How to be your best healthy self while breastfeeding
- Eating a varied diet of foods while you’re breastfeeding is important.
- While there isn’t an exhaustive list of foods to avoid when breastfeeding, there are some you should limit.
- There may also be some benefits of exercising while you’re breastfeeding.
Parents aren’t particularly good at thinking about themselves.
You’re always worried about someone else. You’re wondering why newborns have hiccups so often? And are their hiccups normal? Why do babies cry in their sleep? What’s the best nap length? How often do I need to bathe the kids?
But in truth, looking after your health is one of the greatest gifts you could give your family, particularly if you’re breastfeeding. So, for the next few minutes while you’re reading this, you need to think about yourself. Deal?
GP Dr Jill Gamberg shares her breastfeeding tips on what to eat and foods to avoid when breastfeeding.
Why food choices are important while breastfeeding
According to Dr Jill, a healthy diet is always important, but it’s especially important if you’re breastfeeding.
“Breastfeeding uses a lot of energy and nutrients. It’s estimated that your energy needs during breastfeeding increase by about 500 calories per day,” she explains.
Dr Jill also says that if you’re feeling hungry, you should eat. Remember to eat regularly and include a wide variety of healthy foods.
You’re not only nourishing your baby, but you’re also nourishing yourself.
The best breastfeeding foods
Dr Jill says that variety is important. But what does that look like on your plate?
She shares this list for you to consider how to add variety to your diet.
Many women are very thirsty during breastfeeding, and you could expect to drink up to two litres a day. All fluids count, including tea that is suitable for breastfeeding, but water is the best source of fluid.
You should include plenty of protein in your diet, such as meat, fish, chicken, eggs, cheese, yoghurt, nuts, seeds, and legumes like lentils and chickpeas.
You need four servings of calcium-rich foods each day to protect bone strength and help to prevent lower bone density later in life. Good sources of calcium include milk, cheese and yoghurt, or plant milk fortified with calcium (ensure these contain at least 100mg of calcium per 100ml).
Pregnancy lowers some of your iron stores, so you need to rebuild these while you’re breastfeeding. Iron-rich foods include red meat, chicken, fish, legumes, nuts and green leafy vegetables.
Some signs of iron deficiency include:
- poor memory
- getting sick more often
- decreased libido
These symptoms can be caused by other issues so be sure to chat to your GP for advice.
Dr Jill says that breastfeeding also increases your need for other vitamins and minerals, so you should include foods that contain these in your diet:
- Folate – leafy green vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts.
- Vitamin C – citrus fruits, berries, tropical fruit, tomatoes, capsicum and potatoes.
- Vitamin A – dark green and yellow vegetables, such as broccoli, carrots and pumpkin.
- Research has also shown that taking probiotics while breastfeeding may be beneficial.
Foods to avoid when breastfeeding
That’s a pretty exhaustive list of what you could eat, but are there any foods to avoid when breastfeeding? Thankfully, Dr Jill says this list isn’t as long.
“There is little evidence that specific foods upset babies or give them diarrhoea. Caffeine passes into breast milk so you might want to limit your tea, coffee and cola intake to three or less per day. Alcohol is best avoided while breastfeeding,” she says.
Exercise while breastfeeding
The food you eat while breastfeeding is important. But Dr Jill says there are benefits of exercise for those who are breastfeeding.
“Moderate exercise doesn’t affect breastmilk supply or immune factors, minerals, major nutrients or energy density in breast milk. It also doesn’t affect the growth of the baby,” she explains.
In fact, Dr Jill says there are many potential benefits of exercise, including:
- improved cardiovascular health, bone strength and mental wellbeing
- reduced stress levels
- increased energy
Dr Jills recommends taking a graded, safe approach and speaking with your health professional if you’re unsure.
“High impact exercise isn't advisable until at least four months postpartum to allow your pelvic floor to recover. You could start with your postpartum pelvic floor exercises and lower back stretches to ease into it gently,” she says.
Look after yourself
From the time you’re expecting and trying to find out how to get better sleep while pregnant, it’s all about your baby. Even your search for the answer to can pregnant women eat bacon isn’t just about your bacon craving. You want to do the best for your baby.
Nothing in life is perfect, but to that little person you’re raising, you’re just about as close to perfect as you can get.
Dr Jill Gamberg is a General Practitioner and one of the first Australian Lifestyle Medicine Physicians whose goal is to help prevent disease and maintain wellness with evidence-based practice, and to passionately improve health literacy.
Reviewed by the healthylife Advisory Board November 2021.