Hesperian Health Guides

Advice for Healthy Breastfeeding

In this chapter:

Eating well is important for breastfeeding

More Information
Eating for good health
an older woman offering a bowl of soup to a younger woman with a baby

Food is like medicine for recovering from pregnancy and birth, for being able to care for babies and children, and for all the other work parents do. They need plenty of foods rich in protein, fats, and lots of fruits and vegetables. They also need to drink plenty of healthy drinks—clean water, milk, herb teas, and fruit juices. Luckily, people make good breast milk no matter what they eat or drink.

Eat and drink enough to satisfy hunger and thirst. Avoid alcohol, tobacco, drugs, and unnecessary medicines. Clean water, fruit and vegetable juices, and milk and herb teas are better than coffee and sodas.

In some places, people believe that certain foods should not be eaten soon after giving birth. But without a balanced diet, a person can develop malnutrition, anemia, and other sickness.

Sometimes special foods are given during breastfeeding. These practices are good, especially if the foods are nutritious. Good foods help the birth parent’s body grow healthy and strong more quickly after birth.

Some people need extra food:

  • those who are breastfeeding 2 young children
  • those who are breastfeeding one child and also pregnant
  • those with children spaced closer than every 2 years
  • those who are sick or weak

Breastfeeding and child-spacing

Child spacing means having babies at least 2 years apart. This gives a person’s body time to get strong again before another pregnancy. Breastfeeding can be one way to help space your children.

Giving other foods

Babies are ready for other foods when:

  • they are at least six months old.
  • they start to grab food from the family or from the table.
  • they do not push food out of their mouths.
a baby reaching for a plate of food on a table
Do not give other
foods before 4 months.

Between 6 months and 2 years, give breast milk whenever your baby wants it. Even if it is eating other foods, it still needs as much breast milk as before. Give other foods after breastfeeding, 2 or 3 times a day at first. Begin with a soft, mild food, like cereal or porridge. You can mix these with breast milk or safe water. You do not need expensive baby cereals.

If a baby does not seem happy or well-fed with breastfeeding, and it is between 4 and 6 months old, it may simply need to suckle more so the breasts will make more milk. Breastfeed the baby as often as it wants for about 5 days. If the baby is still unhappy, then it is OK to try other foods.

Add new foods one at a time. By about 9 months to 1 year, a baby can eat most family foods if they are cut up and made easy to eat.

Even in the second year, breast milk continues to protect your child against infection and other health problems.

Babies need to eat often—about 5 times a day. Each day, they should have some main food (porridge, maize, wheat, rice, millet, potato, cassava), mixed with a body-building food (beans, finely ground nuts, eggs, cheese, meat, or fish), brightly colored vegetables and fruits, and an energy-rich food (finely ground nuts, spoonful of oil, margarine, or cooking fat). You do not need to cook 5 times a day. Some meals can be given as a cold snack.

If you can, keep breastfeeding until the child is at least 2 years old, even if you have another baby. Most babies will slowly stop breastfeeding on their own. To wean a baby can take 3 days to 3 weeks.

This page was updated:13 Nov 2023