A healthy breastfeeding diet
A healthy diet during breastfeeding is essential for your baby’s healthy development. It’s also good for you because it keeps you healthy and well, and it might help you maintain a healthy weight.
A healthy diet for breastfeeding has a wide variety of foods from the 5 main food groups:
- vegetables and legumes – 7½ serves a day
- fruit – 2 serves a day
- cereals and grain foods – 9 serves a day
- foods with protein, including meat or meat alternatives – 2½ serves a day
- dairy or dairy alternatives – 2½ serves a day.
Key nutrients in a breastfeeding diet
When you’re breastfeeding, your body needs extra nutrients. That’s because your body is working harder to make breastmilk full of nutrients for your baby.
If you’re eating a healthy diet, you’ll be getting enough of most nutrients. But there are a few nutrients you need to be aware of – calcium, iodine, iron, omega 3 fats, vitamin B12, vitamin D and zinc.
Calcium is very important for your baby’s bone development and makes up an important part of breastmilk.
You get calcium from:
- milk, cheese and yoghurt or dairy alternatives with extra calcium
- fish with edible bones, like sardines and salmon
- some dark green leafy vegetables like kale and bok choy
Dark green leafy vegetables and almonds shouldn’t be the only source of calcium in your diet. That’s because your body doesn’t absorb calcium from them as well as it absorbs calcium from other foods.
You get iodine from:
- dairy products (but not from dairy alternatives)
- seafood, including sea plants like seaweed and kelp
- iodised salt and bread made with iodised salt.
Iron is very important for the development of your baby’s brain functioning. Your baby gets iron from you during pregnancy and also from breastmilk.
You get iron from:
- meat, fish and chicken
- lentils and beans
- wholegrain cereals and cereals with added iron
- nuts, dried fruit and dark green leafy vegetables.
Your body absorbs iron from animal foods better than iron from other foods. If you’re low in iron or at risk of this, you might need to take a supplement.
Omega 3 fats
Omega 3 fats are important for the development of your baby’s nervous system, brain, eyes and immune system. Your baby gets omega 3 fats from your breastmilk.
You get omega 3 fats from:
- oily fish like salmon, sardines, trout, tuna and mackerel
- canola oils and margarines and linseed oils and products
- nuts like walnuts.
Vitamin B12 is very important for the development of your baby’s nervous system. Your baby gets vitamin B12 from your breastmilk.
You get vitamin B12 from:
- meat, fish and chicken
- dairy products
- enriched breakfast cereals.
If you’re breastfeeding and following a vegan diet, vitamin B12 supplements are essential.
Vitamin D helps your baby absorb calcium, which your baby needs for bone growth and development. Your baby gets vitamin D from your breastmilk. Your baby’s body also makes vitamin D when there’s direct sunlight on their skin.
You need enough direct sunlight on your skin to make vitamin D. You also get small amounts from oily fish, fish liver oils, egg yolks and butter.
If you’re low in vitamin D or at risk of this, you might need to take a vitamin D supplement.
Zinc is very important for your baby’s brain, bone, muscle, skin and hair growth. It’s also important for keeping your baby’s immune system healthy. Your baby gets zinc from your breastmilk.
You get zinc from:
- meat, chicken and fish
- dairy products
- cereal and grain foods.
Your body absorbs zinc from animal foods better than from other foods. If you follow a vegan diet, you might need to take a zinc supplement.
Always talk to your GP, a dietitian or another health professional if you’re concerned about your diet, especially if you think you might be low on key nutrients for breastfeeding. A health professional can help you work out what you need, especially if you have a restricted diet.
Healthy fluids in a breastfeeding diet
Your body needs more fluids when you’re breastfeeding. You should aim to have around 2.5 litres a day. But you might need more on hot or humid days or if you’re very active.
If you’re not sure whether you’re getting enough fluids, have a look at your urine. It should be pale yellow. Dark yellow urine is a sign that you need to drink more fluids. It might help to have a drink bottle next to you when you breastfeed your baby. This can remind you to drink throughout the day.
Water is the cheapest and healthiest drink.
Foods and drinks to limit in a breastfeeding diet
It’s best to avoid or limit foods that are high in salt, saturated fat and sugar, and low in fibre. These foods include fast food, takeaway and junk food like hot chips, potato chips, dim sims, pies, burgers and takeaway pizza.
Avoid soft drinks, fruit juices, flavoured milk, flavoured water and sports drinks. These drinks are high in sugar.
Caffeine crosses into breastmilk, and newborns can be very sensitive to caffeine. Up to 200 mg caffeine per day is considered safe if you’re breastfeeding. This equals around 1 cup of brewed or espresso coffee (single shot), 2 cups of instant coffee, up to 4 cups of tea, or 1 energy or cola drink, depending on size.
If you want to reduce your caffeine intake while you’re breastfeeding, you could try drinking non-caffeinated or herbal teas or decaffeinated coffee instead.
Excluding potential allergy-causing foods while you’re breastfeeding won’t reduce the risk of your baby developing allergies. In fact, avoiding too many foods can be dangerous, because you might be excluding essential nutrients that your body needs.
Alcohol, smoking, vaping, medicine and breastfeeding
What you eat, drink, smoke or vape can pass through your breastmilk to your baby and affect your baby’s health and development.
If you’re breastfeeding, it’s safest not to drink alcohol, smoke, vape or use any drugs.
But if you plan to drink alcohol, limit the amount to one drink. And wait 2-3 hours (per drink) before breastfeeding again.
If you smoke or vape, breastfeeding is still the best option for your baby. You can protect your baby by always smoking or vaping outside, and not smoking or vaping for an hour before breastfeeding.
Smoke and vapour gets trapped on your hair, clothing and skin. So when you’re smoking or vaping, cover your hair and clothes with something your baby won’t come into contact with. And you should also wash your hands and brush your teeth after each time you smoke or vape.
Make sure other people smoke or vape well away from you and your baby too.
Most medicines are safe while you’re breastfeeding, but it’s best to check with your doctor or pharmacist.
Exercise and breastfeeding
It’s important to let your body recover after birth. When you’re ready, some regular exercise will improve your strength and boost your health and wellbeing.
Being active every day:
- strengthens your bones, muscles and joints
- reduces your risk of heart disease, cancer and type-2 diabetes
- controls your weight
- improves your sleep
- reduces your stress levels
- improves your mental wellbeing.
You can begin with gentle exercise like taking short walks, and then try activities like swimming, yoga or Pilates.
Moderate exercise won’t affect your breastmilk, your supply, the amount of nutrients in your breastmilk or your baby’s growth.
Very vigorous or intensive exercise can cause increased levels of lactic acid in breastmilk. This might slightly change the taste of breastmilk for a short time after exercise, but it doesn’t affect the quality of breastmilk and isn’t harmful to your baby.
Talk with your doctor or physiotherapist about the right exercise for you.
Try making exercise part of your everyday routine with your baby. For example, take your baby for a walk in the pram each day. This gets you out of the house and keeps you active too. You could also learn a few exercises to do from home, or use exercise apps or YouTube videos.