Breastfeeding women should eat a varied, balanced diet that is rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins. In general, there is no need for a special diet, though there are topics to consider.
How Much Do I Need to Eat While Breastfeeding?
If you are exclusively breastfeeding, you will need an extra 400-500 calories per day above what was needed to maintain your prepregnancy weight. During the first few months, your body will be able to use the fat you stored during pregnancy to meet part of this requirement. Rather than focusing on how many calories you are eating, let your body be your guide, and eat when you are hungry.
What Should I Eat While Breastfeeding?
What you eat is as important as how much you eat. Be sure to fill up on nutrient-dense foods. Your baby will get all the necessary nutrients from your breast milk, but you want to make sure there are enough nutrients left for you to use too. If you do not consume enough calcium, for instance, your body will take it from your bones, increasing your risk of osteoporosis. Talk to your doctor before you take any vitamin D or calcium supplements.
Key Nutrients for Breastfeeding Women
Red, orange, and green vegetables; dairy products
Broccoli, bell peppers, potatoes, citrus fruit, berries
Fortified milk and milk products; sunlight
Dairy products, sardines, canned salmon, tofu, green leafy vegetables
Meat, poultry, fish, legumes, green leafy vegetables, dried fruit
Fortified cereal, wheat bread, citrus fruit, green leafy vegetables
Balanced Diet Eating Guide
The following guide is based on the US food guide, Choose My Plate. To make sure you get all the nutrients you need, eat a variety of foods from all of the different food groups.
7 ounces (1 ounce = 1 slice bread, 1/4 bakery-style bagel, 1/2 cup cooked pasta or rice, or 3 cups popcorn)
Consume at least 1/2 of your grains as whole grains. Whole grains include:
- Whole wheat products
- Brown rice
3 cups (1 cup = 1 cup raw or cooked vegetables, 2 cups raw leafy vegetables)
Eat a variety of different vegetables every day. Eat more of the following types of vegetables:
- Dark green vegetables like broccoli, spinach, bok choy, or romaine lettuce
- Orange vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, butternut squash
- Dry beans and peas like chickpeas, black beans, lentils, split peas, kidney beans, or tofu
2 cups (1 cup = 1 cup fresh fruit, 1 cup fruit juice, 1/2 cup dried fruit)
Eat a variety of fruit. Choose fresh fruit over fruit juices.
3 cups (1 cup = 1 cup milk or yogurt, 1.5 ounces natural cheese)
Choose low-fat or fat-free dairy products. Milk alternatives include calcium-rich or calcium-fortified foods and beverages.
Meats and Beans
6 ounces (1 ounce = 1 ounce meat, fish, or poultry; 1/4 cup cooked, dry beans; 1 egg; 1 tablespoon peanut butter; 1/2 ounce nuts)
Choose lean meats and poultry. Eat more fish and vegetarian sources of protein, such as beans, peas, nuts and seeds.
Fats and Sweets
Limit or avoid solid fats such butter, stick margarine, lard, and shortening. Limit foods high in added sugar or solid fats.
*Based on a 2,200 calorie diet
Because of the extra calories that it requires, breastfeeding will help you to return to your prepregnancy weight sooner. However, your focus should be on healthful eating, not dieting. If you diet during breastfeeding, you are putting yourself and your baby at risk. If you find that you are having a hard time losing the weight you put on while pregnant, talk to a registered dietitian about creating a personalized eating plan.
While breastfeeding, it is important to drink enough fluids to make enough milk. Many women find that they are thirstier than usual, especially when they first start breastfeeding. Drink plenty of water each day. Make sure your water does not contain excess nitrate as in water from some private wells. Drink healthful drinks such as low-fat milk and 100% juice.
You may choose to supplement your diet with a multivitamin, although this is not a substitute for eating a balanced diet. Many women are deficiency in iodine. Talk to your doctor about whether you should take an iodine supplement. Check with your doctor before taking any supplements.
Most experts recommend that you should avoid alcoholic beverages during breastfeeding. Alcohol passes into your milk in the same concentrations as it is in your bloodstream. If you do choose to have an occasional drink, avoid breastfeeding for 2 hours after you finish your drink.
For most women, having 1 or 2 cups of coffee or tea per day is fine. If you find that your baby is irritable or having difficulty sleeping, try eliminating caffeine for a couple of days and see if it makes a difference.
Fish and shellfish are an important source of lean protein and omega-3 fatty acids. However, seafood also contains mercury, which in high amounts can be detrimental to your developing baby. While breastfeeding, you should consume up to 12 ounces of fish per week, but avoid fish that contain high levels of mercury, specifically: tilefish, king mackerel, swordfish, albacore tuna, and shark. Good choices include salmon, sardines, canned light tuna, and shrimp. These are both high in omega-3 fatty acids and low in mercury.
Fish consumption advisories are updated on the US Environmental Protection Agency website.
Spicy or “Gassy” Foods
You may have heard that you should avoid spicy or “gassy” foods; however, this is only true if they are a problem. If your baby is unusually fussy, try eliminating potential trigger foods from your diet for a 24-hour period and see if it makes a difference. To better track your baby's reactions to the foods you eat, keep a journal. It will be easier to discover what foods are causing problems and make proper adjustments.
Some babies may have food allergies. The allergies are often not to the breastmilk itself but foods that you eat. Work with your doctor to determine which foods may be causing the problem. Do not drop major food groups without talking to your doctor first to make sure you and your baby are getting proper nutrition.
- Reviewer: Dianne Scheinberg Rishikof MS, RD, LDN
- Review Date: 09/2015 -
- Update Date: 07/13/2014 -