LittlePeopleLogo     What should a breastfeeding mother eat?

Breastfeeding mothers often have questions about nutritional needs during breastfeeding. Ideally, mothers of babies should eat a balanced, varied diet emphasizing nutrition-dense foods in as close to a natural state as possible. A perfectly balanced diet is not necessary; however, when needed nutrients are not eaten, many mothers may experience fatigue and reduced stamina. The following information will give guidelines for recommended daily allowances, suggestions for quick snacks and simple meal planning, foods to avoid and special dietary needs.

Recommended daily allowances

Breastfeeding mothers should strive for a calorie intake of 2000-2200 calories per day. This recommendation is based upon the estimated amount of calories consumed by a breastfed baby. Protein and calcium, two requirements for which there is increased need during lactation, should be emphasized. It is important that the breastfeeding mother drink to satisfy her thirst. Fluids can include water, fruit juices, vegetable juices, milk and soup. It is a good idea for the mother to get into the habit of drinking during each nursing.

Prenatal vitamins prescribed during pregnancy can be continued during breastfeeding.

Quick snacks and simple meal planning

A mother's time and energy may be in short supply while adjusting to the changes in her life after the birth of her baby. Snacks can be an important source of daily nutritional needs if chosen with care.

The following is a list of quick, easy and nutritional snacks:

Simple meal planning is also important to the new mother. If people ask what they can do to help, ask for help with meal preparation or a meal ready to heat in the oven. When mother cooks, she can double the recipe and freeze half or keep half for a second night's meal. Casseroles, meals in a slow cooker, or dishes with meat and vegetable cooking together are simple and time saving. This is a good time to collect recipes which have a small number of ingredients or are simple to prepare.

Foods to avoid

Many mothers are told to avoid certain foods while nursing, such as gassy foods (beans, broccoli, brusselsprouts, cauliflower, etc.), spicy foods (onion, garlic, chili pepper, etc.) and chocolate. There is no evidence that these foods, when eaten in moderation, cause problems in most breastfed babies.

In babies with a strong family history of allergies, it is possible that traces of food found in the mother's milk, such as cow milk, eggs, wheat, fish or citrus foods, could cause a reaction in the baby. The mother's diet will need to be adjusted only if the baby develops allergic symptoms. If baby is sensitive to cow’s milk products the mother eats or drinks, the mother's calcium needs can be met in other ways. Foods that contain calcium include kale, broccoli, watercress, oranges, salmon, turnip greens, almonds, and sardines.

Alcohol use should be limited since it may interfere with the mother's let-down. A recent study suggests that babies consume less mother's milk after the mother has consumed alcohol. Any mother who drinks alcohol regularly or to excess poses a risk to her baby.

Smoking is discouraged because excessive nicotine can interfere with the let-down reflex and result in a low milk supply. In one study, the babies of smoking mothers had an average weight gain significantly less than babies of nonsmokers.

Special dietary needs

Low milk supply

Chronic or acute disease: The mother diagnosed with a chronic or acute disease may have special dietary needs. If mother and baby must be separated during mother's illness, regular expression of her milk will maintain the milk supply and prevent a breast infection. The physician should be told that mother is breastfeeding so that medications are checked for safety during breastfeeding

Vegetarian diet


Breastfeeding mothers can continue to enjoy a wide variety of foods. Questions about personal nutritional needs can be referred to nutritionist or dietitian. Volunteer organizations such as La Leche League can also answer many of these questions and provide valuable support as can certified lactation consultants. The public library has many books on nutrition and food preparation.