Eating well shouldn’t stop the moment your baby arrives. In fact, you’ll be using a lot of energy just looking after your baby, and if you’re breastfeeding it’s doubly important to aim for a balanced diet. Eating sensibly will also help you to recover more quickly from labour and delivery.
Can I drink caffeine when I'm breastfeeding?
When you have a cup of coffee or a bar of chocolate, the caffeine in them will enter your bloodstream. Once it’s in your blood, a little bit of it appears in your milk. In fact, some portion of whatever you eat and drink appears in your breastmilk.
There’s been lots of research into how breastfeeding babies are affected by caffeine. All show that caffeine gets into breastmilk, but it seems to have little effect on babies. If you were to drink up to 750mg a day of caffeinated drinks (about five or six cups of coffee), it would hardly affect your baby. In tests, the amount of caffeine in the saliva or urine of breastfed babies whose mums drank this amount was either extremely low, or undetectable. However, some mums who have drunk a lot of coffee do say their babies seem more irritable and unsettled when they’re breastfeeding. If you’ve noticed this, try cutting down on caffeine and see what happens. Remember that tea, cola and energy drinks also all contain caffeine.
Should I drink extra fluid when I’m breastfeeding?
You only need to drink enough to satisfy your thirst while you’re breastfeeding. You may have been told that you should drink lots of water to keep up your milk supply. Actually, drinking lots of water, or indeed going a bit thirsty, won’t affect the amount of milk you make. Your body is good at regulating its reserves to make sure it keeps your milk supply going.
It’s a good idea to have a drink nearby when you are breastfeeding though. While you are feeding, your body releases the hormone oxytocin and it makes you feel thirsty.
If you’re worried about getting enough to drink, keep an eye on the colour of your urine. If it’s pale-coloured, you’re getting plenty to drink. If your urine is dark yellow or smells strongly, it may mean that you’re dehydrated, so you should drink more.
Do I need extra calories when I’m breastfeeding?
There’s no right answer about how many calories a day you should have while you’re breastfeeding. The amount you need to eat depends on your weight and how active you are.
Your body is highly efficient at producing milk, so you shouldn’t need to take in lots of extra calories. It’s best to be guided by your appetite and to eat when you’re hungry. Your body may have laid down fat stores during pregnancy, and breastfeeding can help use up those fat stores, although it also usually gives you a big appetite. And if you don’t feel like eating, it could be a sign that you need extra emotional support, as sometimes, women who have postnatal depression lose their appetite. If you’re finding it a struggle to eat, see your doctor or health visitor and talk about how you’re feeling.
Can I lose weight when I’m breastfeeding?
Yes, if you’re healthy. You may have put on a bit of weight while you were pregnant, and it’s fine to shed some it while you’re breastfeeding. Losing about a kilo (up to 2lb) a week should not affect the amount of milk you make. It’s not a good idea to go on a strict diet when you’re breastfeeding, but eating healthily and doing some gentle exercise will help you to get in shape. It is also safe for you to increase how much you exercise, six to eight weeks after giving birth, if you feel up to it.
Can I drink herbal tea when I’m breastfeeding?
Yes. Herbal teas, which use ingredients you might cook with, such as fennel, chamomile and peppermint, are thought to be safe to drink.
Herbal medicines, however, are a different matter. These should not be taken while you’re breastfeeding. It’s not safe to use St John’s Wort, for example, to help with the symptoms of postnatal depression. Although remedies such as these are readily available in chemists, we can’t be sure they’re safe for your baby. Talk to your doctor if you need help or treatment.