Wrens guide to breastfeeding and nutrition
Wren’s guide to breastfeeding and nutrition
Wondering about the best food to chow down on when you’re breastfeeding? Here’s our ultimate guide to helping you (and your little one) stay nourished.
What should you eat when breastfeeding?
It’s actually a myth that breastmilk is made up of *exactly* what you eat but it’s true that, when food and drink (and even medicine) get digested, they’re absorbed into your bloodstream and some of the molecules end up in your milk.
So, while there’s nothing special you need to be eating while breastfeeding, it’s best to stick to a healthy diet, as the more goodness you incorporate, the more will enter your supply and be passed to your little one.
In general, aim for a balanced diet that’s full of fruit and veg, whole grains, fibre, protein and calcium (either from dairy or vegan sources). Meat’s also a good option, and so is fish (but don’t dine out on more than two portions per week).
A varied diet will see you benefit from a range of nutritious foods. And it’ll also change the taste and smell of your milk, exposing your baby to lots of flavours, which may help them be more adventurous when it comes to weaning.
Staying hydrated is also totally essential, as there’s so much going on in your body when you’re breastfeeding. Aim to have a drink on hand whenever you settle down to feed, so you can keep yourself topped up throughout the day or night.
Calories and breastfeeding
A question lots of new mamas ask is ‘how many calories do I need when breastfeeding?’.
If you’re exclusively breastfeeding your bub, your body is likely to burn 400-500 calories a day, so there’s no need to feel guilty if you find yourself reaching for a few more snacks than usual.
While you don’t need to worry too much about calorie counting, it’s a good idea to make sure that, if you are consuming more, you’re making healthy choices. And, sadly, it’s still no excuse to skip the exercise!
Healthy snacks for breastfeeding mums
And on the subject of snacks… Aim to have quick and easy options in the cupboard and carry a few bits around with you whenever you leave the house, to make sure your energy levels stay high and you can stave off the hanger.
Some of our favourite, healthy snacks are:
- Yoghurt and fresh berries
- A bowl of wholegrain cereal or muesli
- Dried fruit, such as dates, figs and apricots
- A handful of nuts, like almonds or walnuts
- Hummous with pitta or veg sticks
- A slice of toast with melted cheese, avocado or nut butter
- A square (or two) of dark chocolate
- Granola bars
- Porridge and honey.
Smoothies can also be a delicious way to get a quick energy fix. Making one can be as easy as blending up some fresh or frozen fruit with milk (or plant milk). And you can always slip in some extra goodness, like protein, fibre and lactation boosters. Experiment with adding a spoon of nut butter, a squeeze of honey or a sprinkle of milled seeds or cinnamon and see what you like best.
Head this way for our favourite smoothie recipe.
Caffeine and alcohol while breastfeeding
As long as you’re breastfeeding, you’ll want to keep your cupboard stocked with decaf tea and coffee.
This is because caffeine can pass to your baby via breast milk and anything more than 200mg a day might keep them awake (something no new parent would wish for, as they adjust to a life of sleep deprivation).
As well as tea and coffee, caffeine is sometimes found in energy drinks and cold and flu medication, so check the ingredients before trying anything new.
Instead, stay hydrated with decaffeinated drinks, herbal tea, juice, milk and or a good ol’ fashioned glass of water.
And, after nine months off the booze, do you have to abstain from alcohol while breastfeeding as well?
Well, alcohol can also pass into your breast milk, so it definitely pays to keep it to a minimum.
While the occasional glass isn’t likely to harm your baby, too much can cause development problems and slow growth.
If you do have a drink, it’s advisable to wait a couple of hours before feeding or pumping again, as too much alcohol can also lead to sleep problems for your baby.
Booze can also decrease your milk supply, so mums trying to boost their output should be extra careful.
How does what you eat affect your breast milk?
If your baby is having only your milk, it’s worth being aware that allergens from the food you eat can pass through and affect your baby. This is why some babies have allergic reactions or food intolerances.
If the reaction is mild, try removing one thing from your diet at a time until you notice improvements. Keeping a food diary can help you keep track of what you’ve eaten that could be causing the discomfort.
However, if your baby is really struggling to keep food down, is covered in a rash or has laboured breathing, take them to get checked out straight away. If you think the reaction may be dietary, a health professional should be able to advise.
It’s fairly common for babies and infants to have an intolerance of:
- Milk (and other dairy products)
- Fish or shellfish
Other culprits could include sesame, mustard, lupin or celery or fenugreek.
Lactation boosters - top foods to increase and enrich your breast milk supply
It’s a fact that the more of your milk your baby drinks, the more milk you’ll produce. Increasing your supply this way can be a slog, but, if you breastfeed on demand, you will be able to produce enough milk for your little one, regardless of what you eat.
However, there are certain foods that, across the world, have long been thought to help to boost your flow. While there’s not a whole lot of credible research around to say for sure how useful this list is, there’s no harm in giving them a go to see if your supply improves.
From porridge to flapjack or a glass of plant-based milk, there are so many easy ways to include iron-rich oats into your diet to boost your milk supply.
Head this way for our favourite overnight oats recipe, specially for breastfeeding mamas.
Strong suggestion? Allegedly the babies of garlic-coiffing mamas stay at the boob and breastfeed for longer. Whatever the truth is, it’s an easy one to add to all sorts of meals.
Just be aware that some infants can’t tolerate it, so if your baby starts to develop colic-like symptoms, try cutting back until you discover whether garlic is the culprit.
Calcium-rich almonds are a top choice for breastfeeding mums. As well as being quick to eat, they’re full of antioxidants and good fats, which can add richness to your milk. Plus, they’re bursting with protein, E and B vitamins, and minerals like iron, magnesium and zinc.
Why not make up a bag of trail mix, to snack on when you’re out and about?
Shout out to the veggies! Dark, leafy greens are a must when you’re breastfeeding. They’re delicious and highly nutritious, being rich in iron and calcium as well as omega 3, vitamin K and folates.
Spinach is our go-to, as it’s easy to chuck into so many dishes. But make time for things like kale, broccoli, cauliflower, chard, cabbage and brussels sprouts and you (and baby) will reap the benefits.
Breastfeeding on a vegetarian or vegan diet
Some new mums worry about breastfeeding on a vegan or even a vegetarian diet. But there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that a balanced, plant- or dairy-based diet can give your little one everything they need from their liquid lunch.
You’ll need to make sure that you get enough of certain vitamins and minerals, however, such as iron, B12 (mainly found in meat and fish) and vitamin D. But with a bit of forward planning, it shouldn’t be hard.
Iron is found in pulses, dark leafy greens, dried fruit and wholegrains and cereals. Cooked eggs are also a good source of iron for vegetarian mamas.
If you’ve been vegan for a while, you may be used to supplementing B12. It’s also found in plenty of fortified foods such as plant milks and cereal, as well as Marmite. Vegetarian sources of vitamin B12 include cooked eggs, cheese, yoghurt and milk.
As a vegan, you’ll need to make sure you take in enough calcium from non-dairy sources, to avoid your baby drawing on your own calcium reserves and affecting your bone health long-term. Again, dark leafy green vegetables are great for this, as are brown bread, tofu, tahini, sesame seeds, and dried fruit.
Lactating mamas are advised to consume an extra 25g of protein a day. Delicious vegan sources of protein include beans and pulses, nuts, tofu and plant-based milks and yoghurt. Tuck in, mama!
Essential vitamins for breastfeeding
If you eat a well-balanced, healthy diet, you should be able to get all the vitamins you need from your food.
Many mums like to take supplements too, however, to make sure their postpartum bodies recover quickly, and their babies are getting all the goodness they need.
The NHS recommends that everyone (including breastfeeding women) take a vitamin D supplement as, especially during the winter, this can be hard to obtain from natural sunlight. Vitamin D plays a big role in regulating calcium in your body, which is crucial for mums while expressing.
Ready to try some quick and easy breastfeeding-friendly recipes? Look no further.