What Should a Breastfeeding Mother Eat?
Mothers often have questions about which foods are important to eat and which foods should be avoided during breastfeeding. The
content of human milk varies only slightly among mothers regardless of what they do or do not eat. In a diet that is continually inadequate,
the mother may have reduced stamina and minor illnesses; however, the milk will remain of good quality. No special diets or foods are
necessary, but mothers should try to eat a balanced, varied diet to remain healthy, vigorous and energetic.
Recommended Daily Allowances
It is often recommended when you are pregnant that you eat about
necessary. Vitamin D, magnesium and zinc aid in the absorption of
300 to 500 calories more than you would with your normal diet.
calcium and can be found in some supplements in combination
The same is true during breastfeeding. For most breastfeeding
women that means 2,000-2,200 calories per day, but can range
Vitamins: Eating plenty of fruits and vegetable will help ensure
anywhere from 1,800-2,700 calories depending on your height and
that you get the vitamins you need. Vitamin D is especially
size. This recommendation is based on the amount of breast milk
important for your baby’s bone growth and development. You can
that is consumed by your baby.
get vitamin D from eating fish, milk, eggs and butter.
The Food Guide Pyramid below illustrates the recommended
Supplements and Herbs: The United States Food and Drug
number of daily servings in each of the food groups. This is the
Administration (FDA) does not monitor supplements and herbs. For
general guide that should serve as a guide for a healthy diet. If
many of these products there is little research on risks or benefits,
your diet does not meet these standards, it does not mean that
especially for pregnant or breastfeeding women. It is best to check
your milk will be negatively affected or that you should not
with your health care provider before taking supplements and
breastfeed. Just try to improve your diet as best as you can.
Alcohol: Alcohol consumption should be limited while
Food Guide Pyramid
breastfeeding. Alcohol levels peak in your system after about one
A Guide to Daily Food Choices
hour and takes several hours to be eliminated from your body and
your breast milk. Research has shown that babies may become
fussy or consume less breast milk when it has alcohol in it. Alcohol
Fats, Oils, & Sweets
Fat (naturally occurring
can, in high doses, impair your let-down reflex.
These symbols show fat and
Caffeine: Most babies do not seem to be bothered by caffeine but
added sugars in foods.
most health care providers recommend limiting caffeine to two
servings daily. Caffeine is found in coffee, some soft drinks, tea,
Meat, Poultry, Fish,
Dry Beans, Eggs,
and some over-the-counter medications. Chocolate contains a
& Nuts Group
compound similar to caffeine. If your baby seems wakeful and
fussy, consider how much caffeine you are consuming.
Artificial Sweeteners: Artificial sweeteners such as aspartame,
are generally considered safe for breastfeeding women. The
exception to this rule is for mothers of infants with Phenylketonuria
(PKU) as aspartame contains phenylalanine which can cause
mental retardation in babies with PKU. It is generally a rule of good
Rice, & Pasta
nutrition to keep all amounts of food additives to a minimum.
Drink Plenty of Fluids
Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture/U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Breast milk is made up of 87% water. As a result, your body will
need some extra water and juices while breastfeeding. Eight to ten
Here are some other helpful nutritional guidelines:
glasses each day is usually recommended, but you should drink
Calcium: This is an important mineral for your bones and for other
whenever you feel thirsty. Your body will tell you that you need
body functions. The recommended daily amount is 1,600 mg: that
extra liquids. You will most likely begin to feel thirsty as you
means 2-4 servings of milk products per day. Good sources of
breastfeed. A good way to make sure you get enough fluids is to
calcium are dairy products including yogurt, milk, and cheese,
have a glass of water or juice handy each time you breastfeed.
broccoli, watercress, oranges, almonds, sardines, tofu and dark
Also, if your urine is a pale yellow color, you are drinking enough
leafy greens such as bok choy or kale.
fluids (unless you are taking vitamins with B complex which makes
Studies show that during pregnancy and lactation calcium is drawn
urine bright yellow).
out of your bones. Your body will replace that calcium over time
Be aware, research shows that drinking extra fluids will not
and your bones will actually become stronger. If you are allergic or
increase your milk supply. It is the action of feeding your baby
intolerant of dairy products, you should consume more of the other
more often and emptying the breasts thoroughly that increases
sources of calcium (tofu, greens, etc.) and supplement your diet if
Plan Simple Meals & Snacks
Dieting always works best when combined with some kind of
Your time and energy may be in short supply while adjusting to the
physical activity. If you have a favorite sport, get back into that. If
changes in your life after the birth of your baby. Plan simple meals
not, look for a mom's post-partum exercise group. It is more fun to
- it will save you time and ensure that you get a balanced diet. If
exercise with other new moms; you might make some new friends
people ask what they can do to help, ask them to prepare a meal
for quick re-heating. When you or your partner cook, make double
Vigorous exercise produces lactic acid that does pass into breast
recipes and save half for another meal. Casseroles, meals in a
milk. It is not a nutritional problem; however, it may make your milk
slow cooker or microwave meals are time savers. This is a good
taste different to your baby. Some mothers prefer to feed right
time to collect recipes that have a small number of ingredients and
before exercising, then most of the lactic acid is gone from their
are simple to prepare.
breast milk by the next feeding time.
Suggestions for Quick and Easy Snacks
Are There Foods I Should Avoid?
Bagel with cream cheese
Banana nut bread
You will hear many old wives tales about which foods you cannot
eat during lactation. The fact is, you can eat anything that you
Cheese and crackers
normally eat, in moderation. Do not limit your diet in any way,
Dried fruit and nut mix
unless you find that a particular food causes a problem for your
Fresh or Frozen Fruit
Rolled up lunch meat
If you notice that your baby is particularly fussy after a feeding,
Granola and yogurt
consider what you ate 4-6 hours previously. It will take that long
for problems to develop. The foods that you might first suspect
Hard boiled eggs
Milk shakes with fruit
would be foods that give you gas or that you have sensitvitiy to.
Popsicles made with juice
Raw vegetables with dip
These commonly are cabbage, beans and broccoli. You can
eliminate that food for a week or two. If symptoms reappear after
re-introducing the food, you may need to eliminate it for 2-3
Can Certain Foods Affect My Milk?
months. Babies usually out grow these sensitivities quickly and you
Flavor: The flavors of the foods and spices you eat will transfer
will be able to add them back into your diet.
into breast milk to some extent. Babies usually enjoy these flavors
In families with a history of allergies, mothers may be advised to
and may nurse longer. Some babies will suck longer when a novel
avoid peanuts, or other high-risk roods (cow's milk, eggs, wheat,
flavor is introduced. These flavors help introduce the flavors of
fish, citrus foods, other nuts) during pregnancy as well as
family foods to the baby.
breastfeeding. Your diet should only be adjusted if your baby
Color: The colors of some foods transfer into breast milk. For
develops allergic symptoms. Seek advice from your health care
example, high intake of carrots may make your milk "orange-ish,"
provider if you have allergies in your family.
beets may make your milk pink and spinach or other leafy greens
may make your milk "greenish."
If you are practicing a vegetarian diet, you should continue to eat a
Can Any Foods Increase My Milk Supply?
variety of foods with special attention to include complete proteins
There are no special foods that you can eat to increase your milk
through complementary plants. Vegan mothers who are
supply. Occasionally you will hear people recommend drinking beer
breastfeeding may be at risk for vitamin B12 deficiency. Be sure to
as it is thought that the brewers yeast in beer may increase milk
include soymilk, fortified yeast and supplemental vitamin
supply. However, brewers yeast is also available in powder and
preparations in your diet. If you need guidance to ensure you are
capsules. Certain herbs have been used to increase milk supply.
eating an adequate diet, seek the help of a nutritionist or dietitian.
Fenugreek, blessed thistle, goat’s rue, fennel, alfalfa, nettles and
others have been suggested. Discuss them with a lactation
consultant, herbalist or other knowledgeable health care provider
Please remember that this is general breastfeeding information only and does
not replace the advice of your health care provider. If you have a problem that
before trying them as each may present some side effects.
you are unable to resolve quickly, seek help immediately.
Concerned About Losing Weight?
You most likely will be anxious to lose the weight that you gained
Written by: Vergie Hughes, RN, MS, IBCLC
during pregnancy. Give yourself some time. It is recommended that
Edited by: Anne P. Mark, BSN, RN, IBCLC
you wait for at least 4-6 weeks after delivery to start a weight loss
References on File.
program. A good rate of weight loss for breastfeeding mothers is
one-half to one pound per week. Continue to breastfeed on
demand, eat a well balanced diet of at least 1,800 calories per day,
drink plenty of fluids and start an exercise program. Remember,
this is not the time to try fad diets or diet pills!
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