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What to eat when you're breastfeeding

Here’s some advice on a good diet for breastfeeding mums

Is it true you need to eat more calories when you breastfeed? Is it safe to drink alcohol and coffee? Here’s some advice on a good diet for breastfeeding mums.

Breastfeeding is amazing way to bond with your baby as well as giving them all the nutrients they need while they grow. However, just like you had questions during your pregnancy, you’ll have queries you’ll have when it comes to breastfeeding your new arrival. Here’s a few of the most popular answered.

At a glance

  • Breastfeeding uses up around 500 calories a day
  • Mums often get cravings for high-carbohydrate foods like cake and biscuits, probably due to the tiredness all new mums feel
  • It’s really important to get a balanced diet when breastfeeding
what-to-eat-when-breastfeeding

Do I need to eat more when I’m breastfeeding?

Breastfeeding uses up around 500 calories a day, so you can expect your appetite to be bigger than normal. Mums often report feeling cravings for sweet, high-carbohydrate foods like cake and biscuits, which is probably due to the tiredness all new mums feel. However, before we all hang out the bunting in celebration of this licence to eat cake, it’s worth remembering that your body will have laid down fat stores during pregnancy to support breastfeeding. Our bodies are also extremely efficient at producing milk, so nursing mums may not need to eat any more than usual. It all depends on how much weight you put on during pregnancy, and how many calories you’re burning by being active.

What foods should I eat?

It’s really important to get a balanced diet when breastfeeding – because you’ll need to replenish your natural stores. That means five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, carbohydrates like rice, bread, pasta (wholegrain will keep you fuller for longer and contains good fibre), 2-3 portions of protein (meat, eggs, fish, beans/pulses) and low fat dairy. It’s probably safe to say that whipping up gourmet feasts won’t be top of your agenda right now, so enlist your partner and/or friends and relatives to cook some healthy meals for you, especially in the first few weeks. Keep healthy snacks in the fridge for when extreme hunger strikes: hummus, yoghurts, wholewheat pitta, dried apricots, readymade soups (but watch the salt content), baked beans, cans of tuna for baked potatoes, avocado and unsweetened breakfast cereals.

Why am I so thirsty?

Lots of breastfeeding mums say they feel massively thirsty during and after feeds. Scientists aren’t sure why, but think it might be linked to your body’s release of the hormone oxytocin which happens during feeds. It’s important to drink lots of water to keep hydrated: keep a large glass of water next to you while feeding. Juice and squash are ok too, but don’t go overboard on the caffeine. If your urine is dark coloured or smells strongly, it’s a sign you need to drink more.

Can I drink alcohol while breastfeeding?

There’s no official advice to avoid alcohol, but the NHS advises that moderation is the key. Research shows that 1-2 units once or twice a week won’t harm your baby (a unit is half a pint of beer or a small 125ml glass of wine). But more than that can affect the let down reflex. Alcohol gets into your bloodstream about 30-45 minutes after you’ve drunk it, so if you’d like an occasional drink, perhaps time it for just after a feed. Have some expressed milk on standby for the next feed if you can. Each unit of alcohol takes two hours to clear, so it’s not very wise to drink more than one or two units in one sitting. Your baby may well object to the taste of your milk after even a small amount of alcohol, which is why lots of mums opt for cutting out alcohol altogether during breastfeeding.

Should I drink coffee?

There’s no official Government advice on caffeine intake. Food containing caffeine – including energy drinks, cola, chocolate and tea, as well as coffee – can keep your baby awake because small amounts of caffeine pass into the breastmilk. Energy drinks are particularly high in caffeine. If this is a problem for your baby, try replacing coffee/energy drinks with juice, water or other caffeine-free soft drinks.

What foods should I avoid?

Eating oily fish (like salmon, mackerel, sardines, trout and fresh tuna) is good for your health, but don’t have more than two portions a week because the low level pollutants can build up in your body and be passed to your baby. Canned tuna doesn’t count as a portion of oily fish as the good fats are lost in the canning process.

Lots of mums swear that eating some foods make their baby unsettled and windy, but there is very little scientific evidence to back this up. Foods on the list include: onion, cabbage, garlic and Brussels sprouts (especially in large quantities all at once), citrus fruit including tomatoes, and fizzy drinks. If you suspect a particular food is causing a problem, eliminate it for a week and see if your baby’s symptoms improve.

At a glance

  • Breastfeeding uses up around 500 calories a day
  • Mums often get cravings for high-carbohydrate foods like cake and biscuits, probably due to the tiredness all new mums feel
  • It’s really important to get a balanced diet when breastfeeding
Lots of mums swear that eating some foods make their baby unsettled and windy

What to eat when you're breastfeeding