Breastfeeding can sap all of your energy and leave you feeling depleted and exhausted. A new mother needs a lot of extra calories to produce nutrient-rich milk for her hungry baby. In fact, health experts recommend that a breastfeeding mother should add an extra 500 calories to her standard daily diet, in order to provide adequate nutrients for both herself and her child.
Eating a healthy balanced diet is essential when breastfeeding but it pays to be aware of exactly what you are putting into your mouth, as it is possible that your milk supply may be affected by something you eat or drink. At the same time, your infant can also have a reaction – either physically or behaviourally - to something in your diet.
Foods that may hinder breastfeeding
Whilst most food is completely fine for breastfeeding mothers, some food can affect the quality or quantity of a mother’s milk or upset a baby’s tummy. Although some health experts reject this notion, many mothers have found that eliminating or cutting down on certain foods when breastfeeding, has helped babies who suffer from issues such as: colic, nappy rash, hives or general irritability. Some foods which may contribute to breastfeeding problems include:
The thought of a cup of coffee after a sleepless night may sound appealing, but it is wise to think before you drink. Caffeine passes into the breast milk and too much of it can lead to an unsettled baby. Caffeine can also cause the mother to become dehydrated, which is not helpful when your body needs as much fluid as possible to produce milk. Chocolate also contains caffeine, so it needs to be eaten in moderation.
Alcohol consumption while breastfeeding should be kept to an absolute minimum. If you do have a glass of your favourite wine, make sure that you do it straight after breastfeeding so that it can be out of your system before your next feed. Alcohol can affect your milk supply and flow – and excess alcohol can affect a baby’s development.
Fruit is a great healthy snack which many breastfeeding mothers enjoy. But acidic fruit, like oranges, can aggravate a baby’s tummy and may even contribute to nappy rash. The same applies to stone fruit, such as peaches and plums - these kinds of fruits should be eaten in moderation.
Broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage are some of the vegetables that can give your baby wind or contribute to colic. Cooking these vegetables rather than eating them raw is said to be gentler on a baby’s digestive system. Making a big pot of nutritious vegetable soup is a simple way of getting a good range of cooked vegetables into your diet.
Too much curry or other fiery spices can irritate your baby’s gut and leave her unsettled for hours. It’s worth staying well clear of spicy foods when breastfeeding and to substitute ‘hot’ spices for aromatic herbs, to add flavour to your food.
Foods that may help breastfeeding
Many women want to know how they can increase their milk supply, and are constantly on the hunt for food ideas that will help their bodies to make richer, better quality milk. Although by no means a ‘magic cure-all’, the following foods are known for their positive effects on the quality and quantity of breast milk:
Lactogenic herbs and spices
Some herbs and spices have long been considered ‘lactogenic,’ meaning that they are useful in increasing milk supply. Basil, dill and caraway are some of the herbs that are known for their lactogenic properties. Fennel tea is sometimes recommended by herbalists to aid with milk production, but should only be consumed under instruction from a healthcare professional.
Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are an excellent way of getting extra protein into your diet and your breast milk, as they require no preparation and are great as a snack! If, however, you have a family history of nut allergies it is important to start slowly, and watch out for any reactions in your baby, like hives or rashes, as this may indicate a possible nut allergy.
Avocados are high in essential fatty acids that are said to help produce richer breast milk. Avocados are a great, easy choice to include in a salad or sandwich, or to spread on a cracker as a quick snack.
Oats are often a staple part of a breastfeeding mother’s diet. They are rich in iron and are one of the most commonly recommended foods to aid milk production. Many mothers swear by ‘lactation cookies’ which are oatmeal based biscuits, packed full of nutritious, calorie-rich ingredients. Check out these delicious recipes from the Kidspot Kitchen:
Water is definitely the best way to keep your body hydrated when you are breastfeeding. You can drink as much of it as you like without worrying about whether it contains too much caffeine or is too high in sugar. It’s a good idea to keep a bottle of water with you at all times, as many women get extremely thirsty when they are breastfeeding.
Don’t panic about weight loss
Whilst it is not advisable to go completely overboard and consume all food within sight, breastfeeding is certainly not the right time to put yourself on a restricted diet. So while breast-feeding is part of your daily routine, you should always:
- Eat three meals a day plus snacks in between.
- Prepare food ahead of time so that there is always something ready to eat when you need it
- Make snack containers that you can keep next to you when you are breastfeeding
Remember that if you are not consuming enough calories you will feel out of energy and very tired. Now more than ever, it is important to keep your body fuelled up on good nutritious food.
This article was written for Birth by Jo Harris from sources including Better Health Channel, Victoria
Read more breastfeeding articles
Last revised: Friday, 21 December 2012
This article contains general information only and is not intended to replace advice from a qualified health professional.