Why Do I Feel Ravenous While Breastfeeding?


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We can expect to be extra hungry during pregnancy—after all, we are eating for two. But what may take you by surprise is when you find yourself even hungrier while breastfeeding your little one. Many parents say they are absolutely ravenous, and feel hungry practically all the time. This is totally normal—and there are actually some physiological reasons behind your increased need for calories and nutrients while nursing.

Let’s take a look at why breastfeeding parents feel so hungry, the best way to get the nutrients you need, as well as some snack ideas to power you through your day.

Why Breastfeeding Makes You So Hungry

When you are nursing your baby—especially at the beginning when your newborn is getting all or most of their nutrition from breastfeeding—your body is providing everything they need to grow.

“Human milk is packed full of vitamins, minerals, fats, proteins, carbohydrates for brain food, immunological properties, enzymes, probiotics and so much more,” explains Rachelle Markham, IBCLC, lactation consultant. “While you are making milk, your body will pull the nutrients it needs from your system to make milk.” This is why you feel so insatiably hungry all the time, adds Markham—because the nutrients and calories you take in are constantly being used to make your baby’s milk, and so you need to continually replenish.

While you are pregnant, your nutrients and caloric needs increase—you need about 300 extra calories a day during pregnancy—but this number increases even more while you are breastfeeding. The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development estimates that nursing parents need an additional 450 to 500 calories a day, and these calories should come from nutrient-dense, balanced meals.

However, it's important to note that calorie recommendations while breastfeeding are not the same for everyone. These numbers vary from person to person depending on how often they're breastfeeding, what their activity level is, and their nutritional status. For some people, an additional 300 to 500 calories may be too much, while for others, it may not be enough. Healthy parents who gain adequate weight throughout pregnancy typically need fewer extra calories since they are able to utilize body fat and other stores acquired during pregnancy.

The reason for these increased caloric needs is because during breastfeeding, your body is nourishing an even bigger baby than it did during pregnancy, explains Janine Higbie, MS, CNS, CDN, Certified Dietitian Nutritionist of JH Wellness. She cautions parents not to concentrate on the exact quantity of calories needed, though. “I advise my clients to not get caught up in the calorie number, it’s more about honoring your hunger and making smart choices with nutrient-dense foods that will fuel you and baby,” says Higbie.

What’s the Best Way to Eat When You Are Breastfeeding?

When you are nursing, you might find that you aren’t just more hungry overall, but that you get hungrier more frequently. Some breastfeeding parents find that they need a snack every time they sit down to nurse. This can get annoying! But it’s very common, advises Markham. “Feeling hungry all the time is your body asking for nutrients to both support your health and to make milk,” she describes.

Of course, not every breastfeeding parent is hungry at each and every nursing session. The point is to be in touch with your hunger, and recognize that an increased eating frequency is normal during this time, Higbie explains. “There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to meal timing but many breastfeeding parents find it helpful to incorporate more snacks so that their blood sugar stays stable, [and they] never get too hungry.”

If you are finding yourself hungry more frequently, Higbie recommends keeping some nutrient-dense snacks—such as a banana or some nuts—in the place where you normally breastfeed, creating a “nursing station” of sorts. “Snacks should be thought of as mini-meals, a combination of fiber, protein, and fat to help you feel satiated,” she says. You may also want to have a late-night snack before bed so you don’t get too hungry during those middle-of-the-night feeds.

And don’t forget to stay hydrated too! Besides increased hunger, many breastfeeding parents find themselves incredibly thirsty, says Higbie. You can place a tall water bottle next to your nursing spot along with your snacks.

Are There Specific Nutrients You Need to Focus On?

Besides eating and drinking as frequently as your body tells you to, and focusing on foods rich in fiber, protein, and healthy fats, there are certain nutrients breastfeeding parents should pay special attention to.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), breastfeeding parents have an increased need for iodine (found in iodized salt, eggs, dairy, and seafood) and choline (found in peas, beans, lentils, eggs, and meat) while lactating. If you aren’t sure if you are getting enough of these nutrients, you can always discuss supplementation with your healthcare provider.

Additionally, as the CDC notes, if you are a vegan or breastfeeding parent, you might not get all the nutrition you need from your diet, and may need to consider a vitamin supplement. In particular, parents who are vegan should make sure that they are getting enough B12, and should supplement if they are lacking in this nutrient. Low amounts of B12 in breastmilk can put babies at risk for vitamin B12 deficiency.

Snack Ideas

Again, it’s perfectly normal to be a bit of a snacker while you are breastfeeding, especially in the early months when your baby is breastfeeding every 2-4 hours. “The key is to find a snack that will satisfy your hunger and hold you till your next meal,” Higbie says. She suggests choosing snacks that combine fiber, protein, and fat to get the most bang for your buck.

Higbie shared some of her favorite snacks for breastfeeding parents:

  • Greek yogurt with berries
  • Half an avocado with salt, pepper, and hemp seeds
  • Hard boiled eggs with salt and pepper
  • Seaweed snacks with avocado (this is a great way to get your needed iodine!)
  • A mix of raw or dry roasted nuts with unsweetened coconut chips, cacao nibs, or dark chocolate chips
  • A piece of whole grain/high fiber bread topped with nut butter and sliced berries or banana
  • A healthy, fruit filled smoothie with added protein powder (perfect for breastfeeding parents because you can eat it one-handed and on-the-go)

A Word From Verywell

If it feels like you are hungrier than you’ve ever been while you are breastfeeding, you are far from alone. This is a common experience, and can be explained by the fact that your baby doubles in size within the first five to six months of life—all while subsisting on your milk!

For most breastfeeding parents, eating to satisfy hunger, and focusing on nutritious foods is all that’s needed to stay energized while breastfeeding. If you are finding it challenging to follow a healthy diet while breastfeeding or have concerns about maintaining your milk supply, don’t hesitate to reach out to your healthcare provider.

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. National Institutes of Health. When breastfeeding, how many calories should moms and babies consume?

  2. National Institutes of Health. When breastfeeding, how many calories should moms and babies consume?

  3. National Library of Medicine. Eating right during pregnancy.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Maternal Diet.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How Much and How Often to Breastfeed.

  6. Waseem M, Thakore K, Campbell N, et al. Are Infants Doubling Their Birth Weight Sooner? Pediatrics. 2021;147(3):32–33. doi:10.1542/peds.147.3MA1.32

Additional Reading

By Wendy Wisner
Wendy Wisner is a lactation consultant and writer covering maternal/child health, parenting, general health and wellness, and mental health. She has worked with breastfeeding parents for over a decade, and is a mom to two boys.