There are numerous benefits of breast feeding, in particular the many health benefits for your baby. However many women struggle to find a diet that helps them produce enough milk and maintain their energy levels. Ideally a balanced diet includes healthy grains, fruit & vegetables, protein and dairy – though every mother’s dietary needs will vary.
What about the baby?
Even in countries where food is scarce, breastfed babies are able to thrive. Deficiencies in nutrients, such as iodine and vitamin B12, may affect breast milk, but the main focus of your diet now should be fulfilling your own nutritional needs. Your body will usually cope with the demands of breastfeeding by increasing your appetite, using nutrients more efficiently, drawing on the fat stores laid down in pregnancy, and reducing the amount of energy you use.
What about me?
For women on a typical Australian diet, the main nutrients you should focus on are iodine, calcium and iron. The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) recommends that breastfeeding women should take an iodine supplement of 150 micrograms (μg) each day. Breastfeeding mothers also need to keep up their calcium levels. When your body isn’t getting enough calcium from your diet it will draw on the supplies from your bones which can put you at risk of osteoporosis later in life. It is also important for you to build up your iron levels, which may have been depleted during pregnancy. One early sign that you may be low in iron is if you feel fit walking on flat ground but tire quickly on inclines.
What is the recommended diet for breastfeeding women?
Last year the NHMRC set out some healthy eating guidelines for breastfeeding women. One thing you’ll notice with a new baby is how much your lifestyle and appetite changes. Use these guidelines as a starting point, the main thing is to eat a variety of healthy foods and keep your water intake up.
Grains (9 serves per day)
Eat mostly whole grains and high-fibre cereals. One serve might be any one of these options:
Vegetables and legumes (7.5 serves per day)
About 75 g from a variety of different coloured vegetables, for example:
Fruit (2 serves per day)
About 150g of a wide selection of fruits, for example:
Dairy or alternatives (2.5 serves)
Mostly reduced fat products, such as:
Protein (2.5 serves)
Lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts, seed, legumes/beans, for example:
Additional serves for taller, active or underweight mothers(0 – 2.5 serves)
More from other food groups or unsaturated spreads and oils or discretionary foods
This may sound like a lot of food, but you’ll be surprised at how much you end up eating while breastfeeding. And it’s important to remember that even though your baby is now with you in the world, you are still their main source of food. So you need to be eating the right nutrients to give them the best start at life.
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