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Five ways to stay healthy when breastfeeding

Getting enough rest, eating well and being aware of your mental health are all important when feeding your baby.

It’s important to watch your posture when breastfeeding. Photograph: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Eat well

A good diet is particularly important when breastfeeding. “You’re fuelling yourself to fuel a baby,” says Jane Moffett, a breastfeeding counsellor with the National Childbirth Trust (NCT). “Eat a varied, balanced diet,” she says . “If you’re vegan, think about calcium-fortified foods.” Wholegrains, protein and vegetables help to regulate blood sugar and may reduce your cravings for high-fat and high-sugar foods. But, with breastfeeding burning about 300 calories a day, this is not the time to cut calories. “As you’ll be feeding through the night as well as the day, it may be an idea to take a tuck box to bed,” says Moffett.

Take care of your emotional and mental health

Breastfeeding, like all elements of early parenting, may be different from what you expected. You may feel tired, frustrated, confused or helpless. According to research by the NCT in 2017, half of mothers experienced mental health problems at some time during pregnancy or within the first year of their child’s birth. If you feel in need of support, ask your GP, midwife or health visitor about breastfeeding clinics, drop in sessions and support groups. Help may be available locally but, if not, there are several national helplines in the UK. Check the NHS website for details.

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Get enough rest

The pressure to relax can feel, ironically, rather stressful when your schedule is being dictated by a small baby. So, instead of telling yourself to sleep whenever the baby does, simply try to do things that make you happy. “Get rest,” advises Tamsin English, a baby feeding supporter based in east London. “It doesn’t have to be sleep – it could just be lying on the sofa, watching TV, or listening to music. Anything that helps you feel less frazzled.”


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Be breast aware

While breastfeeding, take the time to look at your breasts in the mirror, and check them regularly for signs of tenderness. “If you start to feel fluey, have a red area on one of your breasts, or if your breasts feel painful, tell your doctor, midwife or health visitor,” says Moffett. These can be the early signs of mastitis, a painful condition caused by a buildup of milk in the breast. If you suspect mastitis may be coming on, the NHS recommends massaging the affected area in a warm shower, continuing to breastfeed, trying different positions to stimulate the blocked area and maybe starting your baby feeding on the affected breast to try to drain any blockages.

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Look after your back

Breastfeeding can cause aches and pains, particularly if you don’t watch your posture. There are different breastfeeding positions that may suit parent and baby – from the rugby hold to the cradle hold, from lying flat to lying on your side, or even the jazzy sounding “koala” position. The Medela website has useful pictures and notes of several of these positions, or you can ask to be shown them at breastfeeding drop-ins, which are usually run by local health services.

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