Maternal Nutrition and Breastfeeding
A mother's diet while breastfeeding
One of the most often asked questions from mothers who are breastfeeding or pumping
milk to feed their babies is, "Do I need to be on a special diet?" In most cases,
the answer is no. Women who are breastfeeding should eat a well-balanced diet and
drink enough liquids. Although shedding those extra pounds gained during pregnancy
may be one of your biggest concerns, strict weight-loss programs are not recommended,
especially during the first few months of breastfeeding. There are no special diets
a breastfeeding mother must eat, but the following suggestions may help you focus
on your eating patterns while breastfeeding:
Drink enough liquids. You may find you are thirsty during the first few days after
delivery as your body sheds excess fluid accumulated during the pregnancy. After that,
your body will balance out to a thirst based on your needs. But most mothers do notice
they are thirstier when breastfeeding. Drink plenty of liquids, such as water or milk
to quench your thirst. Liquids can be in any form, but limit your intake of any with
caffeine. It is not necessary to force fluids beyond your thirst, but it is a good
idea to drink something whenever you feel thirsty. Grab something to drink while breastfeeding
or keep a glass or mug of liquid near your favorite breastfeeding spot.
Eat a variety of healthy foods. The best guide as to how much to eat should be your
own appetite. In general, mothers are hungrier during the first several months of
breastfeeding. You should not ignore feelings of hunger when making milk for your
baby. Grab a one-handed snack to eat while breastfeeding or keep wrapped snacks near
your favorite breastfeeding spot.
Eat many different foods to get the calories, vitamins, and minerals you need to remain
healthy. A minimum intake of at least 2,000 calories per day, with an optimal intake
of 500 calories above a nonpregnant caloric intake of 1,800 to 2,200 calories, is
recommended. (500 extra calories is the equivalent of a peanut butter sandwich and
a glass of milk.) Foods from the following food categories offer the most nutritional
Vegetables (especially leafy green vegetables)
Fruit (not fruit drinks)
Breads, cereals, and grains
Milk, cheese, and eggs
Other diet considerations while breastfeeding
Spicy or "gassy" foods
Spicy or gas-producing foods are common in the diets of many cultures, and these kinds
of foods do not bother most babies. A few babies will develop gas or seem uncomfortable
when their mothers eat certain foods. But no certain foods create problems for all
babies. Unless you notice that your baby reacts within 6 hours every time you eat
a certain food, you do not need to avoid any particular foods.
Vegetarian, or mostly vegetarian, diets have been the mainstay of many cultures for
centuries, and the milk of vegetarians usually is as nutritionally appropriate as
that of other mothers. Many vegetarians, including some lacto-ovo vegetarians who
eat eggs and dairy products, may need supplementary vitamin D, iron, and calcium during
lactation. In addition, the milk of women eating vegan or macrobiotic diets may be
deficient in vitamin B12 and these mothers often need supplements of vitamin B12 so
their breast milk will contain a sufficient amount.
Coffee, tea, or sodas
You may drink caffeinated beverages, but caffeine may make your baby jittery or irritable,
or have difficulty sleeping. This is especially true if you drink too many or drink
too much quickly. Drink mainly caffeine-free beverages when breastfeeding. If you
enjoy caffeinated beverages, limit your intake to about 2, 8-ounce servings per day.
It is best to limit drinking alcoholic beverages while breastfeeding or pumping for
milk, although an occasional alcoholic beverage or two is OK. Alcohol passes into
and back out of breast milk at about the same rate it enters and leaves your bloodstream.
If you plan to have an alcoholic beverage, breastfeed beforehand and allow 2 hours
before breastfeeding afterward. If you become intoxicated, pump and do not give that
milk to the baby. You can resume breastfeeding once you are sober.
Smoking or tobacco use
Tobacco use often affects a woman's appetite and the taste of many foods. It is best
to avoid tobacco use when breastfeeding or pumping. The benefits of your milk outweigh
the risks of limited tobacco use, but it is important to know that nicotine and its
byproducts pass into milk. Tobacco use may cause a baby to have a more rapid heartbeat,
be restless, jittery, or have vomiting or diarrhea. Babies should not be exposed to
secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke increases the risk for many illnesses as well as
sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Smoking also has been known to increase a baby's reaction to caffeine. If you are
a smoker, be especially careful about your caffeine intake.
In addition to its possible effects on the baby, tobacco use can interfere with milk
let-down (milk ejection reflex) and it may reduce the amount of milk you produce.
If you cannot stop using tobacco products, consider a low-nicotine variety and smoke
immediately after breastfeeding, as the amount of nicotine in your milk decreases
over 2 to 3 hours.
Talk with your healthcare provider if you want to use nicotine gum or patches, and
do not combine the gum or patch with smoking while you are breastfeeding.
Health conditions affecting mother's diet
A few maternal health conditions may have a direct or indirect effect on lactation.
Talk with your healthcare provider if you are concerned that your health condition
may affect breastfeeding.
If you ever have any questions about nutrition or healthy dieting when breastfeeding,
contact your healthcare provider a certified lactation consultant (IBCLC), or a dietitian
who specializes in perinatal nutrition.