I don’t think I will ever get over how amazing breastfeeding is. The fact that our bodies produce milk that contains all the nutrients our babies need for the beginning of their life astounds me. And that’s just one thing on an ever-growing list of awesome things mothers do to care for their children!

You probably received a lot of information about what to eat or avoid during pregnancy. That information tends to wane after delivery. However, nutrition while breastfeeding is something for you to prioritize! It affects more than your baby. Your nutrition impacts your overall health. When you’re producing food 24/7 for someone else, it takes a lot out of you.

So let’s look at all the ins and outs of a healthy diet while breastfeeding.

What Foods to Eat While Breastfeeding?

When you’re breastfeeding, your body is doing more work than usual. You want to provide it with what it needs to keep your energy up. I know it can be difficult to put yourself first and prioritize your health, but your well-being matters!

Fatigue due to a poor diet makes daily functioning more of a challenge. When you're in the throws of the newborn stage, you don't need anything else zapping your energy. Focus on making sure you get enough protein, fruits, veggies, and water. Lactating mothers need an extra 25 grams of protein each day, as well as more zinc and vitamins A, B12, C, D, and E.1

The key is to have a well-balanced diet that includes items from different food groups. Eating a variety of foods also provides your baby with exposure to different tastes. This in turn helps with their transition to solid foods.

Protein: Eggs, meat, poultry, nuts, yogurt, cheese, tofu, beans, lentils, peanut butter

Fruits: berries, apricots, oranges, pomegranates, pears

Vegetables: especially dark leafy green and yellow veggies like spinach, kale, squash, and bell pepper

Fats: avocados, cottage cheese, yogurt, cheese, low-mercury fish, nuts, seeds, olive oil

Carbohydrates: potatoes, quinoa, bananas, whole grains, oatmeal

Folic Acid: fortified bread and cereals, leafy green vegetables, oranges, grapefruits, avocados, lentils, beans

What Foods to Avoid During Breastfeeding?

Thankfully, there aren’t as many foods that are off limit while you’re nursing compared to pregnancy. Below are a few items to be mindful of.

High-Mercury Fish: Swordfish, bigeye tuna, tilefish, king mackerel

Alcohol: Avoiding alcohol while breastfeeding is the safest option. If you decide to drink, wait at least two to three hours after you finish your drink before nursing your baby.2

Caffeine: Try to limit your caffeine intake to below 300 mg per day while breastfeeding.3 It’s recommended that you wait to consume caffeine until your baby is at least three weeks old. If your infant was born prematurely or has a health condition, your pediatrician may recommend a lower limit or for you to avoid caffeine altogether.

What Foods to Avoid When Breastfeeding for Gas?

All babies respond differently to certain foods. There isn’t a universal list that will always cause gassiness for infants. If you notice your baby is fussy every time you consume a specific type of food, speak with your healthcare provider.

The most common issue is a cow milk protein allergy. This can cause gassiness as well as itchy and red skin, swelling in the face, stomach aches, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, and sinus issues.2 If you suspect your baby may be allergic to cow milk protein, speak with your pediatrician. They’ll likely recommend that you avoid dairy products for a few weeks to see how your baby responds.

Symptoms of Not Eating Enough While Breastfeeding

We pay close attention to whether our babies are eating enough during the fourth trimester. However, we don’t always give ourselves that same attention. Breastfeeding can drain your energy if you aren't eating enough. Poor nutrition is also associated with an increased risk of postpartum depression for breastfeeding mothers..

Symptoms of poor nutrition include:

  • Extreme fatigue - You’ll feel exhausted regardless of how much sleep you get.
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness or poor balance
  • Feeling agitated
  • Weakness and low energy

These symptoms are also signs of postpartum depression. If you notice any of these, speak with your healthcare provider.

What Meals Help Produce Breast Milk?

There is a lot of information on the internet about various foods that might increase your milk supply. However, there is no substantial evidence that one specific food or herb will ramp up your supply. The best recommendation is to focus on a nutrient-rich diet that includes a variety of foods and ensure you’re consuming enough calories.

Do I Need More Calories While Breastfeeding?

It’s common to feel frequently hungry while nursing. Your body is working hard to produce all that sustenance for your baby! I’m currently breastfeeding my youngest child, so I’m still in the phase of feeling ravenous all the time. My partner knows it’s an offense if he eats the last of something delicious in our home.

While you’re breastfeeding, you need about 500 additional calories per day.1 Your body needs energy and nutrients, so make those extra calories count. Pick out high-nutrient or protein-dense foods, like greek yogurt with almonds or peanut butter with an apple or banana.

Do I Need to Take Supplements While Breastfeeding?

Most likely yes, but always check with your healthcare provider first. Research indicates that lactating mothers need higher amounts of vitamins and nutrients when compared to non-breastfeeding individuals.1

The Takeaway

Prioritize your well-being as much as you can. Your nutrition impacts your overall physical and mental wellness. While your baby needs you to take care of yourself, your health is important in its own right.

Currently Breastfeeding?

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  1. Kominiarek, M. A., & Rajan, P. “Nutrition Recommendations in Pregnancy and Lactation.” Medical Clinics of North America, 2016. Accessed August 24, 2022.
  2. Start for Life. “Healthy Breastfeeding Diet.” Department of Health and Social Care. Accessed October 1, 2022. 
  3. National Library of Medicine, “Caffeine.” 2022. Accessed October 1, 2022. 
  4. Yang, C., et al. “Association Between Dietary Quality and Postpartum Depression in Lactating Women: A Cross-Sectional Survey in Urban China.” Frontiers in Nutrition, August 2021. Accessed October 1, 2022. 
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