What can I eat when I'm breastfeeding?
Updated: Apr 1
We’re often given lists of foods we should avoid when we are breastfeeding. (The common things I see listed are garlic, broccoli, cabbage, chocolate, and the like.) The interesting thing is that very few of these recommendations truly follow the evidence.
Breastfeeding women around the world eat all sorts of things, our diets are very varied, and most babies do fine. (In fact, in simple terms, exposing our babies to little “tastes” of the foods in our diet through our breast milk seems to then allow that baby to “know” those foods when they are finally given them direct when we introduce solids.)
Of course, if your family has a history of food allergies or intolerances, then you may find you need to limit or avoid certain foods while breastfeeding. It’s important that you get skilled help to navigate this and a dietitian is the person to see. Also, many women find that there are individual foods that upset THEIR baby, and again it may make sense to limit or avoid them until later in the breastfeeding journey. Again, get some support from a dietitian or other qualified health care professional.
Having said all of this, here is some general information about diet during breastfeeding:
1. When we are exclusively (fully) breastfeeding our baby (i.e. they’re not having formula or eating any “real” food), we‘re making on average 800ml of breast milk daily. BREAST MILK IS 87% WATER and if we don’t drink enough, we’ll still make plenty of milk but our body may become dehydrated. It’s important to DRINK TO YOUR THIRST to ensure you stay well hydrated.
2. It takes about 2,800 kJ per day to make breast milk. Some of this energy comes from pregnancy fat stores and around 2,100 kJ needs to come from EXTRA FOOD INTAKE EACH DAY each day. Please take this into account in your daily food totals – and choose the most nutrient dense foods that you can.
3. It’s not possible to influence the levels of protein, lactose or fat in our breast milk – if we eat more or less of any of these things, it doesn’t change the levels in our milk. Based on the average of 800ml of breast milk per day, we need to eat an ADDITIONAL 25g OF PROTEIN PER DAY when we are breastfeeding, so include this in your daily food intake.
4. We cannot change the percentages of fat in our breast milk. Fat levels are only influenced by how full our breasts are at any given time – the emptier the breast, the higher the fat content. HOWEVER, we can change the TYPES of fats in our breast milk. For example if you eat more long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, like omega-3 fatty acids, then more of these will be in your breast milk. Good sources of DHA include salmon, oysters and sardines, and sources of other omega-3 fatty acids include flaxseed oil, walnuts, chia seeds, pecans and pumpkin seeds.
5. Biologically, there are certain protections built into the milk-making systems so our breast milk (almost*) always has the right levels of vitamins and minerals. Provided your diet is balanced (eat a rainbow!), then the vitamin and mineral levels in your breast milk will be exactly right. If you are concerned that your diet is deficient in any way, please consult a dietitian or other qualified health care professional.
(*NOTE: If you are vegan, it is important to check your levels of the B vitamins, especially B12, through pregnancy and breastfeeding. Being deficient in B12 can lead to deficiencies in your breast milk, which can have serious consequences for the growth and development of a baby.)
Hope this helps you find your happy feed! Shona x
[All information given on this blog is general and may not be right for you. Please consult your GP, dietitian or other health care professional for individual care related to your situation.]