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Your Nutrition and Breastfeeding

A mother's diet while breastfeeding

Women who are breastfeeding or pumping milk to feed their babies often ask, "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 to thirst. You may be eager to lose any extra pounds gained during pregnancy. But strict weight-loss programs are not advised, especially during the first few months of breastfeeding. There are no special diets a breastfeeding mother must eat. But these suggestions may help you focus on your eating patterns while breastfeeding.

Enough fluids

Drink enough liquids. You may find you are thirsty during the first few days after delivery. This is when your body loses the extra fluid it gained during pregnancy. After that, your body will develop the feeling of thirst based on your needs. But most mothers do notice they are more thirsty when breastfeeding. Drink plenty of liquids, such as water, to quench your thirst. Limit sweetened drinks and those with caffeine. You don't need to force fluids beyond your thirst. But it's a good idea to drink something whenever you feel thirsty. It can be helpful to put a glass of water near your favorite breastfeeding spot.

Variety

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 few months of breastfeeding. Don't ignore feelings of hunger when making milk for your baby. But be sure you are eating a variety of healthy foods. This includes protein-rich foods, and vegetables and fruits. Grab a one-handed snack to eat while breastfeeding. Or keep wrapped snacks near your favorite breastfeeding spot.

Enough calories

Eat many different foods to get the calories, vitamins, and minerals you need to stay healthy. It's advised to have at least 2,000 calories per day, with an increase of 500 calories above your daily nonpregnancy calorie intake. (An extra 500 calories equals a peanut butter sandwich and a glass of milk.) Foods from these food groups offer the most nutritional value:

  • Meats

  • Beans

  • 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 many cultures. And these kinds of foods don't bother most babies. A few babies will get 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 don't need to stay away from any particular foods.

Vegetarian and vegan diets

Vegetarian, or mostly vegetarian, diets have been a key part of many cultures for centuries. A vegetarian mother's breastmilk is often just as nutritionally appropriate as that of other mothers. But some women on vegan diets may not get enough vitamin B12. They often need supplements of vitamin B12 or other vitamins and minerals so their breastmilk will have the right amount.

If you have any questions about how your diet is affecting your breastmilk, get help. Contact your healthcare provider, a certified lactation consultant (IBCLC), or a dietitian who specializes in perinatal nutrition.

Coffee, tea, or sodas

You may have caffeinated drinks. But caffeine may make your baby jittery or grouchy. It can also make your baby have trouble sleeping. This is even more likely if you have too many caffeinated drinks, or drink too much very quickly. Have mainly caffeine-free drinks when breastfeeding. If you enjoy caffeinated drinks, limit your intake to about 2, 8-ounce servings per day.

Alcohol

It's best to limit alcohol when breastfeeding or pumping for milk. Alcohol can actually decrease your milk supply and change the taste of your milk for a while. Pumping milk after drinking alcohol and then discarding it (called pumping and dumping) does not make the alcohol leave your milk faster. As your blood alcohol level falls over time, the alcohol level in your breastmilk will also decrease. Breastmilk contains alcohol as long as alcohol is in your blood.

Smoking or tobacco use

Tobacco use often affects a woman's appetite and how many foods taste. It's best to not use tobacco when breastfeeding or pumping. The benefits of your milk outweigh the risks of limited tobacco use. But it's 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 very 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 make. If you can't stop using tobacco products, think about using a low-nicotine variety. And smoke right after breastfeeding. 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 don't combine the gum or patch with smoking while you are breastfeeding.

Health conditions affecting a mother's diet

In some cases a mother's health condition may have a direct or indirect effect on milk production. For example, some women may not get enough vitamin B12 because of a health condition. They often need supplements of vitamin B12 or other vitamins and minerals so their breastmilk will have the right amount. This includes women who:

  • Have had gastric bypass surgery

  • Have a condition called pernicious anemia

  • Have certain gastrointestinal disorders

Talk with your healthcare provider if you are concerned that your health condition may affect breastfeeding.

Get help 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.

Online Medical Reviewer: Donna Freeborn PhD CNM FNP
Online Medical Reviewer: Heather Trevino
Online Medical Reviewer: Mary Terrell MD
Date Last Reviewed: 3/1/2019
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