Breastfeeding and Nutrition: What should I eat while breastfeeding?

There is so much information about what and what not to eat when you're pregnant, but what about when you're breastfeeding? If you think about it, you're still eating for two—and the smallest one of you is growing and developing at a phenomenal rate. In fact, nutritional requirements for breastfeeding are much the same as during pregnancy, with sometimes even higher needs for certain nutrients. Each day you'll need to consume about 300 to 400 more calories than you did before you became pregnant because your body is so busy producing breast milk.

Why not make those necessary extra calories work to your and baby's advantage? We've put together a few nutritional guidelines and tips to help you during the first few months of breastfeeding. Once your baby has started solids, when you're not exclusively breastfeeding anymore, some of these guidelines can be relaxed. However, you should always eat well whether you're breastfeeding or not.

The Daily Dose

To start, it's important that you choose foods from all of the food groups on a daily basis. It's also important for you to get the recommended daily intake of certain vitamins and minerals. Your daily diet should include:

Carbohydrates

These fuel your brain and muscles and are a necessary component of breast milk. Whole grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes are good sources of these important "building" foods.

Proteins

Protein is necessary for growth. Babies grow substantially during the first year of life and need the protein building blocks for all of their body's systems. You should be getting 75 to 80 grams per day, roughly double your pre-pregnancy needs. Good sources include fish, chicken, red meat, nuts, seeds, legumes and tofu.

Fats

Fats are a necessary part of your diet and essential for the growth and protection of the brain and nervous system, for hormone building and for the protection of all cells. Good sources of essential fatty acids are seeds, nuts, fish, flax and pumpkin and hemp seed oils. Other good sources include olive and sunflower oils and avocados.

Vitamins and minerals

Most vitamins and minerals are found in abundance in fresh whole fruits and vegetables. Eating a variety of them in different colors will ensure that you and your baby are getting everything you both need during this important time.

Calcium

Calcium is essential for the growth and integrity of bones. Be sure to consume 1200 – 1500mg per day – 50% more than pre-pregnancy recommendations. Good calcium sources include dairy products, leafy green vegetables, almonds, salmon and fortified tofu.

Iron

Iron is necessary for the development of red blood cells and cardiovascular health and is an important factor in maintaining energy levels. Make sure you're getting 40-80mg a day – roughly double your pre-pregnancy needs. Foods high in iron include red meat, leafy green vegetables, grains, prunes, figs and beans. (Note: Be careful if you're consuming lots of dairy, as calcium from dairy can deplete iron levels. It's best to vary the food sources for your calcium.)

Water

What goes out must come back in again. Breastmilk is mostly water, so it's important for a nursing mom to keep topping up her fluids. Drinking to thirst is recommended and can include all liquids such as juice and milk in addition to water. A good way of making sure you don't go thirsty is to always have a glass of water accessible when you start to nurse. And here's a tip, drinking raspberry leaf herbal tea not only provides much needed liquid, but it helps to tone the uterus back into shape.

Variety is the Spice of Life

It's true...too much of something is not necessarily a good thing. Ideally, you should rotate what you eat with a variety of foods. And remember, it's good to have a combination of both cooked and raw fruits and veggies to capture those important enzymes which help us with our energy and vitality.

And Finally...

This is the time to take care of yourself as well as your baby. This is not the time to try and lose your 'baby fat'. Dieting and cutting out important nutrient-dense foods, especially in the first two months of breastfeeding, will only make you feel tired and depleted (more than you already are from sleepless nights!). Your diet is important not only to develop breastmilk for baby, but to keep you a healthy, energetic mom.

If you have concerns about your diet and nutrition, always consult your doctor, nutritionist or other healthcare provider to determine what is best for you and your baby.

Source: MaryAnn Scandiffio, BA, CNP. MaryAnn is a practicing nutritionist and busy mom to 4 children, all of whom were breastfed.

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Heather Kelly
Heather is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant.
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