Best foods to eat when breastfeeding

Eating the right foods is important for both you and your baby. Here are some of the best foods to eat when breastfeeding.

When you’re breastfeeding, your milk production provides essential nutrients to keep your baby healthy and growing.

Some people don’t adapt to breastfeeding straight away and can struggle to get their baby to latch. If you’d like to try breastfeeding but have trouble, we’ve already put together some tips and tricks to help.

It’s also okay to have questions and not be entirely sure what foods are best for you and your baby whilst you’re breastfeeding. If you’re exclusively breastfeeding for the first 6 months, it’s essential to ensure you’re giving your baby all the nutrients they need. Being aware of your infant's nutrition needs can help you eat the right foods throughout breastfeeding.

What nutrients and vitamins should I try to include in my diet?

When it comes to breastfeeding, there’s no tried and tested diet that everyone needs to follow. However, it’s always good to make a conscious effort to eat fruit and vegetables and practise a healthy, balanced diet. For the parent and baby to stay healthy whilst breastfeeding, it can be worth continuing to take some of the vitamins you took throughout pregnancy to boost both of your immune systems. 

Postnatal vitamins are also important as pregnancy uses up many of your nutrients. Several specific nutrients in your body deplete during pregnancy, such as folate, vitamin D, iron, fatty acids, selenium, and calcium. 

Nutrients are also important whilst breastfeeding as they help with lactation. If you’re looking to increase your milk supply, taking vitamin B12 tablets can help encourage lactation. 

If you’re thinking about taking vitamin supplements, it could be worth having a chat with your GP or midwife, as they can have a look at what you need in your diet and recommend vitamins from there. However, here are some vitamins that they may suggest you take:

  • Calcium
  • Folic acid
  • Iodine
  • Iron
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin B6
  • Vitamin B12
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin D supplement
  • DHA (docosahexaenoic acid - a type of omega-3 fat)

What are the best foods to include in my diet?

When you’re breastfeeding, foods with high protein sources (such as lean meats, eggs, dairy, beans, and lentils) will help encourage milk production. You’ll likely need to eat some extra calories (roughly 300 to 400 more calories a day) to give your body the energy to encourage milk production. 

You can also try switching up what you eat to get your baby a little more used to trying different flavours - this will make moving to solid foods easier as your baby will be used to the variety. 

Some of the best foods to include in your diet are: 

  • Meat and poultry (chicken, pork, lamb, beef, organ meats)
  • Fish and seafood (seaweed, shellfish, salmon, sardines)
  • Fruit and vegetables (peppers, cabbage, leafy greens, broccoli, berries)
  • Nuts and seeds (sesame seeds, walnuts, chia seeds)
  • Healthy fats (olive oil, avocado, eggs)
  • Fibre-rich foods (potatoes, beans, lentils, butternut squash)

It’s vital that you eat a balanced diet. You can mix and match any number of the above foods to ensure a good balance of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, and fruit and vegetables.

Are there any foods or drinks that I should avoid?

There aren’t many things you need to specifically avoid whilst breastfeeding. However, there are a couple of things that you should avoid altogether or limit in your diet. 

Although fish can be a great source of omega-3 fatty acids and protein, a lot of seafood includes mercury or other contaminants. If your baby has excessive exposure to mercury through your breastmilk, this may affect your baby's nervous system development. Swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish are especially high in mercury, so it’s best to avoid them altogether. You can continue to eat fish but try to keep your fish consumption to no more than 2 portions of oily fish per week.

It’s also recommended that you limit your caffeine intake whilst breastfeeding, as too much can aggravate and interfere with your baby's sleep - try not to drink more than 2 cups of caffeine a day. 

Finally, avoid having alcohol in your system when you breastfeed, as no level of alcohol in your breast milk is safe for your baby. If you decide to have a drink, it’s a good idea to allow some time for the alcohol to leave your system before you continue to breastfeed.

What should I eat if I’m vegetarian or vegan?

You may have dietary requirements and wonder if it’s possible to maintain them whilst pregnant and breastfeeding. If you don’t eat meat, there are other options to get the right amount of nutrients. Here are some good sources of nutrients to make sure you include enough in your diet:

  • Beans, pulses, and tofu are high in protein
  • Dried fruit, nuts, and seeds are rich in iron and zinc
  • Leafy greens, beans, and broccoli are high in fibre
  • Fortified milk and dark leafy greens are great sources of calcium
  • Seaweed, kale, and courgettes are rich in iodine

If you’re vegetarian or vegan, it can still be worth taking a daily vitamin to help supplement your levels. Vitamin B12 is particularly hard to come by on a meat-free diet, so it can be worth taking something to ensure your levels are high enough. However, it’s still possible to have a healthy diet whilst vegetarian or vegan and produce nutrient-rich breast milk for your child.

Final thoughts from Kami

If you decide that breastfeeding isn’t for you, that’s also okay. We’ve written an article that explains what benefits formula feeding can also have if you don’t breastfeed. However, if you decide to breastfeed, it’s helpful to understand the best foods for you and your baby. If you have any questions or concerns about breastfeeding and your diet, contact your midwife or doctor, as they’ll be able to provide you with specific nutritional advice. 

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