Hesperian Health Guides

Advice for the Mother

Mother’s diet while breastfeeding

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

Mothers need to eat well to recover from pregnancy, to care for their babies, and for all the other work they do. They need plenty of foods rich in protein, fats, and lots of fruits and vegetables. They also need to drink plenty of liquid—clean water, milk, herb teas, and fruit juices. But no matter how a woman eats and drinks, her body will make good breast milk.

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.

Some people believe that new mothers should not eat certain foods. But if a mother does not get a balanced diet, it can lead to malnutrition, weak blood (anemia), and other sickness.

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

A woman needs extra food if:

  • she is breastfeeding 2 young children.
  • she is breastfeeding one child and is also pregnant.
  • her children are spaced closer than every 2 years.
  • she is sick or weak.

Breastfeeding and child-spacing

Child-spacing means having babies at least 2 or 3 years apart. This allows a woman’s body to get strong before another pregnancy. For some women, breastfeeding helps them space their children.

Giving other foods

A baby is ready for other feedings when:

  • it is about six months old, or older.
  • it starts to grab food from the family or from the table.
  • it does not push food out with its tongue.
a baby reaching for a plate of food on a table
Do not give other
foods before 4 months.

Between 6 months and 1 year, give breast milk whenever the baby wants it. Even if it is eating other foods, it still needs as much breast milk as before. Follow breastfeeding with other foods, 2 or 3 times a day at first. Begin with a soft, mild food, like cereal or porridge. Some women mix these with breast milk. 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 that the mother’s breasts will make more milk. The mother should breastfeed the baby as often as the baby wants for about 5 days. If the baby is still unhappy, then she should 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 have 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.

This page was updated:17 Apr 2019