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Healthy eating when pregnant and breastfeeding

Planning a pregnancy, being pregnant and breastfeeding are really important times to review your own nutrition and eating habits.

So why not give your baby the best start in life by improving your eating habits today?

In fact, healthy eating is important for your baby even before you conceive!

If you need some personal help to change your habits and eat a more healthy diet the free Get Healthy in Pregnancy service might be for you.  Call on 1300 806 258 or visit the website

So what foods should I eat?

A balanced diet is vital, especially in meeting your own nutritional needs as well as those of your baby, or to meet the extra demands of making breastmilk.

The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating can help you understand what foods you need everyday.

The guide divides foods into five groups:

  • bread, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles
  • vegetables and legumes
  • fruit
  • milk, yoghurt, cheese
  • lean meat, fish, poultry, eggs, nuts, legumes.

Each group gives you different nutrients that are important for you and for your baby. Balance your eating by choosing a variety of foods from each of the food groups.

And remember to drink plenty of water!

Did you notice the foods that are not on the Guide?

Lollies, chocolates, soft drinks, cakes, chips and the like do not fit into the food groups. That’s because, as tempting as they are, your body doesn’t actually need them. 

How much do I need to eat?

When you are pregnant you don’t actually need to “eat for two”. Instead, it’s the quality of your diet that’s important – not how much you eat.

It might sound odd, but when you’re pregnant, your energy (kilojoule) needs are actually only a bit higher than normal. 

However, there are some nutrients, such as:

  • calcium
  • iron
  • protein
  • iodine
  • folate.

These are very important during pregnancy. So you need to make sure you’re getting the right amount of these.

Find out how many serves of each food group you need while you’re pregnant.

What foods and drinks should I avoid?

There are of course, some foods and drinks you should limit or steer clear of completely when you’re pregnant. There are also some simple precautions to take.

Avoid listeria contamination

You can get a listeria infection from eating contaminated food.

The listeria bacteria are found in nature and in some foods, both home-cooked and bought food. While listeria infection is uncommon and causes few or no symptoms in healthy people, it can be very dangerous.

If you get a listeria infection during your pregnancy, there is a high risk that it will be transmitted to your unborn child. Listeria infection of the fetus can lead to miscarriage, still birth, premature birth or can make a newborn baby very ill.

You can lower the risk of listeria contamination by:

  • taking simple food hygiene steps at home
  • being careful about food made by others
  • avoiding certain high-risk foods including ready-to-eat chilled foods such as cold deli meats, pâté and soft cheeses like Brie.

Limit certain types of fish

Fish is a good source of nutrients for you and your baby, but some types of fish should be limited because they can be high in mercury and affect the baby’s developing nervous system. These include:

  • shark (flake), swordfish, marlin and broadbill – limit to one serve per fortnight
  • sea perch, orange roughy and catfish – limit to one serve per week.

In both cases, you should only eat these fish if you haven’t eaten any other fish during that period.

Limit caffeine

Tea, coffee and cola drinks contain various amounts of the stimulant caffeine, so it’s best to limit the amount of caffeine drinks you have each day.

Avoid alcohol

Because alcohol can have an effect on the development of your baby, no alcohol at all is the safest choice if you are pregnant, or planning to get pregnant.

Breastfeeding

Breastmilk contains everything your baby needs for the first six months of life, so exclusive breastfeeding during this time is recommended to help with your baby’s healthy growth and development.

Why am I so hungry?

Here’s a curious fact… making breastmilk for your baby actually uses more energy than any stage of your pregnancy. No wonder you may feel hungrier than usual.

Check how many serves of each food group you need while you are breastfeeding.

Getting your extra nutrients

Choosing healthy snacks is a good way to look after yourself, and help keep you and your baby well nourished.

Healthy snack ideas include:

  • fresh fruit
  • dried fruit, nuts or seeds
  • cracker biscuits with low-fat cheese or a spread such as peanut butter
  • fruit bread, english muffins, pikelets, rice cakes
  • plain fruit buns
  • milk drinks, and fruit and milk blended smoothies
  • low-fat yoghurt with fruit.

When you are breastfeeding, your body still needs some extra energy and nutrients, particularly protein and calcium. You can get these extra nutrients and energy by continuing to choose a variety of foods from the five food groups.

Iodine is also important, so chat to your doctor about whether you need an iodine supplement.

What about caffeine and alcohol while breastfeeding?

Some caffeine from coffee, tea and cola drinks will pass into your breast milk, but small amounts are not thought to be harmful. Limit the amount of drinks containing caffeine to no more than two or three cups a day.

Alcohol, like most drugs, can also be passed on to your baby through breastmilk. Not drinking alcohol while breastfeeding is the safest option.

Is your eating on track?

Find out how your diet, while pregnant or breastfeeding, compares to the Australian Dietary Guidelines, by taking this quiz from the Dietitians Association of Australia.

Want more information?

For further information on:

  • amounts of food you should eat
  • important nutrients for pregnancy and breastfeeding
  • lowering the risk of listeria
  • mercury levels in fish
  • caffeine and alcohol.

Download the ‘Nutrition for Pregnancy and Breastfeeding’ booklet.

Smoking while pregnant or breastfeeding

Smoking during pregnancy increases the risk of complications, pre-term delivery and having an unhealthy baby. Quitting smoking before or during a pregnancy can help protect your baby.

Once your baby is born, it is important to give them the best start in life by having a smoke-free environment.

If you smoke and are breastfeeding, some of the nicotine and poisons from cigarettes are passed to the baby through breastmilk. The best thing you can do for your baby is cut down or quit.

If you can’t manage this, you should keep breastfeeding, because it will help protect your baby against sickness. You should breastfeed your baby just before smoking to reduce the amount of nicotine your baby will get in breast milk.

Going outside to smoke can also help protect your baby from the harmful effects of second-hand tobacco smoke.

Find out more about reducing the risks of smoking to your baby and to your own.

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