You’ve just spent months considering what foods to eat while pregnant.
Now onto the next phase: what is the best breastfeeding diet?
The hows, the whens, and the what ifs of breastfeeding can be a lot to get your head around.
Finding the perfect breastfeeding diet to keep you and your baby healthy is part of this beautiful (sometimes daunting) ride.
Breastfeeding helps your baby avoid illness and gives them the nutrition they need, and it lowers your risk of various cancers, diabetes, and blood pressure conditions.
All around, it’s highly beneficial for everyone.
Of course, there are so many reasons why breastfeeding might not be an option – such as health conditions, mental health, working conditions, supply challenges, or just that you don’t want to.
In any case, formula feeding is a perfectly healthy option.
If you are having trouble breastfeeding and want support, you can chat with your healthcare provider.
There’s also a supportive community on Peanut that can help you navigate this time.
With all that in mind, let’s jump into what to eat (and not eat) while breastfeeding.
First things first, there’s no one breastfeeding diet plan.
Provided you get the nutrition you need and avoid foods that might make you sick, you can decorate your plate in whatever way you wish.
In this article: 📝
- What diet is best while breastfeeding?
- What should I include in my breastfeeding diet?
- What foods to avoid while breastfeeding?
- How to lose weight while breastfeeding
What diet is best while breastfeeding?
Here’s the miracle of all of it – you really don’t need to eat a special breastfeeding diet.
Your body is really good at providing nutrition for your baby without you doing anything special beyond a normal, balanced diet with enough calories.
The best foods to eat while breastfeeding are the ones that keep your nutrients up so that you don’t feel depleted.
These are some golden rules:
1. Eat regularly
This is not the time to skip meals – which may be easier said than done when you’re juggling an overflowing calendar.
In fact, many breastfeeding parents find that they are hungrier than normal.
This may mean requiring snacks at closer intervals than they used to before breastfeeding, so keeping yourself fed regularly (even more regularly than you’re used to) and listening to those hunger cues is paramount!
Having pre-packed snacks ready to go when you need them can really help.
2. Eat enough
It may be helpful to add 450 to 500 calories of healthy food per day to your pre-pregnancy diet.
But we must stress this is an estimate.
Some moms will require more, some will require less.
If you’re nursing twins, for example, you will almost certainly require more!
It’s more important to listen to your body’s hunger and fullness than fixate on a specific calorie amount.
3. Eat a balanced diet
Keep things colorful by ticking off healthy options from all the food groups.
You can get started with our helpful guide to postpartum diets that benefits you and your baby.
What should I include in my breastfeeding diet?
Here’s a list of what to include:
Think about three servings a day.
Lean meat, poultry, eggs, fish and shellfish are all good options.
As are dairy products, nuts, beans and legumes.
Fish deserves a special mention because it contains omega-3 fatty acids that are vital for your baby’s brain development.
“A supplement may be considered if you do not eat about two servings per week of fatty fish,” advises Registered Toddler Dietitian and Nutritionist (RDN) Kacie Barnes.
“Omega-3s DO pass through breast milk so mom’s diet can help baby get more.”
If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, there are many ways to keep up your protein intake.
“You just may need to be more mindful of the protein sources and make sure you’re strategic about getting enough in,” says Barnes.
“The recommendation for adults is 0.8-1.0 g/kg of your body weight.
For pregnant and breastfeeding parents, those needs are even more elevated – with studies suggesting even up to 1.7-1.9 g/kg/day for lactating people.”
The vitamins and minerals to focus on are iron, zinc, and vitamin B12.
Talk to your doctor about whether supplements may benefit you.
Load your plate with leafy greens like spinach, kale, and swiss chard.
They’re filled with vitamins A, B, C and K and minerals like calcium, iron and potassium – all of which are vital for keeping you in good health.
Yellow vegetables are also particularly beneficial – corn, squash, yellow peppers, and golden beets all pack a mighty nutrient punch.
One thing to be careful of? Gas. It’s real.
And can be caused by vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower.
But don’t worry, this won’t pass to baby through your breast milk.
Fruit has all sorts of benefits and is similar in micronutrient content to vegetables.
It’s rich in vitamins and minerals – and the fiber you need to help you keep regular at this challenging time for your bowels.
Aim for about two servings a day.
“Opt for whole grains rather than refined grains at least 50% of the time”, advises Barnes.
Think whole wheat breads, cereals, and pastas.
Some mamas find they are extra thirsty when breastfeeding, so keep the water bottle filled and nearby.
One thing to be aware of though – drinking lots of fluids won’t make you produce more milk.
Regardless, it’s imperative to keep hydrated!
And then, what food should you stay away from?
What foods to avoid while breastfeeding?
While some foods are worth avoiding, you don’t have to follow a very strict diet for breastfeeding.
The good news is, the foods you had to stay away from during pregnancy are now back on the table.
Welcome news for sushi fans.
So what is on the no-go list? Let’s take a look:
Any food you suspect is causing an allergy
How do you know? Well, often by your baby’s poop.
If you suspect you know what kind of food is having this effect, work with your pediatrician before making big dietary changes.
It’s also a good idea to consult with your healthcare practitioner or a lactation specialist.
They may refer you to a dietitian to help you get to the bottom of it.
Be aware though, true food allergies aren’t as common as the internet might have you think.
Many infants go through fussy phases, which some mamas mistakenly attribute to allergies.
Okay, so this one’s nuanced.
You can now drink a little more alcohol than you could while pregnant – one drink a day max – provided it’s out of your system by the time you breastfeed.
“The current teaching on this is that if you are not experiencing any alcohol effects in your body,” explains Barnes, “then there will not be any in your milk”.
“You may not need the full recommended two hours if you had, say, a small pour of wine, but it is wise to err on the safe side and keep alcohol limited and to times when you aren’t feeding your baby soon after.”
Small amounts of caffeine can pass into your breast milk.
That doesn’t mean you have to stay away from caffeine completely, but definitely moderate your intake.
Stick to a limit of about two cups of coffee a day.
“You may need to drink less than this if you suspect it’s affecting your baby, recommends Barnes. “Some babies are extra sensitive to caffeine.”
Foods that contain refined sugar and processed fat are often high in calories and low in nutrients.
They’re not a total no-go – it just may mean that you’re not getting the optimal nutrition you’re after.
Processed food can fit into a healthy diet (you’re human after all), but just also make sure you’re prioritizing variety and all the other things we’ve talked about above!
How to lose weight while breastfeeding
Breastfeeding and weight loss have a complex relationship.
On the one hand, as you may have heard, breastfeeding appears to naturally aid weight loss.
But that effect may not be as large as is often advertised.
As this study tells us, exclusive breastfeeding for at least three months has a small impact on weight loss—about 3.2 pounds measured twelve months after your baby is born.
So does that mean a special weight-loss diet while breastfeeding can help you drop some extra pregnancy pounds?
That’s not ideal because you need the extra calories right now.
As Barnes explains, “we don’t recommend weight loss as a goal during breastfeeding because it is so important to eat and drink adequate amounts, so no calorie deficits!”
The best thing to do is eat a balanced diet full of foods you love and get some moderate exercise.
The bottom line? Different cultures, different preferences, different bodies.
There’s no one-size-fits-all here.
The best diet for breastfeeding is the one that leaves you feeling strong enough to take on the task of motherhood.