Breastfeeding Diet: What to Eat and What to Avoid When Breastfeeding

Wellness

Breastfeeding Diet: What to Eat and What to Avoid When Breastfeeding

Women’s Health.Trending News
Candace Nelson, MS, CN
By Candace Nelson, MS, CN
Jul 12, 2021
Patricia Pinto-Garcia, MD, MPH
Medically Reviewed ByPatricia Pinto-Garcia, MD, MPH
Women breastfeeding while eating lunch.

Key takeaways:

  • Nursing requires extra calories, so you may need to consume an extra 450-500 calories per day.
  • When nursing, eat a variety of nutrient-dense, whole foods and limit alcohol, caffeine, and seafood.
  • Your baby can be sensitive to certain foods — you’ll likely notice signs after feeding such as fussiness or diarrhea if this is the case.
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Just when you think the hard part of baby-making is behind you, it’s time to nurse the growing child. The good news is that, for the most part, your body knows what nutrition your baby needs, and your milk will probably be just right for your baby regardless of what you eat. That being said, when nursing, it’s extra important to eat a variety of nutrient-dense foods to benefit both you and your baby.

Here, we’ll cover how to get the nutrients you and your baby need while nursing.

How much more should I eat while nursing?

Creating milk is demanding on the body, and you’ll likely need extra caloric support while nursing. Most new parents need 450-500 more calories per day. That’s about the amount in:

  • A peanut butter-banana sandwich
  • 2 eggs scrambled with milk, chopped veggies, and some cheese
  • A cup of pesto pasta with parmesan cheese and chicken
  • Almond milk, banana, oatmeal smoothie with honey and peanut butter

What should I eat while nursing?

The best foods for nursing will look a lot like the healthy plate suggestions you’re used to seeing. Choose fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy, eggs, nuts, and lean protein. In fact, babies often like tasting new foods through your milk.

Generally, new parents who eat a variety of foods when they’re hungry don’t need to go out of their way to monitor their vitamin and mineral intake. The parent’s body does a fantastic job of going into storage to get the nutrients the baby needs.

However, there are a few important nutrients for nursing to keep in mind. These include:

  • Calcium is abundant in dairy foods and available in tofu, legumes, some nuts, seeds, and greens.
  • Zinc is found in whole grains, fortified in cereals, poultry, eggs, beans, and nuts.
  • Magnesium is found in legumes, nuts, seeds, dairy products, and fortified cereals.
  • Vitamin B6 is found in poultry, fish, starchy vegetables like potatoes and non-citrus fruits.
  • Folate is available in beef, fruit (especially oranges), leafy vegetables, nuts, beans, and fortified cereals.
  • Thiamin comes from meat (especially pork), whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and fortified cereal.

What foods might help produce milk?

As a nursing parent, you may wonder if there are any galactagogues (teas, supplements, or foods) that can increase your milk supply. While there’s no definitive proof that consuming these will boost your milk production, many of them remain popular additions to nursing parent’s diets. These galactagogues often vary depending on your culture. For example, in Korea, parents may turn to seaweed soup, while in the U.S. some parents eat lactation cookies with oats.

There are some galactagogues, however, that are frequently touted with the ability to boost milk supply. For example ginger is a generally safe herb that some parents find success using, though the evidence is only anecdotal. Fenugreek, on the other hand, Fenugreek is popular despite some anecdotal evidence saying it may actually decrease your milk supply.

If you want to try a supplement, keep in mind, the FDA doesn’t regulate supplements the same way they do medications, making it hard to know exactly what you are getting. In general, it’s best to speak to your healthcare provider if you’re concerned about your milk supply and considering galactagogues.

For more information on the potential effects of specific supplements and medications supplements on lactation and nursing, refer to LactMed, a helpful database from the National Library of Medicine and the Toxicology Data Network (TOXNET).

How can I make my milk more nutritious?

The best way to provide nutrient-rich milk is to eat a varied diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, dairy, and lean proteins. Parents usually give up a lot of vitamin A, vitamin B12, iron, and iodine while nursing. Talk to your healthcare provider about any supplements that could be helpful to you. They commonly recommend vitamin B12 and, if you are an adolescent or heavily menstruating parent, they may recommend iron.

Your healthcare provider may also recommend you continue prenatal vitamins while nursing.

What should I avoid while nursing?

Like with a pregnancy diet, there are some restrictions to keep in mind with a nursing diet. Experts recommend limiting or avoiding the following foods and substances altogether.

Fish

While the Center for Disease Control (CDC) says you can have some fish, take care to limit your consumption, and check safe seafood lists. Most fish contain some amount of mercury, which can affect the development of the baby’s brain and nervous system. But, it’s worth noting that the healthy fats, vitamins D, and vitamin B12 in fish can help with development.

Caffeine

Caffeine is another substance to be careful about while nursing. It can be passed from parent to baby and can cause sleepless days or nights for both of you. Roughly two or three cups of coffee (300 to 500 mg of caffeine) a day should be OK for most parents, but more can lead to a fussy, jittery baby. It’s important to note that preterm infants will metabolize more slowly so this amount may be too high for some nursing parents. Lastly, don’t forget other sources of caffeine such as soda, energy drinks, and chocolate.

Alcohol

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests no more than 0.5 g of alcohol per kg of body weight when it comes to alcohol, which for a 60 kg (132-pound) parent, equals two beers or 8 ounces of wine. Ideally, wait until the baby is 3 months old, limit intake to one drink at a time, and wait to nurse for 4 hours after the drink.

Some medications

While many medications are OK to take while nursing, others are best avoided. To check if a medication you’re taking may affect your baby, visit the US National Library of Medicine (NLM) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH)’s database. And talk to your healthcare provider if you’re concerned about your current medications and your baby.

Tobacco

If you smoke, it’s in the best interest of you and your baby that you make a plan to quit. Smoking can lead to issues like low milk supply and colic. If that isn’t possible, wait as long as possible between nursing and smoking — this will help limit the amount of nicotine that gets passed to your baby.

Can my baby be sensitive to certain foods?

You don’t have to avoid common food allergens unless your healthcare provider advises you to. But, some babies are sensitive to certain foods. Signs include:

  • Fussiness or inconsolable crying during or after feeding
  • Diarrhea/watery stools, vomiting, or worsening spit ups
  • Skin condition, like a rash or hives
  • Discomfort (parental perception of pain)

If you notice your baby reacting, consider tracking what you eat to look for patterns.

Some foods that babies can be sensitive to include:

  • Dairy products
  • Eggs
  • Wheat, corn, or oats
  • Soy
  • Nuts
  • Cruciferous vegetables, including broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower

If you are worried about food sensitivities in your baby, talk to your healthcare provider right away.

Nursing as a vegetarian or vegan

If you follow a plant-based diet, it’s absolutely fine to maintain that while nursing. Talk to your healthcare about what supplements they might recommend. Since vitamin B12 is found in animal foods, you might need a supplement to support your baby’s neurological development.

Vegan or vegetarian parents can produce milk with adequate nutrition for their infants. In fact, a review of studies found that vegan, vegetarian and non-vegetarian parents all produced milk of similar nutritional quality.

The bottom line

A variety of nutrient-dense foods should give you the nutrition you need to care for a newborn and your baby the energy to grow. The diet you need isn’t too different from the diet recommended during pregnancy. While most foods and drinks are OK to consume while nursing, it’s recommended to limit alcohol, caffeine, and certain fish consumption. If you follow a plant-based diet or restrict certain foods, talk to your healthcare provider about any supplements you might need.

Candace Nelson, MS, CN

Candace Nelson, MS, CN

Candace Nelson bends journalism with science. She holds a master’s degree in nutrition from the University of New England and is a licensed nutritionist. She earned her bachelor's degree in journalism from Western Washington University. She has written extensively about nutrition and mental health and would never advise anyone to give up their favorite foods.

Patricia Pinto-Garcia, MD, MPH

Patricia Pinto-Garcia, MD, MPH

Patricia Pinto-Garcia, MD, MPH, is a medical editor for GoodRx and is board-certified in general pediatrics and pediatric hospital medicine. Dr. Pinto-Garcia received her medical degree from Rutgers-New Jersey Medical School and completed her residency training at the University of Connecticut. Dr. Pinto-Garcia is passionate about ensuring access to accurate, accessible, and reliable healthcare information.

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