Pregnancy information

Lifestyle and breastfeeding

Breastfeeding and diet

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

A healthy diet includes:

  • at least 5 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 such as beans and lentils, and fruit and vegetables – after having a baby, some women have bowel problems and constipation, and fibre helps with both of these
  • protein, such as lean meat and chicken, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, soya foods and pulses – at least 2 portions of fish a week is recommended, including some oily fish
  • dairy foods, such as milk, cheese and yoghurt – these contain calcium and are a source of protein
  • non-dairy sources of calcium suitable for vegans include tofu, brown bread, pulses and dried fruit
  • drinking plenty of fluids – have a drink beside you when you settle down to breastfeed: water and skimmed or semi-skimmed milk are all good choices

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.

Vitamins and breastfeeding

Everyone, including pregnant and breastfeeding women, should consider taking a daily supplement containing 10mcg of vitamin D.

From late March/April to the end of September, the majority of people aged 5 years and above will probably get enough vitamin D from sunlight when they are outdoors. So you might choose not to take a vitamin D supplement during these months

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 dried apricots, figs or prunes
  • vegetable and bean soups
  • fortified unsweetened breakfast cereals, muesli and other wholegrain cereals with milk
  • milky drinks or a 150ml 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 4 and are getting certain benefits or tax credits, or you're pregnant and under 18.

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

You can't use vouchers to buy fruit and veg with added fat, sugar and salt or flavourings, such as oven chips and seasoned stir fries. You can also get Healthy Start vouchers for free vitamin supplements.

For more information or an application leaflet, visit the Healthy Start website or call the helpline on 0345 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.

Eating fish while breastfeeding

Eating fish is good for your and your baby's health, but while you are breastfeeding you should have no more than 2 portions of oily fish a week. A portion is around 140g.

Oily fish includes fresh mackerel, sardines, trout and salmon.

All adults should also eat no more than 1 portion a week of shark, swordfish or marlin.

Caffeine when breastfeeding

Caffeine can reach your baby through your breast milk and may keep them awake.

Caffeine occurs naturally in lots of 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.

Caffeine is a stimulant and can make your baby restless. It's a good idea for pregnant and breastfeeding women to restrict their caffeine intake to less than 200mg a day.  This may include 1 mug, 1 can or 1 bar of:

  • instant coffee (100mg)
  • filter coffee (140mg)
  • tea (including green tea, which can have the same amount of caffeine as regular tea) (75mg)
  • cola (40mg)
  • energy drink (a 250ml can is 80mg)
  • plain dark chocolate (a 50g bar is less than 25mg)
  • plain milk chocolate (a 50g bar is less than 10mg)

You could also try herbal teas, 100% fruit juice (but no more than one 150ml glass per day) or mineral water.

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 (unless, of course, you are allergic to them).

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, you can talk to your GP, midwife or health visitor.

For more information, go to Food allergies.

Alcohol and breastfeeding

Anything you eat or drink while you're breastfeeding can find its way into your breast milk, and that includes alcohol.

An occasional drink is unlikely to harm your baby especially if you wait at least 2 hours after having a drink before feeding.

Regularly drinking above the recommended limits can be harmful for you and your baby.

Aside from the known health risks of excessive alcohol to yourself, drinking too much can decrease your milk supply. It may also cause sleep, growth and developmental problems with your baby.

Alcohol units

To keep health risks from alcohol to a low level, it's safest not to drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis.

If you regularly drink as much as 14 units per week, it's best to spread your drinking evenly over 3 or more days.

If you wish to cut down the amount you drink, a good way to help achieve this is to have several drink-free days each week.

Fourteen units is equivalent to 6 pints of average-strength beer.

If you regularly drink more than 14 units a week, you may find it helpful to discuss this with your health visitor or GP.

Managing social occasions

If you do intend to have a social drink, you could try avoiding breastfeeding for 2 to 3 hours for every drink you have to avoid exposing your baby to any alcohol in your milk.

This allows time for the alcohol to leave your breast milk. You'll need to make sure breastfeeding is established before you try this.

You may want to plan ahead by expressing some milk before a social function.

Then you can skip the first breastfeed after the function and feed your baby with your expressed milk instead.

Bear in mind your breasts may become uncomfortably full if you leave long gaps between feeds. You may feel the need to express for comfort.

You do not need to express to clear your milk of alcohol. The level of alcohol in your milk will fall as the level of alcohol in your body falls.

Risks of binge drinking

Binge drinking, where you have more than 6 units of alcohol in 1 session, may make you less aware of your baby's needs.

If you are planning on binge drinking, your baby should be cared for by an adult who has not had any alcohol.

You may want to express for comfort and to maintain your milk supply.

If you regularly binge drink, you may find it helpful to discuss this with your health visitor or GP.

Breastfeeding and smoking

By stopping smoking before – or as soon as – you get pregnant, you can have a safer pregnancy and a healthier baby.

Stopping smoking once your baby is born will still help protect them against:

  • sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS, or cot death)
  • breathing problems
  • ear disease and deafness
  • behavioural problems

Don't stop breastfeeding if you smoke

As a new mum, not smoking is also the single most important thing you can do to protect your own health. 

However, if you're finding it hard to quit smoking, it's important not to stop breastfeeding. Breastfeeding will still protect your baby from infections and provide nutrients they can't get from formula milk. 

If you or your partner can't stop smoking, making your home completely smokefree will help protect your baby's health. You may need to ask friends and family not to smoke near your baby, too.

If you or your partner smokes, it's important not to share a bed with your baby (co-sleep). This is known to raise the risk of SIDS, particularly if you smoke, you recently drank alcohol, or you're taking medication that makes you sleep more heavily. 

Help and support with quitting smoking when breastfeeding

You're more likely to stop smoking successfully with Help Me Quit.

Call the Help Me Quit helpline on 0800 085 2219 for information about the free specialist support you can get.

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

E-cigarettes, vaping and breastfeeding

While using an e-cigarette (vaping) is a lot safer than smoking, it isn't completely risk free. As well as nicotine, e-cigarette liquid and vapour can contain toxic substances, although these are mostly at much lower levels than in cigarette smoke.

At the moment there are no e-cigarettes licensed as medicines. New mums are advised to use licensed NRT products for help with quitting smoking and staying smokefree.

However, if you do choose to use an e-cigarette to help you stay smokefree, it's still better to carry on breastfeeding as the benefits will outweigh any potential harm. 

Breastfeeding and medicines

Most medicines, including those used to treat postnatal depression, can be taken while you're breastfeeding without harming your baby.

But it's always best to tell your GP, health visitor, dentist, pharmacist or midwife that you're breastfeeding, when discussing medicines.

Small amounts of any medicine you take may pass through your breast milk to your baby.

Generally, the amounts are very low and very few medicines are unsafe while you're breastfeeding.

You should also let your GP know if your baby was premature or had jaundice when they were born, as this may affect what medicines you can take.

What medicines can I take while I'm breastfeeding?

Medicines that can be taken while breastfeeding include:

  • the painkiller paracetamol – you should check with a GP or your midwife before taking other types of painkillers, such as ibuprofen
  • most antibiotics
  • 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 a GP, your midwife, health visitor or a pharmacist, who can advise you.

It's fine to have dental treatments, local anaesthetics, vaccinations (including MMR, tetanus and flu jabs) and most operations.

  • Is there anything I cannot take while I'm breastfeeding?

Common medicines that are not recommended when you're breastfeeding include:

  • codeine phosphate
  • decongestants that come as tablets, liquids or powders that you swallow
  • some nasal decongestants that come as nose sprays or drops – check with a GP or pharmacist before using them
  • aspirin for pain relief
  • herbal remedies – not enough is known about herbal remedies to guarantee they're safe to use when breastfeeding

Talk to a GP or pharmacist before taking antihistamines for allergies or allergy-related conditions, such as hay fever.

Last Updated: 12/07/2023 10:48:22
The information on this page has been adapted by NHS Wales from original content supplied by NHS UK NHS website