New Mom’s Guide to Nutrition After Childbirth

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on September 05, 2023
3 min read

For 9 months, the food you ate fueled you and your baby. But after you give birth, your diet is just as important. It helps your body recover and gives you the energy you need to care for your little one.

Know your nutrition needs so you can stay healthy while you bring up baby.

In the months after childbirth, most new moms need between 1,800 and 2,200 calories each day. Nursing? You’ll need up to 500 more. If you’re underweight, you work out more than 45 minutes each day, or you’re breastfeeding more than one infant, that number could be higher. Talk to your doctor to figure out the right amount for you and to determine continuation of vitamin supplementation.

Even though you’re not “eating for two,” your body needs to restore a lot of important nutrients.

At every meal, fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables. The other half should include whole grains like brown rice, whole-grain bread, or oatmeal. Try to limit packaged, processed foods and drinks that are high in salt, saturated fat, and extra sugars.

You also need to get enough:

Protein: Foods like beans, seafood, lean meats, eggs, and soy products are rich in protein, which help your body recover from childbirth. Aim for five servings each day, or seven if you’re breastfeeding.

Calcium: You’ll need 1,000 milligrams -- about 3 servings of low-fat dairy -- each day.

Iron: This nutrient helps your body make new blood cells, which is especially important if you lost a lot of blood during your delivery. Red meat and poultry are high in iron. So are tofu and beans. Whether you eat meat or go vegetarian, the daily requirement for lactating women is 9 mg daily for women ages 19 and older, and 10 mg daily for adolescents.

If you had multiples, have a health condition, or are vegan or any specialized diet, check with your doctor. They may recommend supplements. 

Most new moms lose about 4.5 pounds of baby weight each month. You may be tempted to go on a diet to speed up the process, but that’s not a good idea. If you get fewer than 1,800 calories, you’ll see a drastic drop in your energy level and mood. If you’re nursing, you can also harm your baby if you don’t eat enough.

The best thing to do is to stick with a healthy, balanced meal plan, and start exercising when your doctor says it’s OK. You can usually start a walking program after about 6 weeks. Take it slow and work gradually back to your pre-baby workout routine.

If you’re breastfeeding, the foods you eat can pass to your baby through your milk. Be careful with:

Alcohol: Experts have different opinions on how much (if any) is safe for a baby and how long you should wait to breastfeed after ingesting alcohol. Talk to your doctor about what’s right for you.

Caffeine: Drink more than 3 cups (24 ounces) of coffee or soda a day, and you can upset your baby’s sleep and temperament (they may be irritable).

Some fish: Swordfish, shark, king mackerel, and tilefish are high in mercury, a toxin that is harmful to your baby, so avoid them. Tuna can have some mercury, too. Make sure to only eat the “light” kind and no more than 6 ounces each week.

Keep healthy snacks on hand. If you have fresh veggies and fruit washed and ready to go in the fridge, you’ll likely reach for them rather than chips or cookies.

Stay hydrated. Aim for 6-10 glasses of water each day, whether you’re nursing or not. You can also drink milk and fruit juice.

Ask friends to cook for you. When loved ones ask how they can help, suggest they bring you a healthy dish. In these first weeks after you give birth, you may be too tired to cook.