Breastfeeding Diet Information and Grocery List

Healthy buddha bowl lunch with grilled chicken, quinoa, spinach, avocado, brussels sprouts, broccoli, red beans with sesame seeds

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What should you eat when you're breastfeeding? Well, as a breastfeeding mom, you can eat just about anything you want. There's no reason to avoid any particular types of foods while you're nursing your baby. Women all over the world breastfeed, some with diets full of spices, garlic, and cruciferous vegetables. While a nursing mother's body will prioritize making nutritious breast milk no matter what she is eating, ensuring that you get adequate nutrition helps you meet your baby's needs as well as your own.

Moving From a Pregnancy Diet to a Breastfeeding Diet

Many women begin making changes to their diets while they're pregnant. You may have started taking a prenatal vitamin, eating more nutritious foods, adding healthy snacks between meals, and cutting the amount of coffee you drink each day. If you've already done these things, then you don't have many changes to make as you transition from pregnancy to breastfeeding, although you might find you need to eat more to satisfy your hunger.

Why Is It Important to Eat Healthfully When You're Breastfeeding?

Your body takes whatever it needs to make nutrient-rich breast milk from the nutrients that you have stored up as well as those you eat. Many of the nutrients for your breast milk will come from those you have stored in your bones, tissues, and fat. This way, your baby gets all the nutrition they need, no matter your diet.

If your diet isn't providing enough for both baby and you, your body could end up lacking essential vitamins and minerals. Over time, this could leave you feeling drained and exhausted and lead to nutrient deficiencies.

However, by eating a healthy, balanced diet while you're breastfeeding, and eating enough to support increased hunger, you should be able to meet the nutrient needs of your baby (via your breast milk) as well as your own needs. This will not only help with recovery after the birth of your baby but can help maximize your energy level and help you feel better overall.

How Does Good Nutrition Affect Your Breast Milk and Your Baby?

Many of the foods that you eat travel into your breast milk, and have an influence on the composition, taste, and color of your milk. It is also 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, nutritious foods — including fruits and vegetables — while you're breastfeeding may help lay the foundation for good eating habits for your child in the future.

What Is a Healthy Breastfeeding Diet?

A well-balanced meal plan that includes a variety of foods, and enough food overall, is the goal of a breastfeeding diet. A healthy breastfeeding diet contains foods that provide vitamin- and mineral-rich sources of protein, high-fiber carbohydrates, and healthy fats.

Making breast milk takes extra calories so, as a nursing mom, you need to eat a little more than someone who isn't breastfeeding. If you're in touch with your body's hunger cues, then responding to them with a meal or snack will ensure you're meeting your increased needs. You may find that you are hungry more often or that it takes a bit more food to satisfy your hunger.

You don't need any specialty food. You can get all the extra calories you need from your meals and snacks.

Eating a variety of foods every day, not skipping meals, and respecting your body's hunger cues will set you up to meet your and baby's nutrient needs. If you're concerned that you don't have a healthy diet or might need a supplement, or if you have any questions about your eating habits, talk to your doctor, a nutritionist, or a registered dietitian.

Which Nutrients Do You Need and Which Foods Should You Eat?

  • 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, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, vegetables, and grains contain protein.
  • Vitamin A is necessary for healthy growth and development, especially of the eyes and skin. You can find vitamin A 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 and allows those cells to carry oxygen throughout your body so your body gets enough oxygen. Get iron in your diet by eating meat, fish, liver, beans, tofu, 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 may prevent some infections. Vitamin C is in citrus fruits and juices (orange, grapefruit, lemon, lime), strawberries, tomatoes, bell peppers, mangoes, and dark green vegetables.
  • Folate (folic acid) is a B vitamin that helps prevent neural tube defects and is needed for the proper health and development of your baby. Foods that contain folate include beef liver, beans, dark green vegetables, and citrus. Folic acid, the synthetic form of folate, is found in fortified foods (like cereals and grain products) and supplements.
  • Zinc plays a role in making protein, and the body needs it for healthy growth and development, wound healing, immune function, and many other things. Zinc is in meat and seafood, dairy products, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and beans.
  • Calcium is necessary for healthy bones and teeth as well as muscle and blood vessel function. You need to get enough calcium while you're breastfeeding to replace what your body provides to your baby. Dairy products, dark green vegetables, sesame seeds, tofu, and fortified nut or seed milks and orange juice are sources of calcium.
  • Vitamin D helps your body absorb the calcium from your diet, and it's also very important for the healthy growth of your baby's bones and teeth. While our skin can make vitamin D from sun exposure, it is found in a few food sources including fatty fish, egg yolks, beef liver, 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. You can find DHA in fatty fish, eggs, and liver.

A Breastfeeding Mom's Shopping List for Nutritious Foods

You can get all the nutrients you need every day by eating a variety of foods from the major food groups. Here's a list of foods to add to your supermarket or grocery store shopping list.  

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 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 butter.

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 six and eight glasses of water or other noncaffeinated beverages each day.

Which Foods Should You Eat Less of or Avoid When You're Breastfeeding?

When you decide to breastfeed, it doesn't mean you have to give up all of your favorite things. However, while you do not have to deprive yourself of any foods, there are some foods that you should limit.

Caffeine will transfer to breastmilk and affect an infant. Stick to one or two cups a day (about 300mg of caffeine total). If your baby was pre-term, talk with your doctor about caffeine intake, as pre-term infants can be more sensitive. You can also have an occasional alcoholic beverage. The important thing to remember is to time it to ensure that baby won’t be nursing when there is still alcohol in your milk supply.

There really aren't any foods that you have to completely avoid, but some infants may have a food sensitivity or an allergy to a certain item in your diet. If you think this may be the case, please speak with your pediatrician and/or lactation consultant.

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, avoid that particular food while you're breastfeeding.

USDA Personalized Food Plan faor Breastfeeding 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 site offers different programs for women who are breastfeeding exclusively, combining breastfeeding and formula feeding, or breastfeeding only a few times each day.

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Article Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  • Harvard School of Public Health. Healthy Eating Plate and Healthy Eating Pyramid. Harvard University. 2011.

  • Lawrence RA, Lawrence, RM. Breastfeeding: A Guide for the Medical Profession 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Health Sciences, 2015.

  • Newman J, Pitman T. The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers. New York.: Three Rivers Press, 2006.

  • U.S. Department of Agriculture. Nutritional Needs While Breastfeeding. 2016.

  • Whitney E, Rolfes S. Understanding Nutrition. 14th edition. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning, 2015.

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