Breastfeeding women should eat a diet that is rich in whole grains, fruits, veggies, and lean proteins. There is no need for a special diet, but there are some things to think about.

How Much Do I Need to Eat?

If your child only eats breast milk, then you will need an extra 400-500 calories per day more than before you were pregnant. During the first few months, your body will be able to use the fat you stored during pregnancy to meet part of this need. Eat when you are hungry instead of focusing on how many calories you are eating.

What Should I Eat?

What you eat is as important as how much you eat. Be sure to fill up on nutrient-dense foods. Your baby will get nutrients from your breast milk, but you want to make sure there are enough nutrients for you to use too. If you do not eat enough calcium, for example, your body will take it from your bones. This will raise your risk of osteoporosis. Talk to your doctor before you take any vitamin D or calcium pills.

Key Nutrients

Nutrient Good Sources

Vitamin A

Red, orange, and green veggies; dairy products

Vitamin C

Broccoli, bell peppers, potatoes, citrus fruit, berries

Vitamin D

Fortified milk and milk products; sunlight

Calcium

Dairy products, sardines, canned salmon, tofu, green leafy veggies

Iron

Meat, poultry, fish, legumes, green leafy veggies, dried fruit

Folic acid

Fortified cereal, wheat bread, citrus fruit, green leafy veggies

Healthy fats (Omega-3, DHA, and EPA)

Fatty fish from cold oceans (such as mackerel, anchovies, and salmon)

Eating Guide

To make sure you get all the nutrients you need, eat a variety of foods from the food groups.

Food Group Daily Amount* Tips

Grains

7 ounces (1 ounce = 1 slice bread, 1/4 bakery-style bagel, 1/2 cup cooked pasta or rice, or 3 cups popcorn)

At least 1/2 of your grains should be whole grains. These are:

  • Whole wheat products
  • Oatmeal
  • Brown rice
  • Barley
  • Bulgur
  • Popcorn

Veggies

3 cups (1 cup = 1 cup raw or cooked veggies, 2 cups raw leafy veggies)

Eat a variety of veggies every day. Eat more of these:

  • Dark green veggies like broccoli, spinach, bok choy, or romaine lettuce
  • Orange veggies like carrots, sweet potatoes, butternut squash
  • Dry beans and peas like chickpeas, black beans, lentils, split peas, kidney beans, or tofu

Fruits

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 and not fruit juices.

Milk

3 cups (1 cup = 1 cup milk or yogurt, 1.5 ounces natural cheese)

Choose low-fat or fat-free dairy products. Milk alternatives are calcium-rich or calcium-fortified foods and drinks.

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

Less than 270 calories

Choose healthy fats sources from fatty fish, while limiting 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

Tips

Dieting

Breastfeeding will help you to return to your pre-pregnancy weight sooner. This is because of the extra calories it burns. But 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 dietitian about creating an eating plan.

Fluid Needs

Make sure you drink enough fluids to make milk. Many women find that they are thirstier, especially when they first start breastfeeding. Drink plenty of water each day. Make sure your water does not have excess nitrate as in water from some private wells. Drink healthful drinks such as low-fat milk and 100% juice.

Vitamins

You may choose to take a multivitamin. This is not a substitute for eating a balanced diet. Many women do not have enough iodine. Talk to your doctor about whether you should take an iodine supplement. Check with your doctor before taking any supplements.

Alcohol

Most experts say that you should not drink alcohol during breastfeeding. It passes into your milk in the same amounts as it is in your bloodstream. If you do have a drink, do not breastfeed for two hours.

Caffeine

For most women, having one or two cups of coffee or tea per day is fine. If you find that your baby is fussy or having problems sleeping, try not drinking caffeine for a couple of days and see if it helps.

Seafood

Fish and shellfish are an important source of lean protein and omega-3 fatty acids. But seafood also contains mercury. In high amounts it can cause problems for your growing baby. While breastfeeding, you should eat up to 12 ounces of fish per week. Do not eat fish that has high levels of mercury, such as tilefish, king mackerel, swordfish, albacore tuna, and shark. Good choices are salmon, sardines, canned light tuna, and shrimp. These are high in omega-3 fatty acids and low in mercury.

Spicy or Gassy Foods

You may have heard that you should not eat spicy or gassy foods. This is only true if they are a problem. If your baby is fussy, try not to eat these foods for 24 hours. See if it helps. To better track your baby's reactions to the foods you eat, keep a journal. It will help you find out what foods are causing problems and make changes.

Food Allergies

Some babies may have food allergies. They are often not to the breast milk itself but foods that you eat. Work with your doctor to find out which foods may be causing the problem. Do not stop eating major food groups without talking to your doctor first.

RESOURCES:

Choose My Plate—United States Department of Agriculture
http://www.choosemyplate.gov

La Leche League
http://www.lalecheleague.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Health Canada
https://www.canada.ca

La Leche League Canada
http://www.lllc.ca

REFERENCES:

Advisories and Technical Resources for Fish and Shellfish Consumption. US Environmental Protection agency website. Available at: http://water.epa.gov/scitech/swguidance/fishshellfish/fishadvisories/index.cfm. Accessed February 3, 2021.

Breastfeeding. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/management/breastfeeding. Accessed February 3, 2021.

Breastfeeding a baby with food allergies. Children's Hospital of Philadelphia website. Available at: http://www.chop.edu/service/breastfeeding-and-lactation/breastfeeding-babies-with-special-needs/breastfeeding-a-baby-with-food-allergies.html. Accessed February 3, 2021.

Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025. US Department of Agriculture and US Department of Health and Human Services. Available at: https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2020-12/Dietary_Guidelines_for_Americans_2020-2025.pdf. Accessed February 3, 2021.

FDA/EPA 2004 Advice on What You Need to Know About Mercury in Fish and Shellfish. US Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: https://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodborneIllnessContaminants/Metals/ucm351781.htm. Accessed February 3, 2021.

Marangoni, F, Cetin, I, et al. (2016). Maternal Diet and Nutrient Requirements in Pregnancy and Breastfeeding. An Italian Consensus Document. Nutrients, 8(10), 629.

Vitamin and mineral supplement fact sheets. Office of Dietary Supplements website. Available at: http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/list-VitaminsMinerals. Accessed February 3, 2021.

Last reviewed December 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Dianne Scheinberg Rishikof MS, RD, LDN  Last Updated: 2/3/2021