Self-Care for the Breastfeeding Mother

Guidelines for Nutrition, Weight Loss, Exercise, and Hygiene

Mother breastfeeding with television
Ghislain & Marie David de Lossy / Getty Images

It's Easy to Forget to Care for Yourself When You're a New Mom

Breastfeeding mothers tend to forget that they need to care for themselves as well as the baby. There's so much to think about with remembering when the baby's last feeding was, making sure the baby's positioning and latch are correct and counting dirty diapers, you can easily leave your own well-being at the doorstep.

However, it's essential that you take charge of your needs as well as your child's. Here are some guidelines for nutrition, weight loss, exercise, and hygiene for breastfeeding moms.

Nutrition for Breastfeeding Mothers

While you're breastfeeding, try to eat a balanced diet, drink plenty of fluids, and take in about 500 extra calories a day. You can eat anything and everything that you want, and you can continue to take your prenatal vitamin. There are so many myths and wive's tales that circulate about what breastfeeding mothers should not eat, and you can pretty much ignore all of them. You can eat broccoli, garlic, onions, spicy food, citrus, and even chocolate. 

Now, no matter what you eat, your breast milk will still be good for your baby. But, if you eat poorly, you will be sacrificing the nutrients in your own body since your body will take what it needs to make healthy breast milk out of its stores.

That could leave you feeling depleted and exhausted. However, by eating a variety of foods and making some better food and snack choices, you can to keep your body healthy and strong while you're making breast milk. And, as mentioned above, that doesn't mean that you can't have junk food. You certainly can.

Just enjoy it in moderation along with your balanced diet.  

Weight Loss and the Nursing Mother

As a new breastfeeding mother, you may crave carbs, but you may also crave non-maternity wear. If you eat a typical diet, you should lose weight gradually (no more than 1 pound a week is the safe limit). This slower, gradual weight loss will not cause any problems with your breast milk supply. But, if you're desperate to drop more than that, it is best to wait until your child is at least two months old. By two months, your milk supply has time to become established and the weight loss won't be such a shock to your body. ​

Keep in mind that we're talking about safely losing weight, not crash diets. While you're breastfeeding, it's not safe to go on a strict calorie reducing diet, and you shouldn't use weight loss pills. Your supply of breast milk and your health can be drastically affected. If you do decide to begin a weight loss program, make sure you're eating at least 1,800 calories a day and that your doctor is following your progress. 

Exercise and Breastfeeding

After you have your baby, it may feel like it will be years before you can hit the gym again. But, exercise is an important part your well-being as a breastfeeding mother.

Of course, with exhaustion levels reaching a new high, running a 5K is probably out of the question. However, taking a nice, brisk walk every day is an easy, doable activity that will increase your cardiovascular fitness. Here are some of the guidelines to follow for exercising as a breastfeeding mom. 

  • Breastfeed your baby (or pump) before you start to exercise. Your workout will be more comfortable if you're breasts aren't too full of breast milk. 
  • Wear the right bra. You want support, but you don't want the bra to be too tight or have an underwire. Anything too restrictive that puts excessive pressure on your breast tissue can cause plugged milk ducts or mastitis.
  • Stay well hydrated, especially in hot weather. Remember to drink at least 64 ounces of water a day. And, if you're sweating a great deal during your exercise routine, drink even more. 
  • Take a shower or wash your breasts after you exercise and before you breastfeed to remove the sweat on your breasts and nipples. Many women have heard stories about babies refusing to breastfeed after their mom has exercised. The reason has nothing to do with the composition of the breast milk, but more with the fact that sweat is salty, and babies are turned off by the taste.
  • Enjoy your workout and your YOU-time. Take in every moment. And while you're doing so, the mood-boosting chemical, serotonin, will be released into your body. So, even if this is the only outing you get on a particular day, you'll still feel like a million bucks.

Hygiene and the Breastfeeding Mother

It's important to practice good hygiene while you're breastfeeding. Good hygiene includes taking a shower or bath every day and cleaning your breasts. For years, nursing mothers were told not to wash their breasts with soap because it would dry out the nipple area. But, if you use a moisturizing soap and rinse it off well, this shouldn't be an issue. 

When you're breastfeeding, there are natural oils that are secreted by the Montgomery Glands (little bumps visible on your areola), which prevent bacteria from breeding. You don't want to disrupt these glands from doing their work, so just be careful to wash the breasts lightly. It's also beneficial to rub some of your expressed breast milk into your nipples and let it air dry since breast milk has anti-infective properties.

Wear a fresh, clean nursing bra every day, and change it during the day if it gets soiled or wet. And, if you wear breast pads to soak up leaking breast milk, be sure to change them often, as well. A wet bra or wet breast pads laying on your breasts can cause skin breakdown. Plus, the warm, moist, sugary environment is the perfect place for bacteria or yeast to grow. 


Larson‐Meyer, D. E. Effect of postpartum exercise on mothers and their offspring: a review of the literature. Obesity Research. 2002, 10(8), 841-853.

Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD. Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession Eighth Edition. Elsevier Health Sciences. 2015.

Riordan, J., and Wambach, K. Breastfeeding and Human Lactation Fourth Edition. Jones and Bartlett Learning. 2014.

U.S. Department of Agriculture. Nutritional Needs While Breastfeeding. Updated January 7, 2016. 

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

Updated by Donna Murray