A Guide to a Breastfeeding Diet for Moms

Apr 11, 2022 Women's Health

A Guide to a Breastfeeding Diet for Moms

Quick Health Scoop

  • A breastfeeding woman needs extra calories to help nourish herself and her breastfed infant—and to help her maintain an adequate milk supply.
  • A healthy breastfeeding diet should include a variety of nutrient-dense foods and protein-rich foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, healthy fats, legumes, and low-fat dairy.
  • A breastfeeding mom should limit or avoid certain foods such caffeine, alcohol, and seafood containing high levels of mercury.

Now that your little one has arrived, you want to continue eating a healthy diet, just like you did during your pregnancy. Why? For starters, you want to help your body recover from nine months of pregnancy. Healthy eating will also bolster your energy to care for yourself and your newborn. Finally, if you’re a breastfeeding mom, you want to ensure that your milk supply is full of all the nutrients your baby needs. In fact, you’ll likely need about 330 to 400 extra calories a day to provide the energy and nutrition to produce and sustain an adequate breast milk supply.1 That’s why a nursing mother's diet should include plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, legumes, nuts, seeds, and low-fat or fat-free dairy. 

But what, specifically, should you include in your breastfeeding diet to boost the nutrition in your breast milk? Which foods should you avoid while breastfeeding? And which ones can upset a breastfed baby?

Read on to learn more about what foods to eat—and what foods not to eat—when you’re a breastfeeding mother.

How Can I Make My Breast Milk More Nutritious?

To help fuel your milk production, a healthy breastfeeding diet should focus on a variety of nutrient-dense foods and protein-rich foods, including:1,2

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Seafood low in mercury (see below)
  • Lean meat and eggs
  • Low-fat and fat-free dairy
  • Healthy fats
  • Beans, peas, and lentils
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Fortified cereals (cereals with added iron and folic acid)

Also, keep in mind that eating a variety of healthy food while you’re nursing will both increase the different nutrients your baby gets and change the flavor of your breast milk. The latter might lay the groundwork for when you decide to wean your baby off breast milk. Why? Exposing your baby to variety of tastes may help him or her more easily accept solid foods.1

For healthy brain development, babies also need DocasaHexanenoic Acid (DHA), an Omega 3 fatty acid often found in fatty fish. The best sources of DHA are salmon, bluefish, bass, trout, flounder, and tuna.3 To be safe, choose seafood with low levels of mercury. According to the FDA, that includes the following:

Best choices (eat 2-3 times per week)

  • Anchovy
  • Atlantic mackerel (avoid King Mackerel)
  • Black sea bass
  • Clam
  • Cod
  • Flounder
  • Haddock
  • Herring
  • Oyster
  • Salmon
  • Scallop
  • Shrimp
  • Tuna (canned, light)

Good choices (eat 1 time per week)

  • Bluefish
  • Carp
  • Chilean sea bass
  • Grouper
  • Halibut
  • Mahi mahi
  • Monkfish
  • Snapper
  • Tuna (albacore/white, canned/fresh/frozen)

 

Which Foods To Avoid While Breastfeeding?

Eating a healthy, balanced diet is a wise choice for nursing mothers. However, there are a few foods that a breastfeeding mama should limit or avoid altogether:

  • Certain seafood: While fish provides a healthy choice for getting those vital omega-3 fatty acids, most fish contain some amount of mercury, which you can pass to your baby through breast milk. This can adversely affect the brain and nervous system of a developing breastfed infant.4 Avoid eating fish with high levels of mercury, including: 5
    • bigeye tuna
    • king mackerel
    • marlin
    • orange roughy
    • shark
    • swordfish
    • tile fish
  • Caffeine: Drinking two to three cups of coffee per day (about 300 mg or less of caffeine) does not adversely affect nursing babies. 4 However, drinking high amounts of caffeine (about 10 cups of coffee or more each day) is associated with irritability, poor sleeping patterns, fussiness, and jitteriness in breastfed babies. 4 And remember, other caffeinated drinks include soda, tea, and energy drinks.
  • Alcohol: The safest option for a breastfeeding woman is no alcohol. However, if you decide to consume alcohol, follow these safety tips:2,3
    • Drink no more than one drink (i.e.,12 oz. beer, 6 oz. wine, 1.5 oz. liquor) per day.
    • Drink after breastfeeding or pumping—not before.
    • Wait at least two to three hours after your drink before you breastfeed or pump, which allows time for the alcohol to break down in your body so less ends up in your breast milk.

As always, it’s best to talk with your healthcare provider on what to eat and what not to eat while breastfeeding.

 

What Foods Can Upset A Breastfed Baby?

Knowing that the foods you eat get passed on to your breastfed infant through your milk, you might wonder if any foods you eat can upset your baby.

Some breastfeeding moms have found that their babies don’t tolerate certain foods well, such as chocolate, spicy food, caffeine, and dairy products, among others.6 However, “most mothers restrict certain foods unnecessarily—a literature review did not identify any foods that mothers should absolutely avoid during breastfeeding unless the infant reacts negatively to the food.”7

Don’t limit your breastfeeding diet just because your baby might be experiencing a problem, such as being gassy or irritable. However, if you notice your baby reacting poorly after you’ve eaten a certain food, try temporarily eliminating that food for a while, then reintroducing it later to see if your baby reacts the same way again.8

 

Bottom Line

As a breastfeeding mom, you want to eat healthy foods that nourish both you and your growing baby.  Plus, you want to eat a healthy breastfeeding diet to help fuel your milk production. Focus on eating a balanced diet of nutrient-dense foods such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein sources, dairy, legumes, nuts, and seeds. If you’re worried that you’re missing any key nutrients while breastfeeding, talk to your doctor or preferred health care professional. And, just like taking a prenatal vitamin during pregnancy, consider taking a postnatal vitamin to fill in any nutritional gaps while breastfeeding.

 

Continue to check back on the Nature Made blog for the latest science-backed articles to help you take ownership of your health.

This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to serve as medical advice or a recommendation for any specific product. Consult your health care provider for more information. 

 

References

1 Mayo Clinic. “Breast-feeding nutrition: Tips for moms.” April 23, 2020. Accessed on: September 27, 2021. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/infant-and-toddler-health/in-depth/breastfeeding-nutrition/art-20046912

2 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Eat Healthy While Breastfeeding: Quick Tips.” October 15, 2020. Accessed on: September 27, 2021.  https://health.gov/myhealthfinder/topics/pregnancy/nutrition-and-physical-activity/eat-healthy-while-breastfeeding-quick-tips

3 Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “Diet for Breastfeeding Mothers.” 2021. Accessed on: September 26, 2021. https://www.chop.edu/pages/diet-breastfeeding-mothers

4 Centers for Disease Control and Preventions. “Maternal Diet.” September 22, 2021. Accessed on: September 27, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/breastfeeding-special-circumstances/diet-and-micronutrients/maternal-diet.html#avoid  

5 Food and Drug Administration. “Advice About Eating Fish.” July 2019. Accessed on: September 27, 2021. https://www.fda.gov/media/102331/download

6 Illinois McKinley Health Center. “Healthy Eating for Pregnancy and Lactation.” 2008. Accessed on: September 27, 2021. https://mckinley.illinois.edu/sites/default/files/docs/pregnancylactation.pdf

7 Korean Journal of Pediatrics. “Maternal food restrictions during breastfeeding.” March 2017. Accessed on: September 27, 2021. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5383635/

8 La Leche. “Foods for Nursing Parents.” November 2020. Accessed on: September 27, 2021. https://www.llli.org/breastfeeding-info/foods/

Authors

Lisa Beach

NatureMade Contributor

Lisa Beach is a seasoned journalist whose work has been published in The New York Times, Good Housekeeping, Eating Well, Parents, AARP’s Disrupt Aging, Optimum Wellness, and dozens more. She also writes for a variety of health/wellness-focused brands. Check out her writer’s website at www.LisaBeachWrites.com.

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Lynn M. Laboranti, RD

Science and Health Educator

Lynn is a Registered Dietitian (R.D.) and is a member of the Medical and Scientific Communications team at Pharmavite. She has over 20 years of experience in integrative and functional nutrition and has given lectures to health professionals and consumers on nutrition, dietary supplements and related health issues. Lynn frequently conducts employee trainings on various nutrition topics in addition to educating retail partners on vitamins, minerals and supplements. Lynn has previous clinical dietitian expertise in both acute and long-term care, as well as nutrition counseling for weight management, diabetes, and sports nutrition. Lynn earned a bachelor’s of science in Nutrition with a minor in Kinesiology/Exercise Science from The Pennsylvania State University. She earned a M.S. degree in Human Nutrition from Marywood University in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Lynn is an active member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Sports Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutritionists, Dietitians in Functional Medicine, and holds a certification in Integrative and Functional Nutrition through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

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