There's no denying it: breastfeeding is a glorious, primal, beautiful and empowering way to nurture your baby throughout their infancy.
We want to shout it from the rooftops daily: breastfeeding is HARD. WORK.
If you are a breastfeeding mum, you will notice how much thirstier you become as this precious fluid leaves your body and goes to your baby's belly, providing them with all the nutrients and antibodies they need to help them grow, develop and fight off infections.
Your breast milk is a jewel of evolution in that its composition will change to adapt to your baby's needs.
But, just as your hydration levels plummet while they feed, breastfeeding can also deplete your body’s stores of certain fundamental nutrients including zinc, vitamin D and B vitamins among others.
This is especially true if you're already deficient in these areas.
Nutrient depletion can lead to brain fog, tiredness, hair loss and mood changes.
These are the last things you need while caring for a baby.
Eating a nutritious diet while breastfeeding is just as important as when you were pregnant, for your energy and optimal health during this time.
Of course, the fourth trimester is a difficult time to be thinking about your diet; we know your hands are full.
This is why we have laid out a handy guide on how to consume enough vital nutrients for optimal breast milk quality.
What are the best foods to eat when breastfeeding?
It is widely known that even mothers who have given birth in famine, with little to no food available, will still be able to produce nutritious breast milk full of fat, proteins, carbohydrates and macronutrients necessary to help their babies grow.
Breast milk, especially in the first few months, will still be enough for your baby's health.
But as your baby grows their nutritional needs will grow too.
Human milk is a living substance that evolves and adapts to the needs of a baby at every feed: if your baby is sick, your milk will amp up the number of antibodies it's producing to help your baby recover.
When your baby grows, the milk composition changes to be the right consistency for its growing brain and body. It's truly amazing.
As you continue to feed, your baby will be drawing upon your body's stores of nutrients.
And if you are low in critical nutrients, your baby will take from your own supplies, leaving you low in energy and prone to ill health, including depression.
Your breastmilk is able to partly compensate for the extra demand for nutrients, but you will need to supplement this with your diet.
You do not need to go on a special diet, but there are some vitamins you should pay particular attention to, including:
- Vitamin D
- Omega 3 fatty acids
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin Bs (vitamin b12, b2, b6, b5, b3 & b1)
Exclusive breastfeeding is a wonderful way to nourish your baby.
One of the downsides, however, is that bubs will struggle to keep up with their daily recommended vitamin D intake this way as only a tiny amount of vitamin D is passed through the breastmilk, even if the mother has high vitamin D levels (baby formula, on the other hand, is fortified with vitamin D).
This leaves babies at risk of vitamin D deficiencies, which can affect bone health, brain development and immune system development.
Ensuring some exposure to sunlight for both you and your baby is key to helping them absorb vitamin D. Of course, living in Australia, we want to limit the amount of sun exposure we get, which is where a supplement will be useful here.
You can also eat vitamin D-fortified breakfast cereals, eggs and some protein shakes to help increase your vitamin D levels. And, vitamin D supplements are available too.
Leafy green vegetables
Leafy greens, collard greens and "cruciferous" vegetables are as nutrient-dense as they come.
Packed with vitamins like vitamin A, K, C and B vitamins as well as folate, fibre, iron, magnesium and potassium, green vegetables are the easiest and most effective way to amp up your nutrient intake.
Silverbeet, kale, rocket, broccoli, spinach, mustard greens, watercress and bok choy are just some of the many, many leafy greens out there you can incorporate into your diet.
You can add most of these to a meal by steaming, sautéing or boiling them. Or, rip some kale leaves off the stalk and put them in a smoothie!
Cold water fish
Oily fish, like herring, tuna, anchovies and salmon, is packed with omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega 3s are vital for aiding cardiovascular function, blood pressure balancing, reducing inflammation, minimising artery disease and reducing the risk of stroke.
For babies, it helps with developing brains and retina plus immunity strength.
Fish like sardines and salmon are also high in zinc, selenium (a nutrient that helps manage thyroid function), calcium, and iodine and are an extremely effective and healthy source of protein, all of which are incredibly important nutrients for a breastfeeding diet.
For vegan and vegetarian diets, omega-3s can also be found in foods like flaxseed, walnuts, chia seeds and soybeans.
Yellow and orange fruits and veggies
Yellow and orange-coloured veggies are high in vitamin A, Bs, E, C, folate, magnesium, riboflavin and other essential nutrients including beta carotene (the chemical that gives carrots their orange colour).
We're talking about yellow capsicum, carrots, corn, yellow potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, squash, lemons, apricots, oranges and bananas are among just a few of the many foods out there that will increase your vitamin intake necessary for optimal breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding demands a lot of calcium. If your body is low in calcium, it will take it from your bones to meet your increased needs.
It's definitely wise to stay on top of your calcium intake to ensure that your levels don't drop over your breastfeeding period.
Dairy foods are loaded with calcium and cow's milk, cheese and yoghurt are easy to add to meals or have as snacks.
For those who are vegetarian, vegan or who have dairy intolerances, calcium can be found in almost all dark leafy green vegetables as well as edamame beans, tofu and almonds.
Some drinks are calcium-fortified including plant-based milks and orange juices, which are easy to find alternatives to dairy for calcium consumption.
Lean beef, chicken, pork and lamb are fantastic sources of zinc, iron, iodine, B vitamins (especially B12), and essential fatty acids.
One to two servings of lean meat will be hugely beneficial in meeting your nutritional needs and will give you a much-needed burst of protein.
Vegetarian and vegan diet followers can meet all of their nutritional needs from fruits and vegetables.
However, vitamin B12 is one of the few nutrients you will need to consume through supplements. Vitamin B12 deficiencies can cause fatigue, breathlessness, headaches and dangerous levels of weight loss.
Vitamin B12 is transferred through breast milk after birth, so ensuring an adequate level of B12 in your diet is crucial for your and your baby's health.
Do you need extra calories when breastfeeding?
Yes. According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, an additional 330 to 400 kilocalories is recommended for breastfeeding mothers, but other sources suggest up to 500 extra calories per day.
This may be variable depending on your age, weight, BMI and other health issues.
It's not uncommon to feel hungrier while breastfeeding: your body is a provider for your baby, so you must replenish those lost calories where you can.
If you don't consume those extra calories, your body's stores of fat, carbohydrates, protein and other nutrients are used to maintain high-quality milk for your baby, depleting you even further.
It's important to be aware, even vaguely, of your calorie intake when breastfeeding to ensure you're eating enough.
Do you need to take breastfeeding vitamins?
Taking a breastfeeding supplement is not necessary if you are confident you can meet all your nutritional needs from your diet.
But, this is really hard to do when you are sleep deprived and learning to look after a newborn.
That's why pregnancy and postpartum supplements exist: to help mothers meet their nutritional needs while they're in the throes of this new way of life.
The Postnatal supports your energy levels, blood health and immune function with 18 essential micronutrients that are formulated in the optimal dosage to cater to your needs during this incredibly demanding phase of life.
Be sure to speak to your doctor about the foods you're consuming while breastfeeding and whether or not a supplement will be right for you.
Do you need to drink more water?
Yes! From the moment your baby latches the first time, or from that very first pump, you will notice your thirst increases quite dramatically.
Your body needs so much more water while breastfeeding.
Doctors actually recommend having between 12 to 15 cups of water a day while breastfeeding, rather than the normal eight for non-breastfeeders.
Having a bottle of water by your side while breastfeeding will be incredibly helpful.
If you’re not sure whether you’re getting enough fluids, have a look at your urine after you use the toilet: it should be pale yellow.
Dark yellow urine is a sign that you need to drink more fluids.
Can you drink alcohol and coffee while breastfeeding?
Yes, in moderation. You certainly can consume caffeine with a newborn, but be aware that caffeine passes through breastmilk.
Your baby will ingest a small amount and it could affect their sleep.
Doctors recommend two cups of coffee or three to four cups of tea a day at the most.
Energy drinks are high in sugar and synthetic chemicals and should be avoided.
Alcohol also passes through the breast and into the baby's milk supply which can have detrimental effects on your bub and in most cases, it's probably best to forgo drinking if you need to feed your baby soon and your only option is to breastfeed.
Another aspect of coffee, tea and some alcoholic drinks is the tannins present.
Tannins are a natural chemical compound found in these beverages that inhibit iron absorption.
Iron is really important while breastfeeding, which is another reason to watch what beverages you're regularly drinking.
Do you need to avoid certain foods while breastfeeding?
Unlike in pregnancy, you can enjoy all foods while breastfeeding. No more avoiding sushi and wine!
There is very little evidence that certain foods will upset a baby's tummy.
Spicy foods can be eaten and enjoyed while breastfeeding, there is no solid evidence to suggest that they will affect the baby's breast milk taste or production.
You can put hot sauce on anything you want!
But, moderation must be practised for foods that are high in sugars, high-fat foods and salt.
Synthetic and processed foods do very little for your body and your baby and can actually make you feel thirstier, more tired and lower in energy. This is the time to nourish your body!
Can I lose weight while breastfeeding?
Breastfeeding requires an extra 500 calories per day due to how much your baby is taking from you via milk. In the first few weeks, it's common for parents to lose a small amount of weight as their body adjusts to breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding is not a time to lose weight quickly. Losing pregnancy weight is often on people's minds after they give birth, but rushing into diets, especially crash or fad diets, can be detrimental to your body.
Breastfeeding parents need to eat a wide variety of nutrient-dense foods to cope with the demands of breastfeeding, so maternal nutrition should be at the front and centre of any diet you start.
Eating nutritious foods and engaging in moderate exercise is the best thing you can do for your body right now.
Losing weight gained in pregnancy is a good thing to do, but not at the expense of a balanced diet.
Breastfeeding diet and foods, in a nutshell
Infant feeding is hard and will be on your mind a lot. Babies take up almost all of your energy and thoughts, and a mother's diet is often neglected.
Ensuring your nutritional needs are being met with a healthy diet means you will be the best mother you can be.
Here's a quick summary of what we've covered:
- Have two to three serves of protein per day (including lean meat, chicken, fish, eggs, cow's milk, beans, nuts and seeds). If you're following a vegetarian or vegan diet, ensure you're consuming all the nutrients and protein necessary.
- Enjoy at least three servings of vegetables, including green, orange and yellow vegetables per day. Have at least two serves of colourful fruit, too.
- Eat carbs (especially whole grains including whole wheat, pasta, rice and oats).
- Drink water!
- Do not lose weight quickly. Try your best to maintain a healthy weight, and think about weight reduction after the newborn period. Give yourself time.
- If you don't eat animal products, ensure your diet includes other sources of B12, zinc, iodine and iron.
Remember, the Australian Breastfeeding Association insists there is no such thing as a 'perfect' breastfeeding diet, so don't be hard on yourself.
Work with your doctor or dietician if you have any particular concerns about how to meet your nutritional needs.