to really set yourself up for the day.
Mixed bean or lentil soup, baked beans on toast, hummus with wholemeal pitta bread and vegetable sticks – the options for a healthy, hearty lunch are many and varied! Go for wholemeal bread, pasta and rice, and try to get some veg in there if you can.
Any dinner options that include a range of protein, starch and vegetables, are a winner. Wholegrain pasta with a hearty bolognese, vegetable lasagne, stir fry, curry. And here’s a top tip in those early weeks and month, choose things you can eat with one hand as it’s almost guaranteed the baby will want to eat when you do!
Nuts (the low-salt kind), hummus and breadsticks, roasted chickpeas, vegetable crisps, fruit, homemade trail mix (nuts, seeds, dried fruit).
Just because you’re eating a healthy diet, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy treats. It’s all about balance! Try this banana bread for some comfort food, and throw in some chunks of dark chocolate for added decadence.
Caffeine and alcohol
Caffeine can reach your baby through your breast milk and may keep them awake, so it’s a good idea to restrict your caffeine intake to less than 200mg a day when breastfeeding. Things to keep an eye on beside coffee are tea, chocolate, energy drinks and soft drinks, as well as some cold and flu remedies.
If you’re going to drink alcohol while breastfeeding, try to limit to one or two units a week, and allow a couple of hours between drinking and breastfeeding. The NHS Start4Life website has further guidance.
Peanuts and other allergens
Peanuts or foods containing peanuts, such as peanut butter, can be included as part of a healthy, varied diet while breastfeeding – unless you’re allergic! Avoiding peanuts or other allergenic foods (for example eggs or wheat) while breastfeeding won’t reduce your baby’s chances of developing an allergy and is not recommended.
However, if you have a family history of food allergies or other allergic conditions, then your baby may be at higher risk of developing an allergy, and you may wish to discuss this further with your GP, midwife or health visitor.
Supplements and breastfeeding
Eating a healthy balanced diet will help ensure you achieve your nutritional requirements; however, it is also recommended to take a daily Vitamin D supplement of 10mcg during autumn and winter. This is the recommendation for all adults and children over 4 years old.
Tread carefully when it comes to foods or recipes that claim to increase your milk supply. These claims are largely unproven. The best thing you can do for your milk supply is eat a well-balanced diet, keep your fluid intake up, and – especially while you’re establishing breastfeeding – feed on demand.