By Nichola Ludlam-Raine, Registered Dietitian
As a dietitian I get asked many of the same questions, so I thought it would be useful to jot them down along with the answers with the aim of helping anyone who may be wondering the same!
How can I look after my nutrition whilst looking after my baby’s too?
It can feel often that there is SO much to think about to ensure we’re getting all the nutrients we need, as well as our babies, however it needn’t be time-consuming. The best thing you can do is make it as easy for you as possible. That means meal prepping, whether that’s overnight oats for breakfast, a set of lunches for a few days or using the old ‘cook once, eat twice’ rule for dinner (make use of nap times if you can!). Try to ensure you’re having 3 regular meals to keep up your energy levels, as well as easy to grab snacks if needed such as an apple and cheese, carrots and hummus or dried fruit and nuts in between.
Which nutrients do I need more of when breastfeeding?
As well as eating a balanced diet including your 5-a-day, wholegrains and healthy unsaturated fats, we require an increase in both calcium and protein, as well as fluids too. Try to ensure you’re having at least 3 to 4 good sources of calcium throughout the day such as dairy (yoghurt, cheese and milk) or fortified dairy alternatives, as well as some plant-based sources such as broccoli, oranges and calcium set tofu. This is also a great way to top up your main protein source within your meals to ensure you’re getting enough protein. It’s important that you’re drinking plenty of fluids too, at least 8 glasses a day, which includes tea, coffee, juices as well as water. A daily 10mcg vitamin D supplement should be taken throughout both pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Should I be taking a multivitamin?
With the exception of Vitamin D, we can obtain most of our nutritional needs through our diet, although you may need to supplement with Vitamin B12 and an algae based omega-3 supplement if you follow a vegan diet. If you are pregnant or trying to conceive, avoid any supplements with the retinol version of Vitamin A, and make sure to take 400mcg of folic acid whilst trying to conceive and throughout the first 12 weeks of pregnancy at least. With this in mind, pregnancy suitable multi-vitamins can be useful as a ‘safety’ blanket, especially if you are ‘off’ certain foods for example.
Do I need to count calories?
In short, no – this is not something that you need to do to have a healthy balanced diet. However if you would like to be more calorie aware and learn more about the energy content of some of the foods you eat regularly, it can be useful to check the nutritional labelling more often; especially if you’re trying to choose between two pizzas for example (a thin crust will have fewer calories than a deep-pan stuffed crust!).
Are white carbohydrates bad for me?
There are no ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods! It’s all about the quantity and frequency in which we have certain foods. Generally, it’s best to aim for wholegrain (brown) varieties of carbohydrate the majority of the time to ensure we’re getting our 30g of fibre a day, but ‘white’ carbohydrates such as bread can still be fortified, provide energy and can be a source of calcium too!
How much exercise should I be doing?
The NHS recommends at least 150 minutes of ‘moderate intensity’ activity a week, such as a brisk walk or gentle run (e.g. 30 mins 5 x week), OR 75 minutes of more ‘vigorous’ activity a week e.g. a HIIT workout, PLUS 2 strength/resistance based exercise sessions/week. However, it’s important to do what you enjoy and find a form of movement that doesn’t feel like a chore for you, as then you’ll be more likely to keep it up!
Are there any foods and drinks you need to avoid when breastfeeding?
Alcohol should be avoided for the first 3 months of a baby’s life at least, and caffeine should be limited to 200mg/day (i.e. 1-2 cups of tea/coffee). Oily fish should also be limited to no more than two portions a week, as well as some white fish such as sea bream/sea bass and halibut which may also contain similar levels of pollutants to those found in oily fish such as salmon, mackerel or sardines. Although much less commonly consumed, fish such as shark, swordfish and marlin should not be eaten any more than once a week.
What’s the best way to have a balanced meal?
Think about dividing your plate into thirds, each for your carbohydrate and protein sources as well as 2 handfuls of salad/vegetables. Adding fats such as a drizzle of olive oil or a handful of olives, nuts or seeds is a great way to boost your unsaturated fat intake too, which is good for heart health!
What snacks can I have that will give me energy?
A simple mantra that I often recommend is ‘protein and produce’, for example some chopped banana and yoghurt, apple and cheese, nuts and dried fruit or hummus and cucumber sticks. This will help to keep you fuller for longer, control your blood glucose levels and provide you with an extra source of protein alongside your main meals if you’re breastfeeding.
How often can I have a ‘treat’ food?
There is no set amount that you can/should be having a ‘treat’ food, as this will vary depending on the individual. However it’s important to remember that we can still have the things we enjoy as part of a balanced diet. Try to consider the portion size and frequency – I like the 80/20 guideline where you aim to focus on eating foods such as fruit/veg, wholegrains, protein sources at least 80% of the time, and ensure you’re having other foods that you eat more for enjoyment/pleasure rather than nutrition, 20% of the time.