The UK Department of Health and Food Standards Agency recommend mums to try to exclusively breastfeed for up to 6 months. Exclusive breastfeeding means the baby has no additional fluids including water and no additional solid food.
Breast milk will provide all the energy, fluids and nutrients that your baby needs for about the first six months of life in all the right proportions. Breast milk is also packed full of protective antibodies, white blood cells and nucleotides which will help to protect your baby from infection.
Research evidence shows us that babies who are breastfed exclusively are less at risk of stomach upsets and infections of the ear, respiratory and urinary tracts. They're also less likely to become obese or suffer from constipation and vomiting. It is particularly important if there is a family history of allergies such as hayfever, asthma or eczema that mother's breastfeed as breastfed babies are less likely to develop these allergic reactions.
There is also mounting evidence that breastfed babies have several other health advantages in the longer-term. For mothers the health benefits of breastfeeding include a decreased risk of breast and ovarian cancer, as well as reduced risk of weak bones in later life. A big plus is that women who breastfeed get their figures back more quickly than those who don't.
Just like in pregnancy it's really important to continue eating a healthy and varied diet whilst you are breastfeeding. Eating a wide range of foods from the Eat Well Plate will help ensure you have adequate nutrients, and you may need to eat larger portions of starchy foods such as bread, potatoes, pasta and rice to meet your increased energy needs.
Having adequate fluids is really important to ensure you produce enough milk, so try to have at least 1.5 -2 litres (6-8) glasses of water or other fluids a day. These fluids can include juices and smoothies, or milk, but you should try to limit the amount of caffeine from tea, coffee and cola drinks as the caffeine is passed into your milk and may keep your baby awake. Drinking alcohol is generally not advised when breastfeeding because it passes into your milk and will alter the flavour of the milk as well as have an effect on the baby. If you do decide to have alcohol, it is best to breastfeed first and then restrict yourself to one drink with a meal. The alcohol then has a chance to be removed from your blood stream before the next feed.
Fish is a great source of omega 3 fatty acids so include 2 portions in your diet each week, but don't have more than 2 of oily fish such as salmon, fresh tuna or mackerel. Continue to avoid eating large fish such as marlin, shark or swordfish.
It is a good idea to have fruit and vegetable snacks to ensure you have adequate dietary fibre as some women experience problems with constipation whilst breastfeeding. Having adequate fluids will also help alleviate this.
The government policy on eating peanuts whilst breastfeeding has changed. The government previously advised women that they may wish to avoid eating peanuts while they were breastfeeding if there was a history of allergy in their child's immediate family (e.g. asthma, eczema, hayfever, food allergy or other types of allergy), in case small amounts of peanut in their breastmilk increased the chance of the baby developing a peanut allergy. The latest research shows that there is no clear evidence to indicate that eating or not eating peanuts while breastfeeding has any effect on your baby's chances of developing a peanut allergy.
As in pregnancy, you should continue with vitamin D supplements to ensure you and your baby have sufficient to promote good bone and tooth development. A 10 microgram (mcg) supplement is recommended.
Unfortunately not all mothers are able to breastfeed for medical reasons or by choice. For these mothers an infant formula should be used. There are an enormous number of infant formulas on the market and most are made from cow's milk that has been modified to make the nutrient composition similar to that of human milk. Vitamins, minerals and trace elements are also added during manufacturing to meet the baby's nutritional needs and also to comply with legal requirements. However, infant formula's do not contain the hormones, antibodies, white blood cells and other protective factors found in breast milk and as a result infections and constipation tend to be more common in bottle-fed compared to breast-fed babies.
In warm or hot weather bottle-fed infants may be offered cooled, boiled water although this should not replace their milk feed. Water from the mains tap should be used and should be boiled and cooled before feeding. Bottled mineral waters are not always suitable due to the high mineral content.
Soya-based infant formulas should only be used following medical advice. They are sometimes used for babies who are unable to tolerate cow's milk, although such babies may need special 'hypoallergenic' milks as soya can also trigger an allergic reaction.
Cow's milk is not suitable for babies as a main drink until they are one year as it does not provide sufficient iron. Goat or sheep's milk is also not advised as these do not provide sufficient iron and other nutrients. Once your baby is one year they can be used if they are pasteurised.
*If you are HIV positive or taking any medication you should consult your doctor or midwife before initiating breastfeeding.
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