Breastfeeding your baby
Breastfeeding gives your baby a great start in life. This page explains what to eat and what to avoid when you’re breastfeeding.
Starting to breastfeed
If you want to breastfeed, it’s best not to give any bottles to your baby at all in the early weeks. This is because using bottles can make it harder for you and your baby to get used to breastfeeding and using infant formula will reduce the amount of breast milk you make. Also remember it takes time for both you and your baby to settle in to the habit of breastfeeding.
There is more and more evidence that breastfeeding is better for babies’ health and development in both the short and long term. There is also some evidence that breastfeeding is better for the mother’s health too.
What to eat
When you’re breastfeeding, it's important to eat a healthy diet with a variety of foods, including:
- plenty of fruit and vegetables (fresh, frozen, tinned, dried or a glass of juice). Aim for at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables a day
- starchy foods such as bread, pasta, rice and potatoes to give you the extra energy you'll need
- plenty of fibre, found in wholegrain bread and breakfast cereals, pasta, rice, pulses (such as beans and lentils) and fruit and vegetables. After childbirth, some women experience bowel problems and find constipation particularly painful but fibre can help with both of these
- good sources of protein, such as lean meat and chicken, fish, eggs and beans
- fish at least twice a week, including some oily fish
- dairy foods, such as milk, cheese and yoghurt, which contain calcium and are a useful source of protein
VitaminsWhile you're breastfeeding, you should take supplements containing 10 micrograms (mcg or μg) of vitamin D each day. You should be able to get all the other vitamins and minerals you need by eating a varied and balanced diet.
If you receive Income Support or Jobseeker's Allowance, you're entitled to some free vitamin supplements from maternity and child health clinics.
What to avoid
Eating fish is good for your health and the development of your baby, but don't have more than two portions of oily fish a week. Oily fish includes fresh tuna (not canned tuna, which does not count as oily fish), mackerel, sardines and trout.
You should avoid eating more than one portion of shark, swordfish or marlin a week because of the levels of mercury in these fish. This advice is the same for all adults, except women who are pregnant, or trying to get pregnant, who should avoid these fish altogether.
Some breastfed babies seem to react to foods their mothers eat. If you think that some foods you eat are affecting your baby, don't stop eating them without talking to your GP or health visitor first. But remember, it's normal for breastfed babies to have loose stools.
Should I avoid peanuts?You may have heard that some women have chosen not to eat peanuts when they are pregnant or breastfeeding. This is because the Government used to advise women that they may wish to avoid eating peanuts at these times if there is a history of allergy in their child's immediate family, such as asthma, eczema, hayfever, food allergy or other types of allergy.
This was in case a woman eating peanuts when pregnant or breastfeeding increased the chance of her baby developing a peanut allergy. But this advice was changed in August 2009 because it isn’t clear from the latest research if eating peanuts at these times affects the chances of your baby developing a peanut allergy.
So if you would like to eat peanuts, or foods containing peanuts (such as peanut butter), when you’re breastfeeding, you can choose to do so, unless you’re allergic to them yourself.
How much to eat and drink
Most women's bodies are very efficient at making breast milk, so you don't need to eat for two. But, just like any other time, it's important that you eat a healthy balanced diet for you and your baby.
It can be difficult to find the time to eat properly when you're looking after a young baby but you might find these hints helpful:
- keep meals simple so they don't take too long to prepare
- make eating regularly a high priority
- try eating smaller meals more often
- keep some healthy snacks to hand so you can grab them on the go
It's a good idea to have a drink by your side before you settle down to breastfeed. Water, milk and unsweetened fruit juices are all good choices.
Small amounts of whatever you're eating and drinking may pass to your baby through your breast milk. So it's a good idea to think carefully about how much alcohol and caffeine you're having. These may affect the baby in the same way they affect you.
If you do have alcohol or caffeine, try to have them only occasionally, because having them regularly, or in large amounts, will affect your baby.
It's not a good idea to try to lose weight while you're breastfeeding because you need to keep up your energy levels and you might miss out on the nutrients that you and your baby need.
The good news is that the extra fat your body stores up during pregnancy is used to make breast milk, so breastfeeding will help you get back into shape quicker.
If you eat a healthy balanced diet, limit the amount of fat and sugar you eat and keep physically active, this will help you to lose any extra weight you put on during pregnancy.
How long to breastfeed
Your baby needs nothing but breast milk (or formula milk if you’re not breastfeeding) until they are six months (or 26 weeks) old.
At six months, you will need to start giving solid foods as well as breast milk, but your breast milk will still be important for your baby. So continue breastfeeding and give solids for as long as you and your baby want to.
After your baby has started on solid foods, they still need plenty of breast milk or formula milk until they are a year old. How much they need depends on how well they take to solid foods, and this may vary from day to day. Let your baby decide how much milk they need each day.
If you have to cut down on breastfeeding - perhaps because you are going back to work - remember that just a few feeds a day will still give your baby valuable nutrients and help protect their health. This can be especially useful if your baby has just started at nursery and mixing with other children who may have coughs and colds.
Going back to workIt’s possible for you to carry on breastfeeding after you return to work. If your baby’s nursery or carer is not too far from work, it may even be possible for you to take a break from work to feed your baby during the day.
Depending on what stage your baby is at, it is a good idea to introduce a cup rather than a bottle from about six months onwards. Remember that babies learn quickly in their first year, so you don’t need to do this months in advance of going back to work - it’s better to wait until just a couple of weeks before your return date.
You can express milk to leave for feeds. It’s also possible to give your baby formula milk in the middle of the day and still breastfeed the rest of the time.
You can carry on breastfeeding for as long as you and your baby want to because your breast milk supply will adapt. You could choose to breastfeed in the mornings, evenings, night-times and any time during weekends or any time when you’re not at work.