The Nutrients You Need While Breastfeeding
If you think you’re all done “eating for two” once your baby is born, you’re mistaken! The truth is, your body needs roughly 450 to 500 extra calories each day in order to make breastmilk for your little one. That means if your weight falls in the “normal” range, you need to consume about 2,500 calories—in total—daily. But before you plow through all the ice cream in the name of nursing, know this: There’s more to breastfeeding success than calories alone. So, you might be asking: What “breastfeeding diet” should I follow? Here, learn all about the nutrients you need to support breastfeeding.
What should I eat while breastfeeding?
Good news: You don’t need a highly specialised breastfeeding diet! In fact, generally speaking, you don’t need to limit—or avoid—much of any specific foods while nursing. Instead, you should focus on making overall healthy food choices and eating a variety of foods. A diverse diet will change the flavour of your breastmilk, which means your baby will be exposed to lots of different tastes. (It’s thought that this may help little ones more readily accept solid foods in the future.)
Here are some basic breastfeeding diet musts:
Protein-rich foods: Lean meat, eggs, dairy, beans, and lentils are all great protein sources for nursing parents that should be consumed 2 to 3 times a day. (A serving is equal to 3 to 4 ounces of meat, fish, or poultry.)
Fish and seafood: Eat fish and seafood 2 to 3 times a week, leaning into salmon, bluefish, bass, trout, flounder, and tuna which are all high in DHA, an important omega-3 for your baby’s brain development. (Limit albacore tuna to 6 ounces a week.) Avoid fish with high mercury levels, like bigeye tuna, king mackerel, marlin, orange roughy, shark, swordfish, tilefish.
Variety of whole grains: Whole wheat bread, pasta, cereal, and oatmeal are all good choices that’ll help keep your blood sugar levels, well, level.
Lots of fruits and vegetables. Shoot for two servings of fruit a day and three servings of vegetables, including a lot of dark green and yellow veg. Because it’s very common to become constipated when breastfeeding, all of that fiber is especially important now!
Limit processed foods: Experts note that nursing parents would benefit from avoiding processed foods with artificial sweeteners. Beyond fake sugar, processed foods like store-bought desserts, chips, candy, and fast food are usually high in unhealthy fats—and low in fiber, vitamins, and minerals, which are all super-beneficial to breastfeeding parents.
What should I drink while breastfeeding?
Water! Breastfeeding parents should aim to drink at least 8 cups of water a day. (Milk, broth, herbal tea, and soup are good sources of hydration, too.) Many parents feel thirsty while breastfeeding, likely because they lose about 25 ounces of fluid a day through nursing. But that’s not the only reason nursing parents need to stay properly hydrated. Water is an integral part of breastmilk, making up 88% of your liquid gold.
While there’s no need to force yourself to drink an excess of water (this won’t increase your breastmilk supply), it is important to…
Drink enough water to satisfy your thirst.
Drink a glass of water every time you breastfeed.
Drink more water if your urine is dark yellow or infrequent.
Drink more water if you’re experiencing dry mouth.
What nutrients do breastfeeding parents need to increase?
While a healthy, well-balanced diet that contains just enough extra calories is perfect for many breastfeeding parents, there are a few key nutrients that you should pay extra close attention to, including:
Your need for both iodine and choline increases during lactation. You should clock 290 mcg of iodine and 550 mg of choline daily throughout your first year postpartum. At the same time, it’s important to take in 500 mcg of folate because babies get their folic acid from breastmilk.
Since you can’t pick a cut of choline up at the deli, pour yourself a glass of iodine, or toss a handful of folate in your smoothie, you’ll need to fulfill these newfound requirements by making sure you’re getting enough key foods, like dairy products, eggs, cod, and tuna. (See tuna rules above!) These foods all contain both choline and iodine. Foods like salmon, beans, peas, lentils, chicken, and beef are rich in choline, while shrimp and seaweed are good sources of iodine. (Make sure your table salt is iodised, too!) To keep your folate levels high, add these to your grocery cart: oranges, peanuts, black-eyed peas, kidney beans, asparagus, brussels sprouts, and dark leafy greens.
Do I need to take vitamins while breastfeeding?
Some medical pros encourage all nursing parents to take some sort of daily multivitamin—and more than half of new mums continue to take prenatal vitamins while breastfeeding—but there’s no “official” recommendation on supplementation. With that, some breastfeeding parents greatly benefit from taking postnatal supplements, such as iron, choline, zinc, iodine, and/or omega-3 fatty acids. For example, it’s recommended that vegetarians and vegans who are nursing should consult their healthcare provider about taking a B12 supplement to avoid putting their baby at risk for a dangerous B12 deficiency.
Possible candidates for some type of postnatal supplementation includes folks who…
Follow vegetarian or vegan diets
Don’t regularly consume dairy, eggs, seafood, or use iodised table salt
Have undergone gastric bypass surgery or have certain gastrointestinal disorders
Have pernicious anemia
Remember, always check with your provider before taking any supplements, including multivitamins and prenatal vitamins while nursing. One reason? The CDC warns that some prenatal vitamins may exceed your iron and folic acid needs.
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG): Breastfeeding Your Baby
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Maternal Diet
- Mayo Clinic: Breastfeeding nutrition: Tips for moms
- Children's Hospital of Philadelphia: Diet for Breastfeeding Mothers
- University of California, San Francisco Health: Nutrition Tips for Breastfeeding Mothers
- Cleveland Clinic: Foods to Eat While Breastfeeding
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: 5 Breastfeeding Diet Myths
- Northwestern Medicine: What to Eat While Breastfeeding
- Mother To Baby Fact Sheets: Folic Acid | Folate
- National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Dietary Supplements: Choline
- NIH Office of Dietary Supplements: Iodine
- NIH Office of Dietary Supplements: Folate
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion: Nutrition During Breastfeeding: How Health Professionals Can Support Healthy Moms and Babies
- American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP): Nutrition and Breastfeeding Case
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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider. Breastmilk is the best source of nutrition for babies. It is important that, in preparation for and during breastfeeding, mothers eat a healthy, balanced diet. Combined breast- and bottle-feeding in the first weeks of life may reduce the supply of a mother's breastmilk and reversing the decision not to breastfeed is difficult. If you do decide to use infant formula, you should follow instructions carefully.