Healthy Eating Tips for Breastfeeding Mothers

bowl of oatmeal and fruit
Natasa Mandic/Stocksy United

What you eat when you're breastfeeding can affect your body and your growing baby. Even though your breast milk will be good even if your diet isn't, it's still important to eat well. When you eat healthy foods, it helps to replace the nutrients that your body loses through breastfeeding and ensures that your breast milk is as nutritious as it can be for your child.

Nutrition Tips for Breastfeeding Moms

It isn't always easy to get all the nutrition that you need. When you're a mom, whether you have a newborn or toddler, you're busy and tired. Plus, if you don't have much help, it can be tough to take care of all you have to do in a day.

The thought of cooking healthy meals and taking care of yourself can easily fall by the wayside. It's understandable. But taking care of yourself is important.

If you skip meals or don't eat well, you're likely to become more exhausted, lose excessive amounts of weight, and not feel well at all.

But, if you do take the time to eat well and care for yourself, you'll feel healthier and stronger. That's better for you and your baby. So, here are some healthy eating tips for breastfeeding moms.

Maintain a Balanced Diet

Try to maintain a well-balanced diet. If you can, eat at least three full meals along with a variety of healthy foods and snacks each day. You may find that eating six smaller meals works better for you.

Try to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains while limiting empty calorie snacks. Keep healthy snacks, fruit, and already cut-up veggies readily available, so you'll be more likely to grab them as a snack instead of a cookie or a bag of chips.

Add Fish to Your Diet

Add some fish to your weekly meal plans. If you enjoy eating fish, seafood is a healthy source of protein that also provides you with essential omega-3 fatty acids. You can safely enjoy different types of low-mercury seafood such as salmon, light canned tuna, catfish, tilapia, cod, shrimp, crab, squid, and clams two to three times a week.

Get Enough Calories

Get enough calories each day. Breastfeeding and making breast milk uses up a lot of energy. So, while you're breastfeeding, you should take in about 500 extra calories a day. Now, what kind of calories are we talking about here?

Junk food has lots of calories, but those calories aren't nutritious. So that's not the kind you need. You can still have some junk food once in a while, but try to get most of your extra calories through healthier meals and snacks.

Eat Milk-Making Foods

Eat some milk-making foods. Many of the healthy foods and snacks that you can choose during the day also promote a healthy supply of breast milk. Oatmeal, chickpeas (hummus), dark green vegetables, and almonds all have properties that support milk production while being an excellent addition to your healthy breastfeeding diet.

Limit Some Foods

Consider any history of allergies in your family and Limit certain foods and substances. If there is a strong history of food allergies, eczema, or asthma in your family, talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian. There may be some food items such as dairy products, peanuts, or shellfish that you should put off eating to prevent diarrhea, colic-like symptoms, rashes, and allergic reactions in your baby.

Stay Hydrated

Breast milk is made mostly of water. And, breastfeeding—specifically the let-down reflex—can make you feel thirsty. So, you need to drink plenty of fluids. Drink enough to quench your thirst and try to get in at least eight glasses of water or other healthy beverages every day.

A good rule of thumb is to have a drink of water each time you breastfeed your baby.

That should be about 8 to 12 times a day, so you're sure to be covered. If you don't take in enough fluids, it can lead to dehydration and constipation. It also can cause a decrease in your breast milk supply.

Take Your Vitamins

While a healthy breastfeeding diet contains all the vitamins and nutrients that you need, you can still continue to take your prenatal vitamin. However, you should keep in mind that vitamins cannot replace a healthy diet, they can only add to it.

On the other hand, vitamins may be necessary if you have a vitamin deficiency, you're breastfeeding on a vegetarian or vegan diet, or you've had weight loss surgery. Your doctor will let you know which additional vitamins you should be taking.

Be Careful With Diets

Be careful with dieting. If you're worried about losing weight after the birth of your child, you're not alone. It's a common concern among mothers. However, you shouldn't start a diet program too soon if you're breastfeeding.

It's not healthy to go on a strict calorie-reducing diet or to take diet pills and weight loss herbs while you're breastfeeding. Doing so can be harmful to you and your baby.

But, once your body heals from childbirth and your breast milk supply is established, your doctor may recommend a healthy diet and exercise program to help you get to your target weight. Of course, you need to be reasonable and remember that it took you nine months to get to where you are now, so be sure to give yourself at least that long to get back to where you want to be.

You don't have to be on a strict diet if you're breastfeeding. You can pretty much eat whatever you want, including spicy foods, chocolate, and garlic. You can even eat junk food and have your morning coffee.

The main thing to remember is not to go overboard. Eat all you want of the healthy foods, but eat the treats and the not-so-healthy foods in moderation.

Where to Find More Information

If you're concerned about your diet, you're breastfeeding twins (or more), or you're breastfeeding with a particular health issue, talk to your doctor or a lactation consultant. Your health care provider can help you with general information and refer you to a dietitian or a nutritionist if needed. A dietitian or a nutritionist can give you a more detailed analysis of your diet and help design a nutritional plan for your individual situation. 

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.
  • Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD. Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession Eighth Edition. Elsevier Health Sciences. 2015.
  • Riordan J, Wambach K. Breastfeeding and Human Lactation Fourth Edition. Jones and Bartlett Learning. 2014.
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture. Nutritional Needs While Breastfeeding. Updated July 29, 2016
  • Whitney E, Rolfes S. Understanding Nutrition Edition 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.