What Is a Breastfeeding Diet?

Many breastfeeding parents wonder if the way they eat will affect their breast milk. Regardless of what you eat, your body will produce the right nutrition for your baby at every stage of development. You don’t have to eat a specialized diet to produce nutrient-rich breast milk. 

However, the right breastfeeding diet can help support your breast milk production while also ensuring you get all the vitamins and nutrients you need. 

Should You Change Your Diet While Breastfeeding?

While your body naturally produces enough breast milk to support your baby, a healthy and nutrient-rich diet can ensure your baby is getting all the nutrients they need. It can also promote your own health. 

Breast milk provides about 60 to 75 calories per 3.4 ounces. Unlike baby formula, the composition of breast milk can vary throughout your lactation period.  At the beginning of a feeding, the milk may contain more water. Later in the feeding, the milk becomes thicker, higher in fat, and more nutritious. This milk may contain 2 to 3 times as much fat when compared to milk from the beginning of a feeding. 

While studies on the impact of maternal diet on breast milk are limited, one review found several studies that supported a link between diet and the concentration of certain acids and vitamins in breast milk. However, more research is needed to confirm this link and further investigate the impact of diet on breastmilk. 

What to Eat While Breastfeeding

Producing breast milk can be demanding on the body. In order to keep up with breast milk production, it’s estimated you need to increase your energy needs by about 500 calories per day. You can also prioritize increasing your levels of protein, vitamin D, vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin C, B12, selenium, and zinc

Here are a few nutritious foods to focus on when breastfeeding: 

Lean Protein. Lean protein provides nine essential amino acids that your body can’t make on its own. It also provides much-needed energy for your body. Sources of protein include chicken, fish, eggs, milk, yogurt, cheese, and soy. 

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Whole Grains. Whole grains are a great source of carbohydrates to supplement your breastfeeding diet. Whole grains like brown rice, oatmeal, pasta, or bread are denser in calories and carbohydrates than most fruits and vegetables. 

Healthy Fats. Foods like walnuts, almonds, eggs, and avocados are a healthy source of fat. They also provide nutrients like vitamin E, omega-3, omega-6, and antioxidants. 

Fruits and Vegetables. Any healthy diet, including a breastfeeding diet, should include plenty of fruits and vegetables. These provide vitamins like B1, B2, B6, and vitamin C, which are important for milk production. 

Focus on foods like spinach, tomatoes, bell peppers, berries, kale, and broccoli for a dose of vitamins, potassium, folate, and fiber

What to Avoid While Breastfeeding

During pregnancy, you may have been told to avoid raw fish, unpasteurized cheese, pink meat, and alcohol. While breastfeeding, you can include these foods in your diet. However, it’s important to limit your consumption of certain types of foods. 

Caffeine. Drinking caffeine through coffee, tea, or soda is safe while breastfeeding. Keep in mind that if you start to feel jittery, irritable, or sleepless, your baby might also start to feel these effects and become fussy. 

Alcohol. While it’s okay to have the occasional alcoholic drink, you should still be drinking in moderation. Heavy drinking may lead to sleep problems, weight gain, and developmental issues in babies. 

Limit yourself to a few drinks a week at most. Try drinking after you’ve already nursed your baby and allow at least two hours before nursing again. 

High-Mercury Fish. According to the FDA and EPA, both pregnant and nursing women should avoid high-mercury fish. This can include shark, swordfish, marlin, bigeye tuna, and mackerel. 

Taking Vitamins to Supplement Your Diet

It takes a lot of energy to produce breast milk — so your own needs for nutrients may increase while breastfeeding. Taking supplements can help boost your levels of important nutrients. Here are a few breastfeeding supplements to incorporate into your diet. 

Multivitamins. Studies show that it's common for women to be deficient in vitamins and minerals after giving birth, regardless of their access to resources. A daily multivitamin can help support the vitamins you’re already taking in through your diet. 

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Vitamin B-12. Women who are on vegan, vegetarian, or mostly plant-based diets may be at risk of having low B-12 levels. If you don’t eat enough B-12 rich foods, like fish, meat, and eggs, taking a B-complex or B-12 supplement can help. 

Vitamin D. Vitamin D plays a crucial role in your body for immune function and bone health. 

Vitamin D deficiency is common among pregnant and breastfeeding women. A vitamin D deficiency can also lead to a higher risk of developing postpartum depression

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies take in 400 IU of vitamin D per day until they are 12 months of age. One study found that taking daily vitamin D supplements can help give your baby the appropriate amount of vitamin D through breast milk alone. 

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on March 11, 2021

Sources

SOURCES:

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Choose Healthy Fats."

Acta Paediatrica: "Macronutrient and Energy Contents of Human Milk Fractions During the First Six Months of Lactation"

American Academy of Pediatrics: "Recommendations Released on Prevention, Management of Rickets."

American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Impact of Maternal Nutrition on Breast-milk Composition: a Systematic Review."

CDC: "Alcohol," CDC: "Maternal Diet."

Cochrane Library: "Supplementation with Multiple Micronutrients for Breastfeeding Women for Improving Outcomes for the Mother and Baby."

Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition: "Postpartum Depression and Vitamin D: A Systematic Review."

Harvard School of Public Health: "Whole Grains."

FDA: "Advice About Eating Fish."

Medical Clinics of North America: "Nutrition Recommendations in Pregnancy and Lactation."

Ohio State University: "Nutritional Needs During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding."

Pediatrics: "Maternal Versus Infant Vitamin D Supplementation During Lactation: A Randomized Controlled Trial."

StatPearls: "Vitamin D."

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