What’s on the menu: eating when you’re breastfeeding

You should be confident you can breastfeed even if your diet is not optimal but eating well while you’re breastfeeding is beneficial for several reasons. Firstly it means you’re passing on plenty of good nutrition to your baby. Secondly, it’s fuel for you– giving you plenty of energy to make it through sleepless nights, and bounce back after giving birth. Thirdly, producing breast milk is a continuous process for your body, and this requires around 480-500 calories (approx. 2000 kJ) of extra energy every day if you're exclusively breastfeeding your baby. It's no wonder you may feel extra hungry, so try not to go for too long without food. Rather than eating 3 large meals per day, you may need to swap to 3 meals plus snacks in between to keep you going. 

Choose a variety of foods from the four foods groups every day:

  • Fruit and vegetables – Eat at least six servings per day: at least four servings of vegetables and at least two servings of fruit. Whether they’re fresh, frozen or canned they are all excellent sources of vitamins, minerals and fibre.
  • Breads and cereals (e.g. breakfast cereals, breads, grains, rice and pasta) - Eat at least seven servings per day, choose wholegrain options for more fibre.
  • Protein rich foods : lean meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, legumes, nuts and seeds - Eat at least two servings per day. A great source of protein, zinc, iron and other minerals. 
  • Milk and dairy products (e.g. milk, cheese, yoghurt) – Eat at least three servings per day, choose low or reduced-fat options. These are great sources of calcium and protein.

Water – try to get at least eight glasses of water or other fluids each day. Breastfeeding can make you thirsty!  Having a big bottle of water beside you on the couch, or in the bedroom can be a good reminder to drink more.  Drinking plenty also helps with healthy bowels.

A daily Iodine tablet - in NZ it's recommended that breastfeeding women take a daily iodine tablet for the duration of breastfeeding. This helps make sure you and your baby get enough of this very important nutrient. Generally, the best source of all the other essential vitamins and minerals is a good balanced diet. If you are concerned you’re not eating well and might be missing out on important nutrients talk to your GP for advice.

Whilst breastfeeding, your body needs extra energy and nutrients. This means eating around an extra 480-500 calories (approx. 2000 kJ) per day. In terms of extra food, add in one of the following choices to your usual food intake daily:

  • a large handful of nuts, a large banana and 2 slices cheese on a few crackers
  • a homemade egg and salad sandwich and a fruit yoghurt and an apple
  • a cheese and tomato toasted sandwich, an apple and a fruit yoghurt
  • a large bowl of natural muesli with chopped fruit and nuts, topped with low fat milk
  • a cup of thick soup (e.g pea and ham) with 2 slices of toast and cottage cheese, and a banana
  • a berries, banana, milk and yoghurt smoothie, and 2 slices of fruit toast with a little margarine

Keep in mind these are fairly general guidelines, some women won't need to eat as much extra food as others. It all depends on you individual metabolism and whether you are exclusively breastfeeding or not.

For more specific advice you may wish to see a dietitian, or else contact our Forbaby health professionals for more nutrition information.

A couple of things to watch out for while you’re breastfeeding:

  • Alcohol – this can pass into your breast milk, so it’s best to avoid it for now.
  • Caffeine – this can affect your baby's feeding, sleeping and digestion. Limit your intake for now or choose decaffienated versions of your favourite hot drinks. Breastfeeding women should limit their caffiene intake to a maximum of 300mg per day. This is roughly equivalent to one large long black, or 3 cappucinos, or 4 cups of plunger coffee, or 6 cups of instant coffee, or 6 cups of tea, or 400g plain chocolate.
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