Breastfeeding and the Calories You Eat

A couple having lunch with the mom breastfeeding
FatCamera / Getty Images

When you're breastfeeding your body needs more energy than it does when you're not breastfeeding. You get that extra energy through the foods you eat. Calories are the energy in food. But, how many do you need? Here's what you need to know about getting enough calories each day to stay healthy and make breast milk for your child. 

Calories Needed for Breastfeeding

In general, if you are not pregnant or breastfeeding, you need between 1,800 and 2,000 calories each day. This number depends upon your height, weight, and activity level.

When you become pregnant, doctors recommend an additional 300 calories a day. Then, after your child is born, and you begin to breastfeed, you will need to add a little bit more because making breast milk requires extra energy.

If you're breastfeeding one child, you should consume about 2200 to 2500 calories each day. 

When you're nursing a newborn 8 to 12 times a day, your body will need those extra calories. When your child begins eating solid foods, you'll be breastfeeding less often and you won't need to eat as much.

Special Circumstances

Some breastfeeding moms need even more than 2500 calories or have different needs. You may have special dietary needs if you:

If you fall into one of these categories, you should see your doctor, a nutritionist, or a registered dietitian. These healthcare providers can help you plan a diet that contains all the calories and nutrients necessary to keep you and your baby healthy.

How Many Calories Do You Burn Breastfeeding?

Making breast milk and breastfeeding burns calories. Your body generally burns between 200 to 500 extra calories a day while you're breastfeeding. The actual amount of calories you burn will depend on how often you breastfeed, how much milk you produce, and your baby's age.

Breastfeeding exclusively eight to 12 times a day burns more calories than if you are combining breastfeeding and formula feeding. Additionally, if you are making an overabundant supply of breast milk, you will burn more calories than if you have a low milk supply.

You also will burn more calories frequently breastfeeding a younger child. But then burn fewer calories when your baby is older, taking in more solid foods, and not breastfeeding as much.

Extra Calories and Weight Gain

The extra calories that you need while you're breastfeeding should not cause weight gain as long as you're eating the right foods. As your body makes breast milk, it burns off those extra calories. If you're eating a healthy, well-balanced diet, you should gradually lose your pregnancy weight.

However, if you're adding those extra daily calories by eating junk foods, cakes, and high-fat foods, the weight will come off much more slowly. You may even gain weight. Junk foods only give you empty calories, not the nutrients that your body needs.

Dieting While Breastfeeding

Many women are anxious to return to their pre-pregnancy weight after giving birth. However, you should never reduce the amount of food you eat or cut calories while breastfeeding unless you're specifically told to do so by your doctor.

When you are breastfeeding a baby, your body needs extra calories to produce a healthy supply of breast milk. Going on a liquid diet, taking diet pills, or cutting calories can decrease your milk supply, making it difficult to breastfeed.

Be realistic with your goals. Remember, it took you nine months to put that weight on, so give yourself at least that much time to lose it.

It is much healthier to lose weight gradually. Eating healthy foods and incorporating exercise into your daily routine can help you to lose weight and get back into shape safely. Just be sure to check with your doctor before you begin to exercise.

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

  • Kominiarek MA, Rajan P. Nutrition recommendations in pregnancy and lactation. Med Clin North Am. 2016;100(6):1199-215. doi:10.1016/j.mcna.2016.06.004

  • Lawrence RA, Lawrence RM. Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession Eighth Edition. Elsevier Health Sciences, 2015.

  • Whitney E, Rolfes S. Understanding Nutrition Fourteenth Edition. Cengage Learning, 2015.

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.