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breastfeeding mothers

Any woman who is breastfeeding her baby needs to follow some recommendations about health and nutrition.

What is the information for this topic? 
Breastfeeding mothers must carefully watch the foods they eat and medications they take. They should eat a variety of foods at regular mealtimes. Nutritious snacks are best for between meals. Breastfeeding mothers need extra kilojoules, but should be careful not to overeat. They should eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and cereals, low-fat dairy products, and protein-rich foods such as poultry, fish, and meats. At least two to three litres of fluid should be taken in each day. This is so the mother has enough fluid in her body to make milk.

The foods a mother eats may affect her baby. If certain foods seem to upset the baby's stomach, the mother should avoid that food for a week. She can then try it again to see if it really does affect the baby. Some foods that may irritate a baby are:
  • dairy products
  • peanuts
  • wheat
  • corn
  • eggs
  • fish
  • soy
  • citrus fruits
  • tomatoes
If this is a problem, a doctor can help by suggesting alternatives. Other foods that contain the same essential nutrients can be substituted for the bothersome foods.

Breastfeeding mothers should continue to take antenatal vitamins daily. A well-balanced diet usually contains all the essential amounts of minerals and vitamins. It's important for a breastfeeding mother to tell her doctor if she is taking any herbal supplements. The supplements may be harmful.

Other concerns for a breastfeeding mother include:
  • alcohol. Do not drink on a daily basis. It's fine to have a beer or glass of wine once in a while.
  • smoking. If the woman did not stop smoking during pregnancy, she should try to quit while breastfeeding. No one should smoke in the same room as a baby. A breastfeeding mother should not smoke right before or during nursing. Smoking can decrease milk supply. Infants of mothers who smoke have higher rates of middle ear infections, respiratory infections, allergies, and asthma.
  • caffeine. Limit coffee, tea, colas, or caffeine drinks to no more than two cups per day. Caffeine can make the baby irritable. Read the labels on all over-the-counter analgesics to check for caffeine.
  • medications. A doctor should be told about all prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, or herbal products being used. Illegal or street drugs should never be taken while nursing. If needed, a doctor can help find a detoxification program or counselling.
  • weight loss. Fat stored during pregnancy is used to make breast milk. That's why breastfeeding mothers tend to lose more weight than bottle-feeding mothers do. A very strict weight-loss diet can decrease milk production. A doctor can help a woman figure out a good level of daily kilojoule intake.
Breastfeeding is good for both mother and baby. Breastfed infants are less likely to have allergies, stomach infections, middle ear infections, lung infections, and pneumonia. Women who breastfeed reduce their risk for premenopausal breast cancer, ovarian cancer and osteoporosis. Breastfeeding also helps to establish a strong bonding relationship with the baby.

If breastfeeding is not successful or possible, a mother should not feel guilty about bottle-feeding.

For more information on this topic please see breastfeeding.

Reviewer: eknowhow Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr John Hearne
Last Updated: 27/02/2005
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.

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