Infancy

Breastfeeding

Breast milk is the ideal food for your baby. It contains the perfect blend of nutrients for your baby, as well as antibodies which help protect them from infection. The benefits don’t stop there! Women who breastfeed have a lower risk of some cancers and tend to return to their pre-pregnancy figures more quickly. Exclusive breastfeeding (feeding your baby nothing but breast milk) is recommended for the first six months of your baby’s life.

What should I eat?

When you’re breastfeeding, all of the usual healthy eating guidelines still apply. 

Should I eat more than usual?Mother breastfeeding her baby in the park

You don’t need to eat for two when you’re breastfeeding, but do try to eat and drink a little more than usual. Try to eat a wide variety of nutritious foods - it’s important both for you and your baby. If you find it hard to fit in healthy meals while looking after your new arrival, the following tips might help:

  • Ask your family, friends or partner to cook some homemade meals that you can keep in your freezer and microwave as you need them
  • Go for simple meals that don’t take long to prepare – beans on wholegrain toast is simple but highly nutritious
  • Or go for smaller meals regularly throughout the day

Your body needs more fluids than usual while you’re breastfeeding. A good idea is to have a drink by your side each time you sit down to feed your baby. Milk and water are the best choices.

Anything I should avoid?

Try not to drink alcohol or have too many caffeine drinks (like coffee, tea or stimulant drinks) while you’re breastfeeding. If you do have alcohol or caffeine, try to have them just occasionally.  If you’re breastfeeding, it’s best to avoid drinking alcohol just before a feed. This is because the alcohol can pass to the baby in small amounts through breast milk.

Oily fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, trout, sardines and fresh tuna all provide essential fatty acids that are great for your baby’s developing brain. But stick to just two portions of oily fish a week while breastfeeding. If you eat shark, swordfish or marlin, stick to just one portion a week. This is because of the levels of mercury in these fish.

Can I try to lose weight while breastfeeding?

It’s not a good idea to cut back on calories when you’re breastfeeding because your body needs extra energy at this time. But the good news is that breastfeeding can help you return to your pre-pregnancy weight! This is because it uses up some of the extra fat stored in your body during pregnancy. If you are concerned about your weight, talk to your doctor.

More information about breastfeeding

The following links provide useful breastfeeding support and information:

Information on sharing expressed breast milk can be found here.

Bottle-feedinga baby with bottle

If you cannot or choose not to breastfeed your baby, then an infant formula (baby milk) should be used. Most infant formulas are made from cow’s milk that has been changed to make it more suitable for babies. You can also get soya infant formulas, but these should only be used if your doctor has recommended them. 

Remember that regular cow’s milk is not suitable for your baby until he or she is one year old.

Preparing infant formula feeds for your baby

Powdered infant formula is not sterile. It may contain bacteria that can make your baby sick. You can reduce the risk to your baby if you prepare and store infant formula safely.

safefood and the Health Service Executive have put together a leaflet for parents/guardians in ROI on How to prepare your baby's bottle (PDF, 5MB) as safely as possible. It covers advice for preparing bottles at home, while travelling and for the crèche. You should follow the same cleaning and sterilising instructions in this booklet if you are feeding your baby expressed breastmilk in a bottle.

The Public Health Agency have a leaflet with Advice on feeding your baby (PDF, 350KB) for parents/guardians in NI.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is important for the growth of your child. This NHS leaflet (PDF, 300KB) and the HSE provide further advice and information on how and where to get vitamin D.