Breastfeeding Nutrition

How to Eat Well for You and Your Little One

Eating well when you’re breastfeeding is just as important as during your pregnancy. Milk production can burn 500 calories a day, and while breast milk will meet your baby’s nutritional needs regardless of what you eat, your own strength, stamina and health will benefit from a healthy diet.

Calorie counting isn’t necessary when you’re breastfeeding - eat when you’re hungry. While most women will need about 500 extra calories, the amount may vary based on your metabolism, weight and exercise habits. Your instincts are the best way to gauge how much energy you’re expending on your newborn. You should also avoid starting a diet to lose baby weight while you’re breastfeeding. It could take up to a year to get back to your pre-pregnancy weight, and a reduced-calorie diet could lower your energy and milk supply.

Whether you’re eating small meals with healthy snacks throughout the day, or preparing a larger meal when you have the time, it’s essential to find a balance of food that is good and good for you.

Use this article to discover the different components of nutritious breastfeeding including:

  • What to eat for a balanced diet
  • How to approach alcohol, caffeine and other foods that are back on the menu
  • Food that gives your breast milk flavor
  • Following a hypoallergenic diet for you or your baby

A Foundation of Healthy Foods

As with any nutritious diet, a mix of carbohydrates, protein and fat will provide the nutrients and satisfaction to keep you feeling full longer. Choose complex carbohydrates like whole grains and cereals for longer-lasting energy and make sure that you’re supplementing your diet with vitamins when necessary.

Here’s a guide for the details of a healthy breastfeeding diet. Mix it up from day to day for variety, but make sure you and your baby are getting the nutrients you need.

  • 3 servings of protein
  • 5 servings of calcium; if you’re diet has less than three servings, you should also take a calcium supplement with vitamin D
  • 1 or more servings of iron-rich foods
  • 2 servings of vitamin C
  • 3-4 servings of green leafy vegetables and yellow fruits
  • 1 or more servings of other fruits and vegetables
  • 3 or more servings of whole-grain and other concentrated complex carbohydrates
  • Small amounts of healthy fats such as canola oil, olive oil and fatty fish as well as avocados, olives, nuts, and seeds
  • Eight cups of water, juice, or other non caffeinated, non alcoholic beverages
  • DHA-rich foods to promote baby's brain growth

Back on the Menu

After nine months of pregnancy, there may be more than a few tastes and treats you’re craving. Whether with coffee or a cold one, follow these guidelines to keep your breast milk safe for your baby.


Coffee addicts, rejoice. It’s okay to have your coffee and breastfeed too. With, of course, a small caveat on quantity. If you’re usual habit is more than two cups, the caffeine can end up in your breast milk – making your baby jittery and keeping you both up at night.

This goes for tea, soft drinks, energy drinks and chocolate too – keep caffeine consumption under 300mg. For reference, the American Pregnancy Association offers these standards:

  • Starbucks Grande Coffee (16 oz) 400 mg
  • Starbucks House Blend Coffee (16 oz) 259mg
  • Dr. Pepper (12 oz) 37 mg
  • 7 Eleven Big Gulp Diet Coke (32 oz) 124mg
  • 7 Eleven Big Gulp Coca-Cola (32 oz) 92 mg
  • Ben & Jerry’s Coffee Buzz Ice Cream (8 oz) 72 mg
  • Baker’s chocolate (1 oz) 26 mg
  • Green tea (6 oz) 40 mg
  • Black tea (6 oz) 45 mg
  • Excedrin (per capsule) 65mg

5 Tips for Consuming Alcohol and Safe Breastfeeding

  1. Enjoy responsibly with only a couple drinks a week, right after you nurse
  2. Wait at least two hours before breastfeeding to allow the alcohol to metabolize
  3. If you breastfeed during the day, but use formula for late-night feeding, save your glass of wine until after your newborn goes down for the night
  4. Drink water with your alcoholic beverage to help lower the amount in your milk
  5. Use Milkscreen to test the alcohol level in your breast milk

Fish is Fine

If you’re a fan of sushi, you’ll be happy to know fish is not only safe to eat while breastfeeding, it’s recommended. Fish and seafood, such as salmon, shrimp, light tuna, tilapia, catfish, crab and scallops, offer protein and omega-3 fats that contribute to a strong heart healthy diet.

But be warned – you’ll still want to avoid or limit fish with high levels of mercury like shark, tilefish, mackerel and solid white or albacore tuna.

Taste Testing With Your Newborn

Fun fact: Your baby can taste flavors from your diet when you breastfeed. This means you can expose your baby to many different flavors, preparing them for a diverse diet when they begin eating solids. However, some babies can be sensitive to certain flavors and if your newborn has an upset stomach after feeding, consider varying your diet to see if it helps.

Newborns sometimes react to cow’s milk, eggs, fish, citrus fruit, nuts and wheat. But allergies are rare, and food sensitivities are not nearly as common as breastfeeding mothers have been led to believe.

Dietary Restrictions

Reactions are uncommon, but not unheard of. If you follow a hypoallergenic diet, or find yourself pursuing one while breastfeeding, you can still ensure that you and your baby receive the nutrients you need.


With Celiac Disease or when following a gluten-free diet, certain nutrients like calcium, fiber, folic acid and vitamin B may be lacking in your diet. Consider the following as components of a healthy breastfeeding routine:

  • Whole grain products like rice, buckwheat, quinoa, coconut flour, gluten-free oats and corn
  • All fruit, salads, vegetables
  • Potatoes
  • Nuts
  • Bean and lentils
  • Red meat, chicken, fish, eggs and dairy products
  • Moderate amounts of healthy fats and oils
  • Dairy products, meat with bones and leafy green vegetables


If your baby is sensitive to dairy products, you may want to adopt a dairy-free diet for breastfeeding. Be sure to read labels for “hidden dairy” ingredients and remember that it can take up from two to three weeks to eliminate milk protein from your system.

The following is a list of nondairy foods that are high in calcium:

  • Dark greens: broccoli, spinach, collards, kale, turnips, bok choy, parsley, mustard, dandelion
  • Tofu and other soy products
  • Beans: chickpeas/garbanzo beans, navy beans, pinto beans
  • Nuts & Seeds: sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, almonds, filberts/hazelnuts, cashews, nut butters, tahini, walnuts
  • Grains: tapioca, quinoa, tortillas
  • Seafood/Fish: shrimp, salmon with bones, mackerel with bones, sardines with bones
  • Herbs: borage, lamb’s quarter, wild lettuce, nettles, burdock, yellow dock

Breastfeeding is ultimately instinctual. The more you breastfeed, the better your milk supply will be and the more comfortable you and your baby will be with the process. You will become familiar with what foods your body and your little one respond best to. As for nutrients, your breast milk will provide the ones your child needs regardless of the food you eat.

“This is 2015,” says Sharon Lemon, RN, a lactation consultant at Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital, “research has shown breastfeeding is the ideal food for your baby!"

If you have any questions about your health or that of your baby, reach out to your maternity care provider or pediatrician for an expert opinion.