Hurray! Your baby is born, and you are finding your feet on your breastfeeding journey. Even though you are no longer pregnant, it is just as important to pay attention to nutrition while you are breastfeeding, as much for your energy levels as your baby’s. Dietitian Sarah Keogh look at some of the key foods and nutrients to include while you are breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding is one of the loveliest things that you can do with your baby. It can take a bit of practice for the first few weeks, but soon settles into something that is really enjoyable for you both. Even if you can only breastfeed for a few weeks, it is well worth it. Breast milk is the best food for babies – it provides all of the nutrition that your baby needs, as well as helping to boost his or her immune system and may even help prevent heart disease and obesity later on.
The importance of protein
Protein is a key nutrient for a growing baby. It helps to build muscle and bone, as well as skin and hair. Protein is also important for mom as her body gets back to normal after having the baby, and is especially important to help heal if you have had a C-section.
Protein is found in lots of foods, including:
You will also find protein in hard cheeses like Cheddar. Aim to have some protein twice a day – at lunch and at dinner. In the early days you may not always feel up to cooking, or have time to even make a sandwich, so it can be very useful to have some high protein snacks handy. Nuts like almonds, Brazil nuts and hazelnuts are good standbys and cheese portions like Babybel are useful. Have some cooked ham in the fridge as well that you can roll up and eat on the go.
Include dairy in your diet
Milk, cheese and yoghurt are all good places to get calcium. Calcium is essential for healthy bones – for baby and for mom. Normally we need to have three servings of dairy everyday, but when breastfeeding, that goes up to five servings a day. This might sound like a lot but you will find that your appetite will go up as you breastfeed and your baby gets bigger and hungrier!
1 serving of dairy is equal to:
- 200mls of milk
- 1 pot of yoghurt
- 30g of hard (not soft) cheese like cheddar
Milk can be full fat, low fat or skimmed. Try to have a glass of milk with meals or pour one for yourself when you are sitting down to breastfeed. Snack on yoghurt or let cheese double up as a portion of calcium, as well as protein.
Fishy food for thought
Fish is an important food for breastfeeding. Oil-rich fish, like salmon, mackerel and sardines, are all good sources of the omega-3 DHA which your baby needs as his or her brains and eyes develop.
Did you know that your baby will have 75 per cent of his or her brain cells before she or he is born? The remaining 25 per cent are in place by the time they are one year old, and brain cells need lots of DHA to develop. Fish is the best place to get DHA. Try to have oil-rich fish at least once a week. Tinned salmon and tinned sardines are good sources, but tinned tuna usually doesn’t have a lot of omega-3.
Curb your caffeine
Tea, coffee, chocolate and many energy drinks have caffeine. We are told to limit caffeine during pregnancy but we need to limit while breastfeeding too, especially in the first three months. Babies are not able to metabolise caffeine until they are at least three months old and small amounts of caffeine can pass into breast milk.
Apart from not being good for your baby, it will probably keep them (and you!) awake and it is not only babies that need sleep at this time. Limit yourself to two cups or one mug of tea per day or try decaffeinated varieties.
What about alcohol?
You do not have to avoid alcohol completely when breastfeeding, but alcohol can pass into breast milk. For this reason, it is best not to drink alcohol for 2-3 hours before breastfeeding and to limit alcohol to 1-2 drinks at most in one day (that is 100-200mls of wine, ½-1 pint of beer or 1-2 pub measures of spirits).
Finally, follow the usual guidelines about healthy eating – lots of fruit and vegetables and limiting the high sugar and high fat snacks. Occasional treats are no harm, as long as the rest of what you eat is balanced.
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