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Breastfeeding Nutrition: the importance of iron

Whether you've just had a baby, or you're 6 months down the track, you've got special health needs while breastfeeding your little one. However, it's often the case that once the baby is born, we're more likely to tend to their needs while pushing aside our own.

Keeping yourself healthy while breastfeeding means eating as much as 2000 kilojoules (500 calories) more than someone who is not breastfeeding, and ensuring you're eating plenty of nutrient-dense food. This is because even though you're no longer pregnant, requirements for vitamins and minerals are still higher when breastfeeding. Here is some advice for what to eat while breastfeeding.

Iron

When you were pregnant, you needed 2-3 times more iron than usual i.e. 27 mg per day. After you've had your baby this target drops to 9 mg while breastfeeding or 18 mg when not pregnant and not breastfeeding.

Although your iron needs drop dramatically while breastfeeding, it may be likely that you had trouble maintaining healthy iron levels during pregnancy. It's important to continue eating iron-rich foods each day while you're breastfeeding to help your blood iron levels, and iron stores, return to a healthy range.

If you had low iron during pregnancy, it's a good idea to have your blood hemoglobin and ferritin (iron stores) levels checked once you've had your baby. Your midwife, Plunket nurse, or GP will be able to help you with this.

For more information on the complete list of nutrients, for all ages and life stages, click here.

Women who follow strict vegetarian or vegan diets may need extra support and information to ensure they meet their dietary requirements for iron along with protein, vitamin B12 and calcium. Dietary recommendations are included in the Ministry of Health’s Eating & Activity Guidelines for New Zealand Adults (2020), and where necessary seek the advice of a Registered Dietitian or Registered Nutritionist.

Iron-rich recipes to help support breastfeeding

Now that you know the importance of iron to help support breastfeeding, we thought we'd pull together a few recipe ideas to help you get started. We've also included the iron per serve.

  1. Beef Nachos with Avocado Salsa (10.5mg iron per serve)
  2. Indian-spiced Lamb & Chickpea Curry (6.3mg iron per serve)
  3. Asian inspired Beef with Greens (4.7mg iron per serve)
  4. Polpettone (7.2mg iron per serve)
  5. Lamb Chops with Spinach & Pea Risotto (6.2mg iron per serve)
  6. Nourishing Mexican Beef Bowl (8.8mg iron per serve)

Commonly Asked Questions


Do I still have to avoid the foods I wasn't allowed to eat during pregnancy?

Many women enjoy a big plate of sushi after their baby is born and look forward to saying yes to the cheese platter! While you are able to enjoy many of the formerly 'forbidden' foods, you do still need to take care with food safety as a vomiting bug is the last thing you need when you have a baby to care for.

How can I eat enough while I'm breastfeeding?

Do you have people around you who can help by cooking meals, bringing you food or help with grocery shopping? It can be hard to ask for help but don't be afraid to get visitors to bring food or help prep dinner if they want to spend time with you and your new baby.

Make sure you have a big glass of water or drink bottle beside you when you sit down to breastfeed, as well as easy snacks like a cheese and Marmite sandwich, mini meatballs, fruit, nuts, bliss ball or lactation cookies.

Check out our slow cooker recipes to give you ideas for fuss-free meals. You can prep in the morning while your baby goes down for a nap, or is tucked up in your baby carrier, and let the slow cooker do all the work.

Further information

Click here for a list of common iron-rich foods.
Click here for information on how to improve your iron intake.

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