Your breastfeeding nutrition guide

The best diet for a breastfeeding mom isn’t complicated or expensive. Nutritional therapist Hannah Kaye gives advice.


Optimum nutrition while breastfeeding is essential for both mom and baby, but eating right is easier said than done. Most new moms eat to survive and have little time for grocery shopping or preparing meals. These top tips will help you get it right and enjoy good health right from the get-go.

Your diet and breastfeeding

What you eat while breastfeeding generally won’t affect your body’s ability to produce milk. If you ate well while you were pregnant, you probably don’t need to make any changes now. However, poor eating habits are likely to negatively affect your mood and healthy fuel will ensure that you have the energy to look after both yourself and your baby.
Quality matters just as much as quantity. While breastfeeding burns up to 500 calories per day, those calories need to come from food sources that will keep you feeling satisfied and energised. That means steering clear of refined carbohydrates and sugar, which will only leave you dreaming of the next bar of chocolate or cup of coffee, perpetuating a cycle of overeating.

Is coffee ok when breastfeeding?

Avoid having lots of caffeinated drinks when you’re breastfeeding. In the US, it is recommended that women who are breastfeeding have no more than 200mg of caffeine per day (about two cups of tea or one cup of filter coffee). If your baby seems very unsettled or restless, or finds it difficult to sleep, try cutting back on caffeine, or not having any at all.

Can I drink while breastfeeding?

While the occasional alcoholic drink is unlikely to harm you or your baby, it’s safest not to have more than one or two units of alcohol per week. The speed at which alcohol enters your blood stream and, subsequently, your breast milk depends on how much you weigh, and whether you have a full or empty stomach. The amount of alcohol in your blood usually peaks between 30 and 90 minutes after having a drink and you’ll need to allow an hour or two for the alcohol to clear from your system. So, if you want to have an alcoholic drink when you are breastfeeding, feed your baby before having the drink. Two or three hours later, when it’s time to feed your baby again, the level of alcohol in your blood should be low enough not to affect your baby. If you have a newborn, it’s likely you’ll be feeding every two to three hours, so you may want to stick to water or herbal teas for the moment.

Is it safe to smoke while breastfeeding?

The amount of nicotine transferred into breastmilk is more than double the quantity transferred through the placenta during pregnancy. Additionally, smoking more than 10 cigarettes per day decreases milk production and alters milk composition. Research now shows that babies of mothers who smoke just before nursing have shorter sleep times and altered sleep patterns. If you quit while you were pregnant, now’s not the time to take up the habit again.

Foods to avoid while breastfeeding

While there is little scientific evidence regarding foods that can cause discomfort in babies, some moms find that their diet affects their babies’ tummies and temperaments. No two babies are alike, so the best thing you can do is observe your baby so you can eliminate any foods you think may be problematic. Some of the more commonly reported problematic foods include celery, watercress, citrus fruits, onions, cabbage, spices, cauliflower and grapes. There is no need to avoid these foods unless you feel your baby is reacting to them.

Some babies are affected by the protein in cow’s milk as well as lactose, the milk sugar. Symptoms that are associated with these include:

  • Bloating
  • Skin rashes and eczema
  • Swollen eyes, face or lips
  • Wheeziness or coughing
  • Diarrhoea
  • Constipation
  • Vomiting or reflux
  • Poor appetite
  • Failure to thrive.

If you’re concerned, it’s best to speak to your paediatrician or nursing sister. In some cases, cutting out dairy can make a world of difference.

Foods to include in your diet

  • Protein-rich foods from animal sources (dairy products, eggs, meat and fish) and/or plant
  • sources (lentils, beans, chickpeas)
  • Colourful, fresh fruit and vegetables (preferably those in season), eaten raw or cooked
  • Dark green vegetables like spinach, kale
  • and broccoli
  • Good fats like raw nuts and seeds, avocado, coconut and olive oil
  • A variety of wholegrains (brown rice, barley,
  • millet, quinoa)
  • Plenty of water to ensure that you stay hydrated. If your urine is dark yellow, you need to up your
  • fluid intake.

Quick meals for breastfeeding moms

5-minute breakfasts

  • Scrambled eggs with avocado and a small bowl of raspberries. Scrambling an egg takes less than five minutes and combining it with good fats and antioxidant-rich foods will keep both you and your baby happy.
  • Whip up some oats with cinnamon, fruit and full-fat yoghurt. This meal will help you manage your blood sugar levels, as well as your calcium intake.

Quick and easy lunches

  • Wholegrain sandwiches with cheese, chicken, ham or avo. Add some dark salad leaves and sliced tomato for improved nutrient density.
  • A colourful salad with chicken breast and a wholegrain roll. This will provide plenty of antioxidants and lean protein.

30-minute dinners

  • Oven-baked fish, roasted sweet potato and spinach. This will give both you and your baby essential fatty acids for nervous system support.
  • Brown basmati rice and vegetable stir-fry with chicken, beef, pork or seafood. This is a great way to ensure you’re getting a good dose of vitamins and minerals.

No-fuss snacks

  • Home-made trail mix with nuts, seeds, coconut flakes and dried blueberries
  • Avocado
  • Hummus on rice cakes or with veggie sticks
  • Free-range biltong
  • Carb-free or Paleo snack bars.
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