baby breastfeeding while mum eats food
Louise Broadbridge
Louise Broadbridge

Do I need to avoid certain foods when breastfeeding?

You don’t need to eat a restrictive diet while breastfeeding but it is important to eat a range of healthy and nutritious foods. Your body is busy producing breast milk for your baby so make sure you eat and drink regularly to keep your energy levels up.

While there are no specific foods which are out of bounds for breastfeeding mothers, it is a good idea to limit how much fish, caffeine and alcohol you consume. Don’t eat more than one portion of shark, swordfish or marlin each week as these types of fish contain high levels of mercury.

The NHS recommends breastfeeding women eat no more of two portions of fish each week with one of them being an oily fish like salmon, trout, sardines or mackerel.

Caffeine is a stimulant so if you consume a lot of it while breastfeeding, it may make your baby hard to settle and possibly irritable and restless. You don’t need to cut caffeine out of your diet completely but try to limit it to no more than 200mg a day.

Caffeine is found in coffee, tea, cola, chocolate and energy drinks so check how much things contain before you consume them, especially if your baby is under six months old and exclusively breastfeeding.

Some people will choose to give up alcohol completely while they are breastfeeding but it is fine to drink small amounts occasionally. Drinking excessively can put you and your baby at risk and affect how well you can care for your little one so don’t overdo it. You may also want to wait a couple of hours after drinking alcohol before you breastfeed.

Many people mistakenly believe they need to avoid peanuts while breastfeeding. Peanuts are fine to eat, so long as you don’t have an allergy yourself, and won’t increase the risk of your baby developing any allergies.

What should I eat when breastfeeding?

When you’re a busy new parent, it can be easy to neglect yourself, forget to eat and rely on quick snacks on the go. However, eating a healthy, balanced diet needs to be one of your top priorities, especially if you’re breastfeeding as your little one is relying on you for nutrition.

Keep your fluid levels up as your body will need them to produce breast milk for your baby. Have a drink handy before you sit down to feed your baby as many women find they feel extremely thirsty while breastfeeding.

Your body will need around 500 extra calories a day while breastfeeding so don’t attempt to go on any crash diets to lose weight.

Try to eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables each day and aim to eat a rainbow of colours if possible as that will ensure you are getting a variety of vitamins and minerals. Make sure you are eating lots of fibre from sources like wholemeal bread and pasta, rice, pulses, fruit, vegetables and cereals.

It’s also important to make sure your diet includes protein and carbohydrates and plenty of calcium. If you can’t eat dairy products, tofu, pulses, dried fruit and brown bread are good dairy-free sources of calcium. 

It is also advised that breastfeeding women take a vitamin D supplement, especially during the colder months. You can either take a specific vitamin D supplement – look for ones which contain at least 10mcg or there are a number of supplements on the market designed to be taken while breastfeeding.

Can my baby be affected by what I am eating?

Your baby will receive small amounts of whatever you are eating or drinking through your breast milk. You may notice that they become more unsettled if you eat a certain food or they may seem more reluctant to feed.

If you think this might be the case, keep a food diary to help you notice any trends or changes in behaviour and speak to your health visitor. Sometimes if a baby has an allergy or intolerance to a certain food, you may be advised to cut it out of your own diet while breastfeeding.

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