How Much Do Food Choices Matter While Breastfeeding?

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You may wonder whether the types of foods you eat will impact breastfeeding. After all, breastfeeding requires additional calories to maintain a full milk supply. However, does it matter where these calories come from?

Healthy food provides a variety of nutrients for healing from childbirth, fighting off fatigue, and establishing a full breast milk supply. But, it's not necessary to eat perfectly all the time. Here's how your food choices can affect your breastfeeding success.

Calories for Breastfeeding

Most women require 450 to 500 additional calories per day while breastfeeding. Although a doughnut or a few cookies can help you reach your calorie quota, nutritious foods offer a lot more for you and your baby.

When you have nutritious options readily available, it's easier to default to better choices. Make healthy eating simple by setting your home environment up for success. Here are a few snack suggestions to support the nutrient needs of you and your baby:

  • Cut up vegetables
  • Dried fruit
  • Fresh fruit
  • Greek yogurt
  • Low-fat cheese
  • Nuts
  • Popcorn
  • Seeds
  • Whole-grain crackers
  • Trail mix

In addition to eating well, staying hydrated is essential for breastfeeding. Make a habit of drinking a large glass of water after breastfeeding, and aim for a total of 16 cups per day (from a combination of food and beverages).

Maternal caffeine intake in large doses (up to ten cups of coffee per day) has been shown to increase irritability and poor sleeping habits in breastfeeding infants. A couple of cups of coffee doesn't usually pose a problem.

Contrary to popular belief, beer isn't a good way to boost your milk supply. Abstaining from alcohol or timing your alcohol intake to be at least four hours from the next time you breastfeed will keep your baby safe.

Empty-Calorie Foods

Empty calorie foods are high in unhealthy fats and added sugar. While empty-calorie snacks may taste good, they lack the fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals that you and your baby need for good health.

Sugary drinks such as soda, sports drinks, and fruit drinks are another source of empty calories with minimal nutrition. You don't have to avoid them altogether, but it's a good idea to limit how much sugar you take in through beverages. Water, hot tea, ice tea, lemonade, unsweetened milk, and 100% juice are healthier alternatives.

Nutritious Treats

If you like to cook or bake, try making your own sweet with quality ingredients. Using milk-making ingredients such as oatmeal, ginger, or almonds, to make treats that will help support your milk supply. Recipes for lactation cookies, bars, beverages, muffins, and more can be found in breastfeeding books or online.

Reasons to Limit Empty Calories

You shouldn't deprive yourself of your favorite treats while breastfeeding, but you shouldn't overdo it either. Overindulging can affect your long-term health, causing excessive weight gain, and putting you at risk of diabetes or heart disease. Furthermore, excess sugar in empty-calorie foods isn't good for dental health.

Along with lingering pregnancy weight, weight gained while breastfeeding can be difficult to take off after you wean your child. Practice healthy habits now to role model positive eating behaviors to your children. This includes enjoying treats in moderation.

A Word From Verywell

Sleep deprivation and the stress of caring for an infant can make nutritious eating seem like an afterthought. Whether you're breastfeeding or not, you owe it to yourself to make healthy choices. Although treats are fine once in a while, set yourself up for success by stocking up on convenient health foods that you enjoy.

6 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.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Maternal diet.

  2. Mennella JA, Daniels LM, Reiter AR. Learning to like vegetables during breastfeeding: a randomized clinical trial of lactating mothers and infants. Am J Clin Nutr. 2017;106(1):67-76. doi:10.3945/ajcn.116.143982

  3. Klemm S. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Nursing your baby? What you eat and drink matters.

  4. USDA What are empty calories?.

  5. Bazzano AN, Cenac L, Brandt AJ, Barnett J, Thibeau S, Theall KP. Maternal experiences with and sources of information on galactagogues to support lactation: a cross-sectional study. Int J Womens Health. 2017;9:105-113. doi:10.2147/IJWH.S128517

  6. Sami W, Ansari T, Butt NS, Hamid MRA. Effect of diet on type 2 diabetes mellitus: A review. Int J Health Sci (Qassim). 2017;11(2):65-71.

By Donna Murray, RN, BSN
Donna Murray, RN, BSN has a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Rutgers University and is a current member of Sigma Theta Tau, the Honor Society of Nursing.