The postpartum or postnatal phase can also be called the fourth trimester which is a 12-week period after you have given birth to your baby. This time is a period of adjustment with great physical and emotional changes to help you and your baby get used to a new life. It is important to consume a well-balanced diet if you’re breastfeeding or even if you’re not, to support recovery and help your immune system work effectively to support your health and wellbeing. If you choose to breastfeed, eating well will help support milk production which is important.

A well-balanced diet for mums

A healthy diet for mums recovering from birth is very similar to any adult female however will consist of additional requirements to support recovery and breastfeeding. A balanced diet consists of a variety of food including grains, meat or meat alternatives, fruits, vegetables and dairy or dairy alternatives. [1] Consuming a variety of these food groups will provide you with carbohydrates including fibre, healthy fats, protein, vitamins and minerals.

What to eat when breastfeeding

While breastfeeding there is an increased requirement for energy as your body now needs an extra 500kcal per day. [2] To meet this requirement, aim to eat more than your usual intake along with healthy snacks and increased fluids to support your current needs.

If you choose to breastfeed there are other nutrients beyond the general advice for healthy eating that would be relevant for your diet. [1,3]

  • Calcium – an extra calcium intake is required to support breast milk production. Sources include dairy products like milk or plant-based milk, cheese, yoghurt.
  • Zinc – important to support your immune system and found in foods like beef, fish, legumes and pulses, dhal, tofu, nuts and seeds.
  • Omega 3 – important to support brain development in babies. Sources include fish, nuts and seeds. Aim to include a maximum of two portions of fish per week for safe consumption.

Use this guide below to help you make the best choices when planning what you eat if you’re breastfeeding. [3]

Food GroupNumber of serves per day1 serve equivalent
Vegetables7.5½ cup of cooked green or orange vegetables e.g. carrot/ spinach
½ cup of chickpeas/dhal
1 cup of raw green leafy vegetables
½ medium potato/sweet potato
Fruit21 medium sized fruit e.g. 1 apple/banana/guava
2 small fruit e.g. 2 mandarins
1 cup of diced fruit
½ cup fruit juice
Grains9½ cup of cooked rice/pasta/noodles/oats/semolina
1 slice of bread
¼ cup muesli
2/3 breakfast cereal
Lean meat2.565g cooked lean red meat
80g cooked chicken
100g cooked fish
1 small can of fish
2 large eggs
170g tofu
Dairy products2.51 cup (250ml) of milk
2 slices of cheese
200g yoghurt

Fluid intake

During this period of breastfeeding your fluid requirements are high. It is difficult to quantify the exact amount of fluid you require as it differs from individual to individual, activity levels, sweating, quantity of milk produced. However, a good target would be to aim around 10-12 glasses of water due to increased fluid needs. [1]

Caffeine intake

Caffeine may pass into breast milk so aim to limit caffeine intake to 2-4 times a day. High caffeine drinks include tea, coffee, cocoa cola, energy drinks, or drinks with guarana powder added into it. [1]

Alcohol intake

Alcohol can pass very easily into breastmilk so aim to avoid alcohol while breastfeeding. If you do drink alcohol limit your intake to 1 standard drink per day and have this after breastfeeding your baby and then wait for 2-3 hours before feeding again to lower alcohol levels in your breastmilk. [1]

Weight loss

For many new mums the desire to lose the baby weight may take precedence over nourishing your body to support you through breastfeeding and recovery. However, what many mums aren’t aware of is that breastfeeding can help you burn calories as your body uses fat as a fuel in your body to produce breastmilk. The greatest amount of weight loss occurs in the first 3 months after birth and this then continues and gradually slows down until 6 months after delivery. [1,3]

You need to understand that weight loss right now and starting strict diets and intense exercise regimes should not be the highest priority. If you’re breastfeeding and get started on very restrictive diets you might find it difficult to produce a sufficient amount of breast milk, you might also feel fatigued, this may also affect your mental health, hormone regulation and more. In addition, if you’re breastfeeding and immediately get back into an intense exercise regimen this could affect the taste of your breastmilk which could lead to taste aversions as some children dislike the change in taste and start developing an aversion to milk. Try to remember to prioritize your own care, eat well and consume a balanced diet to help you get through your new role of being a mum.

Practical tips

  • Ask for help and be honest. Ask family or friends to help prepare a meal for you.
  • Get your partner involved in food prep the night before. E.g. cutting and chopping veggies and fruits, washing dishes.
  • Always have snacks on you when you go out. E.g. fruits, nuts, bliss balls to help prevent you from reaching out for less healthy snack options.
  • Stock up on essential healthy food e.g. rice, bread, chapati, chickpeas, cowpea, mung-atta, dhal, oats, chicken, tuna, mackerel, eggs, yoghurt, milk, cheese, fruits and vegetables, bran crackers, nuts and seeds, olive oil etc.
  • Keep things simple, you don’t always have to aim for perfection. It is okay to have several small meals during the day if it fits your feeding schedule. Healthy snacks include e.g. eggs and bread, overnight oats, peanut butter on toast with a banana, bowl of kadala or cowpea etc.
  • Eat to fuel your body not to lose weight.

References

  1. van der Pligt P, Ball K, Crawford D et al. (2016) Maternal dietary intake and physical activity habits during the postpartum period: associations with clinician advice in a sample of Australian first time mothers. BMC Pregnancy and Childcare, 16(27). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12884-016-0812-4
  • Ball L, De Jersey S, Parkinson J, Vincze L, Wilkinson S. Postpartum nutrition: Guidance for general practitioners to support high-quality care. Australian Journal of General Practice. 2022;51(3):123-128.
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