Eating well whilst breastfeeding
If you've chosen to breastfeed, you've made a fantastic decision as you are giving your baby the best start in life. Your choice to breastfeed means, however, that you must also take extra special care of yourself and make sure you are eating a healthy, well-balanced diet.
This isn't a time you should think about dieting, because your body needs extra calories to nourish your baby. Eating well will ensure that you're producing enough milk for your baby and providing them with the vital nutrients they need for healthy growth and development.
During the first three months that you're breastfeeding your baby, you will need to take in an additional 300-400 calories each day. If you have twins, that would be an extra 1,000 calories. You should make sure that you eat enough protein, complex carbohydrates and vitamins to suit your dietary needs, thus ensuring both you and your baby receive the correct nutrients.
Eat little and often
Eat regularly to keep yourself nourished. Stock your cupboards full of healthy snacks, like bananas, cheese and sunflower seeds. Just because you need extra calories, it doesn't mean they should come from cream cakes and pizza!
Which foods to eat
As well as snacks, you should eat three well-balanced meals a day. It's important that your food is filled with vitamins; for breakfast, eat fortified cereals rich in Vitamin B. For lunch and dinner, choose from fish or red meat, which are both great sources of iron. Make sure you don't eat oily fish more than twice a week, however, as it contains high levels of mercury. Accompany your fish or meat with plenty of fresh vegetables, such as new potatoes and spinach. Other sources of Vitamin A are dairy foods, such as cheese and eggs. Other dairy foods, such as milk and yoghurt, should also be included in your diet as they will provide you with calcium and protein. Eating plenty of berries, green vegetables and peppers will provide you with Vitamin C and Vitamin D. You can also take a Vitamin D supplement, although you should consult your doctor about this.
As well as eating well, it's important that you keep yourself hydrated. You should aim to drink between 6-8 glasses of water a day. Although this may sound like a lot, breastfeeding is thirsty work, so you will want to drink lots of water, anyway. Before you sit down to breastfeed, get yourself a glass of water to put beside you and take regular sips from it.
5 a day
Although in our busy lives, few of us manage to eat our suggested '5 a day' of fruit and vegetables, as a breastfeeding mum, it's important that you really make an effort. Don't be afraid of eating carbohydrates, such as potatoes and pasta; these are great sources of energy and, as long as you don't load on the butter, they're not fattening.
As well as all the things you should eat while breastfeeding, there are also things you should avoid. You will hopefully have laid off the alcohol while pregnant and you're going to have to remain fairly strong willed for a while yet. Small quantities of anything you consume go directly to your baby if you're breastfeeding. If you drink large amounts of alcohol, it may make your baby very drowsy and could even have an adverse effect on their growth and development. If you really feel like a glass of wine, wait until just after a feed and try to stick to just the one glass. Cigarettes are still a big no-no as the nicotine transfers into your milk supply and can increase the likelihood of your baby getting colic.
Caffeine consumption should be kept to a minimum as it may affect your baby's sleep patterns. If you are partial to a cup of coffee, limit yourself to just one and have it at least two hours before you breastfeed your baby, so that it's had a chance to pass through your system. You may also find that certain foods, such as those of a spicy nature or those with a strong flavour, disagree with your baby's stomach. If you have a history of peanut allergies in the family, it might be advisable not to eat them while breastfeeding; ask your doctor for advice on this if you're unsure. If you're vegetarian and worried that your diet isn't varied enough, read our feature on pregnancy and vegetarian diet.
You shouldn't assume that by increasing your calorie intake while breastfeeding you will put on weight; breastfeeding burns a great deal of calories. Hopefully, you will have been eating a healthy, well-balanced diet while pregnant anyway, so it may just be a case of keeping up the good habits.