Looking after yourself when breastfeeding

If you look after yourself, your body will do a more efficient job of producing milk.


During breastfeeding, mothers need a healthy diet to provide for their own needs as well as those of their baby.

When you were pregnant, soft unpasteurised cheese and liver were ‘off limits’, but now that your baby has been born, it is safe to eat these foods while breastfeeding.

  • There is no need to avoid spicy foods.
  • Try to eat regular meals – including breakfast, a snack meal and a main meal – each day.
  • Milk and dairy products provide protein, calcium and vitamins.
  • Fruit and vegetables provide vitamins and help your body take in iron from your diet.
  • Bread, potatoes and cereals have energy, fibre and vitamins.
  • Meat, fish and vegetarian alternatives (such as beans, pulses, high protein grains and soya) provide protein and iron.

Try to include at least one helping of oily fish a week, such as fresh, smoked or tinned mackerel, salmon, herring or sardines. Tuna is also nutritious, but is best fresh. Oily fish will boost the level of a special group of fats, called long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, in your milk. These fats are thought to contribute to your baby’s long-term growth and development.


While it is unlikely that having an occasional drink while breastfeeding will harm you or your baby, alcohol does pass through to the baby in your breast milk. As such, it is advisable to keep your drinking within the limits recommended for pregnant women. That is, no more than one or two units a week.

If you regularly drink more than this amount:

  • your milk may smell different and put your baby off feeding
  • the alcohol may make your baby too sleepy to feed
  • the baby may have difficulties with digestion and problems with sleeping patterns.

Extra alcohol of any type will not improve your milk production and may actually reduce it.

Be good to yourself

While your baby is on the neonatal unit, it is really important to make time for yourself. Very simple things, such as having a relaxing bath, eating a treat or simply sitting quietly will help you feel less anxious. Be nice to yourself.

Rest and sleep

This may be a stressful time, but it is important to look after yourself and keep your own strength up. Make sure you take sufficient rest and sleep so you have the energy to look after your baby. Expressing milk is also easier when you are well-rested.


This is an opportunity to stop smoking. Reducing the number of cigarettes you smoke each day may help, if stopping altogether seems too stressful.

Your milk will contain nicotine if you smoke. Smoking may also slow down the flow of your milk and make it more difficult to express.

Exposing your baby to second-hand smoke can also greatly increase their risk of chest infections.

It is extremely important not to smoke directly before you express breast milk. Nicotine levels increase in breast milk immediately after smoking, and the nicotine will remain in your milk for about 95 minutes.

If you feel you can’t stop smoking right now, it is still a good idea to breastfeed. This is because the health benefits of breast milk are so great that they outweigh the risks of exposing your baby to nicotine.

For help and advice to stop smoking, try the NHS Smoking Helpline on 0300 123 1014 or visit their website here


Avoid taking drugs or medicine, including herbal remedies, without advice from your doctor or pharmacist. Remember to tell health professionals that you are breastfeeding when they are recommending any medication for you.

If you discuss birth control with your doctor, remember to mention that you are breastfeeding, as this may affect the method you choose.

For more information on breastfeeding contact The Breastfeeding Network on 0300 100 0212

The information on this page is more than two years old