Healthy weight, diet and physical activity for breastfeeding women
Maternal weight (gain) during pregnancy is an increasing concern for health care professionals. Health care professionals can provide mothers with information to assist in achieving and maintaining a healthy weight and lifestyle after pregnancy. Mothers should be informed that breastfeeding can assist them to return to their pre-pregnancy weight and can reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes for mothers who had gestational diabetes.
Diet for breastfeeding women
Mothers require extra nutrients during breastfeeding to ensure they have a good milk supply that is nutritious for the baby. To meet these increased nutrient requirements, the recommended number of serves for some food groups is increased. Encourage mothers to enjoy a wide variety of foods from all five food groups each day.
The Australian Dietary Guidelines (PDF, 2.6MB) recommend that breastfeeding women aim to consume the following serves of foods on a daily basis:
- 7 ½ serves of vegetables or legumes/beans of different types and colours
- 1 serve is equal to ½ cup cooked vegetables or legumes, 1 cup of salad, or ½ potato
- 2 serves of fruit
- 1 serve is equal to 1 medium or 2 small pieces of fruit
- 9 serves of grain foods, mostly wholegrain or high fibre varieties
- 1 serve is equal to 1 slice of bread, ½ cup cooked rice or pasta, or 2/3 cup of cereal
- 2 ½ serves from lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts/seeds or legumes/beans
- 1 serve is equal to 65-80g cooked meat or poultry, 100g fish, 2 eggs, or 1 small handful of nuts/seeds
- 2 ½ serves of dairy foods, including milk, yoghurt, cheese or dairy alternatives (e.g. soy), mostly from reduced fat options
- 1 serve is equal to 1 cup of milk, 1 tub of yoghurt, or 2 slices of cheese.
Other food and drinks are not needed and can contribute to excess weight gain. Encourage pregnant women to limit foods high in saturated fat, added salt and added sugars while breastfeeding. Not drinking alcohol is the safest option for pregnant or breastfeeding women.
These recommendations are a general guide to assist mothers with healthy eating and meeting the additional nutrient requirements of breastfeeding. The recommended serves may be too much for some mothers, and not enough for others. Mothers needing specific dietary assistance should be referred to a dietitian.
A good supply of iodine is also important for healthy growth and development of breastfeeding babies. Many mothers require iodine supplementation of 150 micrograms per day throughout the lactation period. This should be under the recommendation of an appropriate health care professional. Encourage breastfeeding mothers to talk to their health care professional.
Physical activity for breastfeeding women
Physical activity has benefits for the health and wellbeing of breastfeeding mothers, and can assist in post-pregnancy weight loss. Mothers should be encouraged to undertake regular physical activity, including:
- 2 ½ hours of moderate intensity aerobic activity per week
- This can include activities like brisk walking, swimming, yoga or pilates, and sports
- Healthy women who did vigorous-intensity activity prior to pregnancy can continue doing so after pregnancy. However, mothers should be encouraged to discuss this with an appropriate health care professional prior to beginning with an exercise program.
- This can include jogging, competitive sports, and aerobics.
Alcohol, smoking and illicit drugs
Alcohol is not safe for developing babies. Not drinking alcohol is the safest option for women who are breastfeeding (See: Australian Government’s alcohol guidelines).
Smoking and use of illicit drugs (e.g. illegal drugs or prescription drugs for another person) can harm developing babies. It is best for parents, families and carers to avoid smoking and illicit drugs while the mother is breastfeeding.
Encourage women to talk to their health professional for assistance with avoiding use of alcohol, smoking or illicit drugs.
- Child and Youth Health Practice Manual, Queensland Government (PDF, 3.6MB)
- Maternity and Neonatal Clinical Guideline: Establishing breastfeeding (PDF 395 kB)
- Maternity and Neonatal Clinical Guideline Supplement: Establishing breastfeeding
(PDF 179 kB)