Breastfeeding gives your baby the best possible start to life and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that women exclusively breastfeed their baby for the first 6 months of life and continue thereafter in combination with a healthy weaning diet up to 2 years or beyond.
Looking after your diet when breastfeeding will ensure both you and your baby will get all the nutrients you need. There is no special ‘breastfeeding diet’ – you just need to follow the simple healthy eating guidelines that apply to the general population.
Protein & Iron Intake
Choose lean cuts of meat and try to eat oily fish 1-2 times per week. If you follow a vegetarian diet make sure to include foods such as pulses (peas, beans & lentils), eggs, and nuts to help meet your protein & iron requirements throughout the day. Try to eat these foods at 2 meals during the day.
To make sure you’re getting enough calcium, aim to include 3 portions of dairy in your diet per day. This could be for example, a pot of yoghurt, a 200ml glass of milk, and a matchbox-size piece of cheese.
Vitamins & Minerals
Include a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables in your diet to maximise your intake of vitamins and minerals. Fruit and vegetables are also a great source of fibre. Aim for at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables during the day. The more of a variety of fruit and vegetables the better as this will mean you get a variety of vitamins and minerals also.
Choose wholegrain cereals when possible such as wholegrain pasta, rice, breakfast cereals and bread as these will provide more fibre than the more processed varieties. Aim to have 4-5 serving of these foods throughout the day as they are important sources of energy for you.
Include vitamin D-rich foods in your diet every day which include oily fish (salmon, trout, herring, tuna, mackerel, sardines), eggs (egg yolk), and foods fortified with vitamin D such as milks and breakfast cereals. The Food Safety Authority of Ireland’s (FSAI) most recent guidelines also recommend that breastfeeding women take a daily supplement containing 5µg vitamin D to help you meet your daily vitamin D requirements. Always check with your pharmacist that the supplement you are buying is suitable for you.
Breastfeeding is undoubtedly thirsty work so aim to have at least 8 glasses (2 litres) of water during the day.
Foods to avoid when breastfeeding
Caffeine can pass freely into breast milk so it’s important to limit your intake of coffee and other caffeine-containing beverages such as tea and energy drinks. Try limiting your coffee to 2 cups per day. Learn more about caffeine when breastfeeding from our article.
Alcohol should be avoided when breastfeeding. However, if you do decide to have a drink, you can express breast milk beforehand. If you have consumed alcohol less than 2-3 hours before your baby is to be fed, you should express and discard breast milk that may be tainted with alcohol before feeding your baby.
Similarly, because the chemicals in cigarettes can be passed to your baby, it is important not to smoke when breastfeeding and also at all times ensure your baby is not exposed to passive smoking.
Calories burned during breastfeeding
Breastfeeding burns up to 500 extra calories during the day. Therefore, it is important that you include extra snacks throughout the day to help meet this increased energy requirement. The table below provides a list of snack ideas that you could include throughout the day to give you the extra 500 kcals you need.
|Snack||Serving Size||Calories(kcal)(average value)|
|Wholemeal Scone (with low fat spread)||
1 small scone (1 level tsp)
|Slice of soda bread||1 average slice (30g)||80|
|Bowl of wholegrain cereal||1 average bowl(30g)||110|
|Crisp bread with Low Fat Soft Cheese Spread||4 crisp bread with thin spread of soft low fat cheese||175|
|Baked beans||1 small can(150g)||120|
|Small tin of tuna in brine||70g||70|
|1 serving of fruit||1 medium sized fruit (100g) e.g. apple, banana, orange, or pear. 2 small fruits e.g. plums or mandarins. Handful of berries or grapes. Small bowl of fruit salad||95|
|1 low fat yoghurt||125g pot||95|
|Scrambled eggs||2 eggs||170|
|Fortified low fat milk||1 small cup (200ml)||90|
|Fortified non-fat milk||1 small cup (200ml)||70|
|Bowl of soup||1 medium bowl||110|