Foods to eat during breastfeeding
30 min read
Here in the UK, exclusive breastfeeding is recommended for the first six months of your baby’s life.
It is encouraged to breastfeed alongside introducing complementary foods from around six months, the first stage of weaning, and to continue breastfeeding after that for as long as you wish to do so.
Breastfeeding is the best way to nourish your baby. As a new parent, breastfeeding can be quite demanding on your body’s energy and nutrient reserves.
Therefore it is important that you have a nutritious diet to help meet these new demands. In our guide, we answer all your questions as a new mum, as well as offering some healthy snack ideas for you to try!
Extra Energy While Breastfeeding
You can eat a normal, healthy, balanced diet whilst you are breastfeeding, based on the NHS’s Eatwell Guide. However, you may need some extra energy as a new parent, as well as for recovering post-birth.
Attention to hydration is also essential, and you will need to drink a bit more fluid than usual.
There are also a few foods that a breastfeeding mum should limit or avoid, which we explain further in this guide!
How Much Do I Need to Eat While Breastfeeding?
This depends on whether you are exclusively breastfeeding or if you are feeding your baby a combination of breast milk and formula milk.
On average, most women will need a slight increase in the amount of energy and calories they normally eat. You should be aiming for around an extra 300 calories on top of your usual intake if exclusively breastfeeding.
Mums who mix feed their babies or are offering just one to two breastfeeds per day may find that they don’t need any extra foods at all.
Babease Top Tip
The NHS recommends new mums who are breastfeeding focus on eating a balanced and healthy diet. Instead of focusing on calorie counting, try to be guided by your appetite and obtain your extra energy from nutritious foods and snacks.
If you are exclusively breastfeeding and trying to obtain additional calories, we have provided some healthy snack ideas which provide approximately 300 calories:
- Scrambled egg and tomato on wholegrain toast with a glass of milk.
- Bagel with peanut butter and banana.
- Cheese and tomato quesadillas.
- Pitta bread, hummus and vegetable sticks with a glass of milk.
- 2 Weetabix with milk and a banana, or berries.
- A handful of almonds, apple or pear slices and a small glass of milk.
- A handful of cashew nuts and dried mango, apricots or figs.
- 200g pot of plain yoghurt with a handful of berries, drizzle of honey and cinnamon.
- Mashed avocado on melba toast with tomatoes and glass of milk or calcium-fortified orange juice.
- Vegetable and bean soup with wholegrain toast.
How Much Calcium Do I Need When Breastfeeding?
The UK Association of Dietitians advise that breastfeeding women should aim to have 1250mg of calcium a day. Most adults are advised to aim to have 700mg of calcium daily.
Upping Your Calcium Intake
Below illustrates how much calcium is found in some dairy products:
- 400ml whole, semi-skimmed or skimmed milk (480 mg)
- 120g pot of yoghurt (200mg)
- 30g of cheese (1 small matchbox size) (220mg)
Non-Dairy Sources of Calcium
There are also some good non-dairy sources of calcium such as tinned, oily fish with soft, edible bones. Good examples of tinned fish include:
Calcium-fortified drinks are another great source of calcium, such as:
- Fortified soya milk
- Fortified orange juice
You may also want to try:
- Dried figs
- Dried apricots
- Nuts, especially brazil nuts, almonds, hazelnuts and walnuts
- Sesame seeds and tahini
If you are following a dairy-free diet, speak to a Registered Dietitian or your GP for more personal advice.
How Can I Increase My Fluid Intake When Breastfeeding?
When you are breastfeeding, you will need to drink more fluid, as making breast milk uses extra fluid.
A practical idea is to pour yourself a drink of water every time you feed your baby. Also, try to be guided by your thirst.
What About Vitamin D for Breastfeeding?
Vitamin D is very important for the bone health of mothers and their babies.
Vitamin D comes from the sun’s action on the skin, but due to the UK being fairly north, this only occurs in the summer months.
In the UK, all pregnant and breastfeeding mums are recommended to take a vitamin D supplement of 10 micrograms (400IU) per day. Up to 25 micrograms of vitamin D per day can be safely taken by adults.
You can buy a vitamin D supplement from your local supermarket or pharmacy, or you can take Healthy Start vitamins from the NHS if you are eligible.
Healthy Start vitamins contain vitamin D, as well as folic acid and vitamin C. They are suitable for vegetarian mums, but they are not appropriate for vegan mums.
Vegan breastfeeding mums can use a supplement called Veg1, which contains 20 micrograms of vitamin D from vegan sources.
Veg1 is available from the Vegan Society. The Veg1 supplement also contains other vitamins and minerals that are important to supplement a vegan diet, such as:
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin B2
- Folic acid
Do I need Supplements While Breastfeeding?
Other than Vitamin D, no, unless your GP has prescribed one. The most important thing is to eat a varied, balanced diet to obtain all your nutrients.
If you are vegan, please see the section above for further information on the supplements you’re advised to take.
Planning Another Pregnancy?
If you are planning another pregnancy, a folic acid supplement of 400 micrograms per day is recommended. You can still carry on breastfeeding if you are trying for another baby or when you are pregnant.
Are Herbal Remedies and Medicines Safe When Breastfeeding?
Herbal medicines are those with active ingredients made from plant parts, such as leaves, roots or flowers.
However, being 'natural' doesn't necessarily mean they're safe for you to take. Herbal medicines, just like conventional medicines, will have an effect on the body and can be potentially harmful if not used correctly.
There is very limited information on the safety of herbal remedies whilst breastfeeding and still much debate. The general advice is to avoid any herbal remedies, as their safety is not really known, especially in concentrated quantities.
Can Herbs Increase Your Milk Supply?
There are some herbs that supposedly increase breast milk supply , such as fenugreek. There are also those that are meant to decrease milk supply, like sage, but there is little evidence that they work in this way.
The best way to increase your milk supply is to breastfeed your baby more often. Speak with your midwife or a breastfeeding specialist if you are having difficulties with latching or positioning your baby when breastfeeding.
Babease Top Tip
If you have specific questions about medications or treatments, please message the Drugs in Breastmilk information service Facebook page or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you require breastfeeding support, please call the National Breastfeeding Helpline on 0300 100 0212.
Are There Foods I Should Limit Or Avoid When Breastfeeding?
There are many myths surrounding breastfeeding and what you can eat, but most of these are old wives’ tales.
The taste of breast milk can be affected by what you eat, but this can be very positive, as it familiarises your baby with the taste of foods that they are likely to encounter when starting on solid foods.
Babease Top Tip
Traces of what you consume can lightly transfer to your breast milk. The NHS recommendation for new mums is to talk to your GP or health visitor if you’re concerned about your baby being sensitive to the food or drink you consume.
What If My Baby Is Allergic to Cow’s Milk Protein?
A small number of babies who are allergic to cow’s milk may react to the very tiny amount of cow’s milk protein that is passed through your breast milk. These babies are likely to have a severe allergy and will most likely be under the care of a paediatric allergy specialist doctor.
In this case, you may be advised to avoid all dairy products in your diet whilst you are breastfeeding. It is advisable to seek a registered dietitian's help to ensure that you are meeting your calcium and other nutrient requirements whilst avoiding dairy products.
Speak with your GP about getting a referral to a registered dietitian or if you are worried about your baby.
How Much Caffeine Can You Have When Breastfeeding?
Caffeine can pass through breast milk and might affect your baby by keeping them awake or make them restless, as caffeine is a stimulant.
Caffeine occurs naturally in coffee, tea and chocolate, and is often added to certain drinks such as energy drinks and cola drinks. It can also feature in some cold and flu remedies.
It is advisable to keep your caffeine intake to around 200mg per day. For more of an idea of what this means, take a look at our examples below:
- 1 mug of filter coffee = 140mg
- 1 mug of instant coffee =100mg
- 1 mug of tea = 75mg
- 1 can of energy drink = 80mg or more
- 50g plain chocolate = up to 50mg
- 1 cola drink = 40mg
Note – green tea also contains caffeine, but in much smaller amounts than in black tea at around 20-30mg per mug.
You may want to choose decaffeinated coffee and tea whilst you are breastfeeding.
Can You Drink Alcohol While Breastfeeding?
Alcohol can pass through breast milk in small amounts, but it is unlikely that having an occasional drink will harm your baby.
The NHS recommends that if you are planning to drink socially, try to avoid breastfeeding for two-to-three hours after for each alcoholic beverage. You may want to consider express milk in these situations.
Although the NHS doesn’t specify exactly how much alcohol you should limit when breastfeeding, other than the standard 14 units per week, it is sensible to limit your alcohol intake to one-to-two units once or twice a week.
Each of the below usually amounts to one unit:
- 25ml measure of spirits
- Half a pint of lager
- Half a standard (175ml) glass of wine
This is just a general guide, as the exact conversion of unit to alcohol depends on the strength of the drink.
Eating Fish While Breastfeeding
Eating fish is good for your health and the health of your baby, but while you are breastfeeding, you should have no more than two portions of oily fish per week. One portion of oily fish is the equivalent of 140g.
Oily fish includes:
- Fresh tuna
Babease Top Tip
All adults, including breastfeeding women, should eat no more than one portion per week of shark, swordfish or marlin. This is due to the fact that these fish can have a higher mercury content than other fish.
Getting Support Whilst Breastfeeding
Ask your midwife or health visitor for local breastfeeding support groups. you can also find information on the Start 4 Life website.
Got a breastfeeding question?
Sign into Facebook and message the ‘Start4Life Breastfeeding Friend’ chatbot via Facebook messenger for fast, friendly, trusted NHS advice at any time, day or night.
Healthy Start vouchers
You can get Healthy Start vouchers if you are pregnant or have a young child under four years of age and are receiving certain benefits, or if you are pregnant and under 18 years of age.
Find out more information here.
Breast Feeding Helplines
Below are the numbers of breastfeeding helplines available here in the UK.
As a new mum who is breastfeeding, it is essential that you have a balanced and nutritious diet to take care of yourself and your baby! Which healthy snacks are your favourite? Why not share your thoughts with other parents on our social media channels?