The Breastfeeding Diet Plan - According To Experts 

Rebecca McPhee
Dietitian Member of the DAA


3 Minutes

The type of diet to follow when you start breastfeeding is quite similar to when you were pregnant, with a few more relaxed rules. If you were missing sushi and soft cheese for example, it is back on the menu (yay!) 

In Australia, it is recommended that infants be exclusively breastfed until around 6 months of age when solid foods are introduced. It is also recommended that breastfeeding be continued until 12 months of age and beyond, for as long as you and bub desire. There are so many benefits to breastfeeding and some may actually surprise you. Here are some of the latest research findings on the health benefits for you and bub: 

 

- Prevent Type 2 Diabetes for you and bub (If you breastfeed for at least 6 months) 

- Reduce your risk of developing cardiovascular disease by 14% 

- Reduce your risk of dying from cardiovascular disease by 34%  

- Resets the metabolism, improving insulin sensitivity, fat metabolism and greater mobilisation of visceral fat (fat around your organs) 

- Builds a healthy baby brain by using the fat accumulated around your bottom, hips and thighs! The fats in these areas are enriched in the essential fatty acid, DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), which is an important component in the developing a healthy brain) 

 

Given that breastfeeding burns up a lot of your energy, it is important that to make good food choices to provide enough fuel for you and your baby. Basing your eating around the five food groups is the best thing you can do to ensure those extra calories are nutrient rich for the growth and development of your little one. When you breastfeed, you actually need an extra 500 calories each day compared to pregnancy which is only 300 calories. What does this look like in terms of food? An average main meal would clock up about 500 calories whereas 300 calories would be a snack of 4 crackers with cheese and a small apple.  

 

Daily diet for breastfeeding 

 

Food Group 

Serves 

Serving Sizes 

Vegetables or legumes/beans 

7 ½  

1 serve is equal to ½ cup cooked vegetables or legumes, 1 cup of salad, or ½ potato 

Fruit 

1 serve is equal to 1 medium or 2 small pieces of fruit 

Grain foods, mostly wholegrain or high fibre varieties  

1 serve is equal to 1 slice of bread, ½ cup cooked rice or pasta, or 2/3 cup of cereal 

Lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts/seeds or legumes/beans 

2 ½  

1 serve is equal to 65-80g cooked meat or poultry, 100g fish, 2 eggs, or 1 small handful of nuts/seeds 

Dairy foods, including milk, yoghurt, cheese or dairy alternatives (e.g. soy), mostly from reduced fat options 

2 ½  

1 serve is equal to 1 cup of milk, 1 tub of yoghurt, or 2 slices of cheese 

 

Key nutrients to consider  

 

Protein  

Protein is needed for cell growth and repair and is also important for building strong muscles. During breastfeeding, the number of protein serves increases slightly. Most Australians get enough protein from their diet so there is no need to supplement. You can get protein from a variety of animal and plant sources including red meat, chicken, fish, eggs, cheese, milk, yogurt, legumes, beans, pulses and soy foods including tofu, tempeh, soymilk and soy yoghurt. 

 

Iron  

Iron is an important mineral needed during breastfeeding and found in many foods we eat. Iron helps to transport oxygen around the body and is a key player in producing energy, building a healthy immune system and stores oxygen in our muscles. Overall, a much needed mineral to help us function every day! Iron rich foods include: red meat, chicken, fish, eggs, green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, pulses, beans and wholegrain breads and cereals. To increase the way your body absorbs iron from plant foods, include vitamin C rich foods at the same time such as citrus fruits, red capsicum or kiwi fruit. Think tomatoes with your morning wholegrain toast or sliced kiwi on your morning wholegrain cereal! Including meat, fish or chicken can also increase absorption of iron in plant foods when eaten at the same time. Think red capsicum in your beef and rice stir-fry or a spinach and chickpea salad with tuna and lemon. 

 

Folate 

Folate, also known as folic acid, is a B group vitamin naturally found in food and is essential for the healthy development of baby. Health Authorities recommend that women take a supplement of 500 micrograms of folic acid daily plus include dietary sources. 

Folate comes from the Latin word ‘folium’ so think foliage i.e., your green leafies!  Here a few foods rich in folate:  

  • Green vegetables – spinach, broccoli, asparagus, avocado, lettuce; Asian greens including bok choy, choy sum, gai choy, gai lan, kang kong (Chinese watercress), mizuna, pak choy, snake bean, tatsoi and wombok.  

  • Fruit - citrus, berries and bananas 

  • Legumes – chickpeas, dried beans and lentils 

  • Bread and cereals - many breakfast cereals and breads are now fortified. Since 2009, it became a legal requirement in Australia for all bread making flour (except organic) contain added folic acid. 

  • Nuts 

  • Yeast extracts – Vegemite, Marmite  

 

Iodine 

Iodine is a mineral that we only need in small amounts but it is very important for your baby's first few years of life. Foods naturally high in iodine include oysters, sushi, canned salmon, bread (except organic), cheese, milk and eggs. However, iodine content will vary depending on where it is grown and how it is made. The National health and Medical Research Council recommend that all women who are pregnant, breastfeeding or planning pregnancy take an iodine supplement of 150 micrograms per day. 

 

Omega 3 Fats  

Getting enough of the omega 3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA is also important whilst you are breastfeeding. Studies show that the essential fatty acids, DHA and EPA have a positive affect on mood but also body composition including promoting lean muscle mass and lowering body fat! Food sources rich in DHA and EPA include sardines, salmon, trout, tuna, mackerel and herring.  

 

Keep well hydrated  

Breastfeeding is thirsty work so keeping well hydrated is important. Whilst there are no specific recommnedations for how much you drink, use your thirst as a guide to how much you need to drink. Breastfeeding is a busy time so have a bottle of water beside you as a prompt. Or every time baby has a feed, prepare a glass of water for yourself to sip. When you are out during the day, take a water bottle with you so you will never get to the point of dehydration. 

 

What about supplementation? 

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) recommends that all women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, take an iodine supplement of 150 micrograms (µg)each day. Iodine is an essential nutrient that we all need in small amounts. Our thyroid gland uses iodine to produce thyroid hormones. Thyroid hormones are important for normal development of the brain and nervous system before birth, in babies and young children. This is why it is really important that pregnant and breastfeeding women get enough iodine. (If you have a pre-existing thyroid condition, it is recommended that you seek advice from your Doctor first before taking a supplement. 

 

What do I need to avoid? 

There are no particular foods that you have to avoid unless your baby has food sensitives in the form of a food allergy or intolerance. Babies can become unsettled for many different reasons and it is not always easy to detect if your baby is reacting to foods, and if so, what foods your baby might react to. Speak with your midwife or lactation consultation first, if your baby is unsettled. 

If you think that your bub is reacting to something you are eating or drinking, an Accredited Practising Dietitian can help you work out if there are food sensitives and provide an appropriate meal plan if needed. Cutting out whole food groups before you know if your baby has a food sensitivity makes it more difficult to meet all your nutritional needs so best to leave it to the experts!  

If you like your morning latte, the good news is that it is here to stay! Whilst babies can’t process caffeine as quickly as adults, pregnant and breastfeeding mums can still include up to 200mg of caffeine per day. Some mums find that their baby becomes unsettled and irritable if they drink too many caffeinated beverages however this varies amongst women. Babies tend to be more sensitive to caffeine when they are new borns but their ability to process caffeine improves as thry grow. The best way to know if you are consuming too much caffeine, is to observe your baby. Use the table below to work out how much caffeine you are consuming. 

 

Beverage/food Caffeine content 

  • Espresso coffee 145mg/50ml shot 

  • Caffeinated energy drinks*Up to 80mg/250ml can 

  • Instant coffee (1 teaspoon per cup)60-80mg/250ml cup 

  • Tea 10-50mg/250ml cup 

  • Cola Up to 54mg/375ml cup 

  • Milk chocolate 20mg/100g bar  

*Cola and ‘energy’ drinks are not suitable for pregnant and breastfeeding women 

 

In terms of consuming alcohol, National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) recommends breastfeeding mothers not to drink alcohol as it readily passes through to breastmilk. However, if you do drink alcohol, limit the amount to one standard drink just after a breastfeed and only once or twice a week. This will allow the alcohol to be broken down by your body before your baby's next feed.  

 

In summary 

  • The type of diet for breastfeeding is similar to pregnancy 

  • Breastfeeding for at least 6 months will protect you and your baby from type 2 Diabetes  

  • Breastfeeding metabolises and mobilises the fat around your organs which can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease 

  • The fat accumulated around your bottom, hips and thighs are important fat sources used for the healthy development of your baby's brain! 

  • Making breastmilk uses extra energy and you will need an extra 400-500 calories per day 

  • Base you eating around the five food groups to  ensure you get all the nutrition you need 

  • Limit caffeine and alcohol and keep well hydrated with water  

  • Supplement with 150 micrograms of Iodine and 500 micorgrams of folic acid 


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