Elements of a Healthy Breastfeeding Diet

Updated April 9, 2018
Healthy Eating

A breastfeeding mother's diet can affect both her and her child. Because milk production takes nutrients from the body's stores, breastfeeding requires a well-rounded, nutrient dense diet. If a mother's diet is inadequate, her nutrients will go to the baby first and she will be left to survive on the remains. Eating right while breastfeeding helps the baby and the mother.

What to Eat While Breastfeeding

When breastfeeding, the body's energy requirements increase. A mother needs an additional 450 to 500 calories a day to maintain her weight while breastfeeding. These additional calories are best utilized if sourced from healthy foods. Examples of appropriate foods to eat when breastfeeding include:


It is recommended to eat two cups of fruit per day while breastfeeding. Fruit is high in vitamins and antioxidants, which a mother and child both require. When choosing fruit, try to select fresh, frozen, or canned in 100% juice fruit.


Breastfeeding mothers should try to consume at least three cups of vegetables daily. The best way to do this is to have a different color vegetable for each serving. This ensures you are exposed to a wide variety of vitamins and minerals.


Protein is one of the most important considerations while breastfeeding. Women who are breastfeeding should eat 6.5 ounces of lean protein each day. This can come from lean sources, such as chicken, eggs, fish, beans (such as garbanzo, pinto, or black beans), nuts, seeds, or nut butter. The best way to consume protein while breastfeeding is by spreading those 6.5 ounces throughout the day.


While breastfeeding, it is recommended to consume three cups of dairy (around 1,000 milligrams) daily to be sure you are getting enough calcium. A baby's growth requires calcium. If a breastfeeding mother isn't consuming enough calcium-rich foods, it may be pulled from her bones. Dairy products such as cow's milk, yogurt, and cheese are some of the best sources of calcium.


The USDA recommends that breastfeeding women consume eight ounces of grains each day. At least half of those should be whole grains. Good sources of whole grains include brown rice, whole wheat products, quinoa, oatmeal, and popcorn.

Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids consumption is crucial while breastfeeding to ensure the baby receives the nutrient docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) which aids in brain development. It is recommended that breastfeeding women consume one to two servings of fatty fish (such as salmon, tuna, or herring) every week. However, to avoid taking in too much mercury, they should limit consumption of marlin, mackerel, tile fish, swordfish, and pike.


Many women tend to be thirstier than normal while breastfeeding. This is a typical issue, but should definitely be addressed. Women should increase water intake throughout the day to address their thirst.

Other Considerations

Other elements of a mother's diet can impact her infant. A doctor or dietitian can address concerns specific to you. Common considerations include vitamin supplements, specialized diets, caffeine, and alcohol.


Unlike the period of pregnancy, no standard supplementation recommendations exist for breastfeeding mothers. However, doctors often recommend that breastfeeding women to simply continue their prenatal vitamins. Women who follow special eating patterns may need supplementation of specific nutrients.

Special Diets

It is okay to follow a specialized diet like vegetarianism or veganism while breastfeeding. However, these diets tend to lack some nutrients needed for proper infant growth and development. If following a vegan or vegetarian diet, supplementation of omega-3 fatty acids, iron, vitamin B-12, or a multi-vitamin may be needed. A doctor or registered dietitian can work with you to determine any specialized needs.


Breastfeeding women can consume caffeine in moderation. For breastfeeding mothers who consume caffeine, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends spreading it evenly throughout the day. They also suggest limiting intake to no more than three cups of caffeine-containing beverages per day. It's also important to monitor your child. If he or she becomes fussy, it could mean that you are consuming too much caffeine.


Alcohol is known to pass through a mother's milk to the baby and can also alter the taste of the milk. Alcohol consumption should be done in extreme moderation (if at all) while breastfeeding. If consuming alcohol, wait at least two to three hours per drink before pumping or breastfeeding again.

The Link Between Diet and Breastfeeding

The National Institute of Health recommends breastfeeding as the primary source of nutrition for infants, and many new mothers choose to breastfeed. Consuming the right foods and avoiding foods that can cause problems while breastfeeding can help ensure that you and your baby have a healthy experience. A healthy diet of lean protein, fish, whole grains, dairy, fruits, and vegetables while consuming little to no alcohol or caffeine can help ensure you and your baby are properly nourished. Always speak with a physician or dietitian with any concerns or questions about breastfeeding and diet.

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Elements of a Healthy Breastfeeding Diet