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A Breastfeeding Diet

What Foods Should A Nursing Mother Eat?

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Updated May 30, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

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A breastfeeding mom can eat just about anything she wants, so it's not necessary to avoid any specific types of foods while your are nursing your baby. Women all over the world breastfeed, some with diets full of spices, garlic and gassy vegetables. Even women who do not have healthy diets can maintain a good supply of high-quality breast milk.

Your body will take the necessary components to make healthy milk from the nutrients that are stored up in your bones, tissues and fat. This way, your baby will get all the nutrition he needs. But if you don't eat the types of foods that replace those nutrients, you will be be the one lacking important vitamins and minerals, so you'll end up feeling drained and exhausted. By eating a healthy, balanced diet while you're breastfeeding, you will replenish your stores of nutrients, recover more quickly after the birth of your baby, have more energy and just feel better overall.

Many women begin making changes to their diets while they are pregnant. You may have started taking a prenatal vitamin, begun eating more nutritious foods, added healthy snacks between meals, and cut the amount of coffee you drink each day. If you've already done these things, then you most likely don't have to make many adjustments to your diet as you transition from pregnancy to breastfeeding.

A Healthy Diet

A healthy, well-balanced meal plan that includes a variety of foods is the goal of a breastfeeding diet. Many of the foods that you eat will travel into your breast milk, and can influence the composition, taste and color of your milk. It is believed that breastfed babies get used to the taste of foods in their mother's diets, and even develop preferences for those types of foods later in life. So eating meals full of healthy foods — including fruits and vegetables — while you're breastfeeding may help lay the foundation for good eating habits for your child in the future.

A healthy diet is one that contains vitamins, minerals, protein, dairy, whole grains, and healthy fats. Making breast milk takes extra calories, so a nursing mom needs to eat a little more. Have 3 meals a day with snacks in between, eat a wide variety of different foods each day and do not skip meals. If you are concerned that you don't have a healthy diet, or if you have any questions about your eating habits, talk to your doctor, a nutritionist or a registered dietician.

The Main Nutrients You Need

  • Protein builds and sustains all the parts of the body, including the muscles, brain, bones, heart, lungs, enzymes, hormones and antibodies. Eat protein a few times a day. Meats, dairy products, nuts, seeds, vegetables and grains contain protein.

  • Vitamin A is necessary for healthy growth and development, especially of the eyes and skin. Vitamin A is found in red, orange, and yellow fruits and vegetables, dark leafy green vegetables, liver and dairy products.

  • Iron helps your body make new red blood cells so you can keep your energy level up. Get enough iron in your diet by eating meat, fish, liver, beans, leafy green vegetables, nuts, eggs and whole grains.

  • Vitamin C is essential for healthy bones, teeth, ligaments, and blood vessels. It also helps the body absorb iron and prevent infection. Vitamin C is found in citrus fruits and juices (orange, grapefruit, lemon, lime), strawberries, tomatoes, mangos, and dark green vegetables.

  • Folate (folic acid) is a B vitamin that helps prevent birth defects and is needed for the proper health and development of your baby. Foods high in folate include citrus fruits and juices, fortified whole grain breads and cereals, dark leafy green vegetables, and dried beans.

  • Zinc works with protein and is needed for healthy growth and development, wound healing, immune function, and many other things. Zinc can be found in meat, dairy products, vegetables and beans.

  • Calcium is important for healthy bones and teeth. You need to get enough calcium while you are breastfeeding to replace what is taken from your body and given to your baby. Dairy products, orange juice, and leafy green vegetables are good sources of calcium.

  • Vitamin D helps your body absorb the calcium and phosphorus from your diet, and it's also very important for the healthy growth of your baby's bones and teeth. You can get vitamin D from the sun, fish, eggs, and foods fortified with vitamin D such as cereals, orange juice, milk and yogurt.

  • Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) is a fatty acid that supports the development of your baby's brain and eyes. DHA is found in fish, eggs, red meat and liver.
 

Eating From The Food Groups

You can get all the nutrients you need every day by eating a variety of foods from the major food groups.

Meats: Beef, chicken, turkey, pork, fish, and seafood. Leaner cuts of meat are healthier and preferred over red meats, fried foods, hot dogs and deli meats.

Fruits: Apples, oranges, bananas, pears, peaches, strawberries, grapes, melons, pineapples, grapefruits, fruit juices, canned fruit, and dried fruit. Eat a wide variety of fruits each day.

Vegetables: Dark leafy greens (broccoli, spinach, kale, lettuce), carrots, peas, squash, peppers, and sweet potatoes. Vegetables should make up a large part of your diet.

Whole Grains: Whole wheat pasta, whole wheat bread, brown rice, tortillas, whole grain cereals, muffins, bagels, crackers, and biscuits. Whole grains are more nutritious than white bread, white rice and regular pasta.

Dairy Products: Milk, cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese, cream cheese, and sour cream. Choose fat-free or low-fat dairy products that are fortified with Vitamin A and D over whole milk and items made from whole milk.

Nuts, Seeds, Beans: Peanuts, peanut butter, almonds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, dried beans, lentils, nuts and nut butters.

Healthy Fats and Oils: Olive oil, canola oil, sunflower oil, peanut oil, and corn oil. Limit the use of butter, cheese and lard, which are high in saturated fat.

Liquids: Drink enough fluids, between 6 and 8 glasses of water or other non-caffeinated beverages each day.

Foods To Eat Less Of Or Avoid

Breastfeeding doesn't mean you have to give up all of your favorite things. You do not have to deprive yourself of any foods, but there are some foods you should limit.

Have your coffee, but reduce the amount of caffeine containing drinks you have each day to 1 or 2 cups. Enjoy a piece of chocolate or other empty calorie snacks once in a while. You can even have an occasional alcoholic beverage. The important thing to remember is not to overdo it.

There really aren't any foods you definitely have to avoid, but some infants will have a food sensitivity or allergy to a specific item in your diet. If you have a family history of food allergies or if you make a connection between something that you eat and a reaction in your baby, you can avoid that particular food while you are breastfeeding.

USDA Personalized Food Plan For Nursing Moms

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) will provide you with a free personalized daily food plan if you create a profile on their website. The website offers different plans for women who are breastfeeding exclusively, combining breastfeeding and formula feeding, or breastfeeding only a few times each day.

Sources:

American Academy of Pediatrics. New Mother’s Guide To Breastfeeding. Bantam Books. New York. 2011.

Harvard School of Public Health. Healthy Eating Plate and Healthy Eating Pyramid. Harvard University. 2011: http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/pyramid/

Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD. Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession Sixth Edition.  Mosby. Philadelphia. 2005.

Newman, Jack, MD, Pitman, Theresa. The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers. Three Rivers Press. New York. 2006.

United States Department of Agriculture. Nutritional Needs While Breastfeeding. ChooseMyPlate.gov. Accessed February 8, 2013: http://www.choosemyplate.gov/pregnancy-breastfeeding.html

Whitney, E., Hamilton, E., Rolfes, S. Understanding Nutrition Fifth Edition. West Publishing Company. New York. 1990.

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