Proper Nutrition While Breastfeeding

By Sue Bedard

What you eat and drink is very important when you’re breastfeeding, especially during the first 2 to 3 weeks when your milk supply is becoming established. Follow this guide to proper nutrition while breastfeeding. 

breastfeeding nutrition
​Eating a balanced diet

What you eat and drink is very important when you're breastfeeding, especially during the first 2 to 3 weeks when your milk supply is becoming established. Don't diet during this critical time. Follow an eating plan that includes a generous intake (1,800 to 2,200 calories each day) of nutrients from all food groups. Also, be sure to make smart choices from each food group, now AND all through your life:
  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Dark green, orange, and yellow vegetables are especially healthy choices.
  • Make most of the grains you eat whole grains. Examples include whole-wheat bread, brown rice, and oatmeal. These have lots of healthy fiber and nutrients.
  • Choose heart-healthy proteins. Examples include beans, eggs, low-fat cheese, nut butters, skinless poultry, and lean red meats. Fish is another good protein source, but to limit your intake of mercury (common in many sea fish), eat no more than 12 ounces a week of halibut, sea bass, swordfish, mackerel, grouper, red snapper, and orange roughy​.
  • Select low-fat dairy products. Go for non-fat or low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese. If you’re breastfeeding, you need at least 4 servings of dairy each day.
  • Choose unsaturated fats and oils — and stay away from trans fat. Read food labels to see what’s inside.
  • Limit salt and sweets. Most Americans get far too much sodium (salt) in their diet, and eat too many sweets. So keep salty and sweet snacks to a minimum — save your appetite for foods with the nutrients you need right now.
Once your milk supply is established, gradual weight loss should not interfere with breastfeeding. However, keep in mind that diets less than 1,800 calories a day are often low in vitamins, minerals, and iron and often lead to fatigue and low milk supply. Diets with fewer than 1,500 calories a day — or those that severely limit carbohydrates or fats — are also not recommended at any time while you’re breastfeeding.

What about foods to avoid? Contrary to popular belief, there are no “forbidden foods” for breastfeeding women. Unless you have a food allergy in the family, you should be able to eat everything in moderation — including spicy foods, nuts, dairy, broccoli, and chocolate. Your baby’s occasional fussiness is probably not related to your diet. However, if you’re concerned, you can try eliminating a particular food for a time to see if things improve, or talk to your baby’s doctor.

Fluids

You should drink plenty of fluids. Try to drink at least 8 cups of fluid each day. However, forcing fluids beyond your thirst will not increase your milk supply.

Vitamins

Doctors recommend that all women of childbearing age take a vitamin with at least 400 mcg of folic acid every day:
  • Before they’re pregnant
  • During their pregnancy
  • After the baby is born
  • Always — if they have any chance of getting pregnant, on purpose or accidentally
Folic acid is important to help prevent certain birth defects. And it’s good for you, too. So if you have any chance at all of becoming pregnant — take a pill! And if you were taking prenatal vitamins and/or iron during your pregnancy, keep taking them for the first few months of breastfeeding. But be aware that vitamins don’t take the place of nutritious foods, and they can be dangerous in large amounts. Always take the amount recommended by your doctor.

Vegetarian diets

If you have chosen to follow a vegetarian diet, you can continue to follow this diet while breastfeeding. Make sure you are consuming enough calories, protein, iron, calcium, vitamin D, and zinc. It’s also important to make sure that your vitamin B12 intake is adequate. This vitamin is only found in animal products. A B12 vitamin supplement is recommended for mothers on strict “vegan” diets who avoid eggs, milk products, and meat products.

Exercise

Exercising has many health benefits and is recommended during breastfeeding. If you were exercising during pregnancy, it’s safe to continue your exercise routine. Just make sure that you are consuming enough fluids and calories to maintain your milk supply and prevent fatigue. If you’re just beginning an exercise program, get an okay from your doctor. Then follow safe exercise habits: start slowly and build up gradually, exercise at least 3 days a week, and warm-up prior to exercise. You can breastfeed right after
you exercise — there is no need to wait.

Medication, herbs, and dietary supplements

Before you use any herb, dietary supplement, or medication — prescription or over-the-counter — ask the advice of your physician, pharmacist, lactation consultant, or dietitian. Some substances are not recommended during breastfeeding and can be dangerous. You can also get information from
the Pregnancy Riskline by calling 1-800-822-BABY (2229).

Caffeine

Mother’s milk is only slightly affected by the caffeine in the coffee, tea, and soda pop you drink. Just keep your intake moderate — no more than 3 cups of coffee or tea over the course of the day. Any more than that, and your baby could get fussy and have trouble sleeping.