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Pregnancy and baby

Healthy lifestyle and breastfeeding

Breastfeeding and diet
Breastfeeding and alcohol
Breastfeeding and smoking
Breastfeeding and medicines

Breastfeeding and diet

You don't need to eat anything special while you're breastfeeding. But, just like everyone else, it's a good idea for you to eat a healthy diet.

A healthy diet includes the following:

  • at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables a day, including fresh, frozen, tinned and dried fruit and vegetables, and no more than one 150ml glass of 100% unsweetened juice
  • starchy foods, such as wholemeal bread, pasta, rice and potatoes
  • plenty of fibre from wholemeal bread and pasta, breakfast cereals, rice, pulses like beans and lentils, and fruit and vegetables – after childbirth, some women have bowel problems and constipation, and fibre helps with both of these
  • protein, such as lean meat and chicken, fish, eggs and pulses – at least two portions of fish a week is recommended, including some oily fish
  • dairy foods, such as milk, cheese and yoghurt, which contain calcium and are a source of protein – for more detailed advice, see eating a balanced diet
  • drinking plenty of fluids – have a drink beside you when you settle down to breastfeed; water and skimmed or semi-skimmed milk are both good choices

Breastfeeding and vitamins

While breastfeeding, it's recommended you take supplements containing 10 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin D each day. You can get all the other vitamins and minerals you need by eating a varied and balanced diet.

Ask your GP or health visitor where to get vitamin D supplements. You may be able to get free vitamin supplements without a prescription if you're eligible for Healthy Start.

Healthy snack ideas for breastfeeding mums 

The following snacks are quick and simple to make, and will give you energy and strength:

  • fresh fruit
  • sandwiches filled with salad, grated cheese, mashed salmon or cold meat 
  • yoghurts and fromage frais
  • hummus with bread or vegetable sticks
  • ready-to-eat apricots, figs or prunes
  • vegetable and bean soups
  • fortified unsweetened breakfast cereals, muesli and other wholegrain cereals with milk
  • milky drinks or a glass of 100% unsweetened fruit juice
  • baked beans on toast or a baked potato

Healthy Start vouchers

You can get Healthy Start vouchers if you're pregnant or have a young child under four in a family getting certain benefits or tax credits, or you're pregnant and under 18.

These can be spent on milk and plain fresh and frozen fruit and vegetables, or they can be put towards infant formula if you're not breastfeeding.

You can't use vouchers to buy fresh or frozen fruit and veg with added fat, sugar, salt or flavourings, such as oven chips and seasoned stir frys. Coupons for free vitamin supplements are also available through the scheme. 

For more information or an application leaflet, visit the Healthy Start website or call the helpline on 0845 607 6823.

If you're already on Healthy Start, ask your midwife or health visitor whether you and your baby should be taking Healthy Start vitamin supplements, and where you can collect them locally.

Foods to avoid when breastfeeding

Small amounts of what you're eating and drinking can pass to your baby through your breast milk.

If you think a food you're eating is affecting your baby and they're unsettled, talk to your GP or health visitor, or contact the National Breastfeeding helpline on 0300 100 0212.

Eating fish is good for your health, but don't have more than two portions of oily fish a week. Oily fish includes fresh tuna (not canned tuna, because the good fats are lost in the canning process), mackerel, sardines and trout.

Read more about the health benefits of eating fish.

There's a limit for oily fish for women because oily fish can contain low levels of pollutants, which can build up in the body and affect the development of a future baby.

The general advice for all adults is to avoid eating more than one portion of shark, swordfish or marlin a week because of the mercury contained in these fish. Avoid these fish altogether during pregnancy or if you're trying to get pregnant.

It's also best to avoid eating game that has been shot with lead pellets while you're breastfeeding, as it may contain higher levels of lead.

Venison and other large game sold in supermarkets is usually farmed and contains no or very low levels of lead. If you aren't sure whether a product may contain lead shot, ask the retailer.

Caffeine when breastfeeding

Drinks containing caffeine can affect your baby and may keep them awake. While your baby is young, drink caffeinated drinks occasionally rather than every day.

Caffeine occurs naturally in many foods and drinks, including coffee, tea and chocolate. It's also added to some soft drinks and energy drinks, as well as some cold and flu remedies.

It's important not to have too much caffeine. Try decaffeinated tea and coffee, herbal teas, 100% fruit juice (but no more than one 150ml glass a day) or mineral water. Limit your intake of energy drinks, which may be high in caffeine.

Peanuts and breastfeeding

If you'd like to eat peanuts or foods containing peanuts – such as peanut butter – while breastfeeding, you can do so as part of a healthy, balanced diet. Don't eat them if you're allergic to them. Ask your health professional for more information.

There's no clear evidence that eating peanuts while breastfeeding affects your baby's chances of developing a peanut allergy. If you have any questions or concerns, discuss them with your GP, midwife or health visitor, or another health professional.

For more information, see Food allergies.

Breastfeeding and alcohol

Anything you eat or drink while you are breastfeeding can find its way into your breast milk. That includes alcohol, which passes freely into your milk.

Modest social drinking is unlikely to harm your breastfed baby. But regularly drinking more than two units of alcohol a day may affect their development.

One unit of alcohol is approximately a single (25ml) measure of spirits, half a pint of beer, or a 175ml (small) glass of wine, although this depends on the strength of the drink.

For more information, see the alcohol unit calculator.

Some experts recommend having no alcohol at all while breastfeeding. If you do intend to have a social drink, you could try avoiding breastfeeding for two to three hours per unit after drinking. You will need to make sure breastfeeding is well established before you try this.

You may want to plan ahead by expressing some milk before a social function. Then skip the first breastfeed after the function and feed your baby with your expressed milk instead.

Heavy drinking is not a good idea for anyone. It's essential that your baby is cared for by a sober adult if you "binge drink" (consume more than six units of alcohol in one session). Binge drinking may reduce your ability to be aware of your baby's needs.

Never share the bed or sofa with your baby if you have drunk any alcohol. Doing this has a strong association with sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

There is no evidence that alcohol, including "stout", helps you produce more milk. Rest, being well in yourself and letting your baby breastfeed whenever they want will all help increase your milk supply.

Breastfeeding and smoking

If you smoke while breastfeeding, your baby will be exposed to nicotine through your breast milk.

But breastfeeding will still protect your baby from infections and provide nutrients they can't get from infant formula. Don't stop breastfeeding, even if you're finding it hard to quit smoking.

You can use nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) while breastfeeding. Your GP or health visitor can give you more information.

Don't smoke in the home or car. Ask your partner, friends and family not to smoke when they're around your baby.

If you or your partner smoke, never share the sofa or bed with your baby.

Help and support with quitting smoking

You're up to four times more likely to stop smoking successfully with NHS support.

Call the NHS Smoking helpline on 0800 169 0 169 or the NHS Pregnancy Smoking helpline on 0800 169 9 169 for information about the free specialist support you can get and details of your local NHS stop smoking service.

You can also speak to your GP or pharmacist about nicotine replacement therapy, which can help you manage your cravings and stop smoking successfully.

Find out more at Smokefree, the NHS website dedicated to supporting you in quitting.

Breastfeeding and medicines

Many illnesses, including depression, can be treated while you're breastfeeding without harming your baby. However, small amounts of any drug you take will pass through your breast milk to your baby, so always tell your doctor, dentist or pharmacist that you're breastfeeding.

What medicines can I take while I'm breastfeeding?

Medicines that can be taken while breastfeeding include:

  • most antibiotics
  • common painkillers, such as paracetamol and ibuprofen (but not aspirin)
  • non-sedating hay fever medicines, such as Clarityn and Zirtek
  • asthma inhalers
  • vitamins (but only at the recommended dose)

You can use some methods of contraception and some cold remedies, but not all. Always check with your GP or pharmacist, who can advise you.

It's fine to have dental treatments, local anaesthetics, injections (including MMR, tetanus and flu injections) and most operations. You can also dye, perm or straighten your hair, use fake tan and wear false nails.

Is there anything I can't take while I'm breastfeeding?

Common drugs that are not advised include:

  • aspirin
  • codeine
  • nasal decongestants
  • guaifenesin (an expectorant used in some cough medicines)

An alternative can almost always be found. For more information, talk to your midwife, health visitor or GP, go to the Breastfeeding Network website for advice on drugs and breastfeeding, or call the Drugs in Breastmilk helpline on 0844 412 4665.

Illegal drugs are dangerous for your baby. Talk to your midwife, health visitor or GP if you use illegal drugs.

Your GP or pharmacist may like to look at the information from the National Formulary for Children to see what medicines can be given to babies and children, as these are likely to be safe for mothers to take when breastfeeding. 

Eating well on a budget

In this video, dietitian Azmina Govindji gives advice on how to eat healthily on a budget.

Media last reviewed: 27/04/2015

Next review due: 27/04/2017

Page last reviewed: 02/10/2014

Next review due: 02/10/2016


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