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Best Foods for Breastfeeding Moms to Support a Healthy Diet

Mom enjoying breakfast with her baby

For the first six months of life, babies survive on an exclusively liquid diet of breast milk, formula, or a combination of the two. While bonding over mealtimes, your body is busily producing and passing nutrients directly to your baby, which helps them build a robust immune system. It’s an essential part of your baby’s life and an excellent opportunity for you to connect. While breastfeeding is one of the most natural and time-honored things a parent can do, many new or expecting parents are curious about the best foods for breastfeeding moms to support the health and nutrition of moms and babies alike!

What are the best foods for nursing mothers?

According to the Mayo Clinic, nursing mothers should plan to consume an extra 330 to 400 calories per day. Not only are you giving nutrients to your baby, but your body also needs fuel and energy to make those nutrients. Because of that, a healthy diet and breastfeeding go hand in hand, as the nutrients you are eating are for both you and your baby.

The question then becomes, what foods should you eat to maintain a healthy diet during breastfeeding? The number one rule of thumb is to eat a varied diet. Not only will that ensure you’re getting a wide range of vitamins and minerals, but it will also change the flavor and composition of your milk, exposing your baby to various flavors and nutritional mixtures. That might make your baby more likely to enjoy a variety of foods later in life.

Breastfeeding Super Foods

While there aren’t any breastfeeding superfoods, these guidelines can help you know what foods are good to eat while breastfeeding.

  • Protein-rich foods: including lean meats, chicken, eggs, seafood, tofu, beans and lentils, nuts, chia seeds, hemp seeds, flaxseed
  • Whole grains: including brown rice, oatmeal, whole-wheat bread and pasta
  • High-fiber foods: including potatoes, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, beans, lentils, quinoa, buckwheat
  • Healthy fats: including avocados, olive oil, coconut, and full-fat yogurt
  • Whole fruits: including berries, apples, oranges, bananas, mangos
  • Veggies: including spinach, broccoli, beets, carrots, brussel sprouts, and peppers

Increasing Your Water Intake

Staying hydrated while breastfeeding is crucial for the mother’s health and the quality of breast milk. Breastfeeding mothers should drink plenty of fluids, as dehydration can affect milk supply. To ensure optimal hydration, breastfeeding mothers should drink at least 8-10 glasses of water daily or more if thirsty. Keeping a water bottle handy and drinking water before and after breastfeeding can help maintain hydration.

Supplements and Vitamins

It might be worthwhile taking a daily multivitamin, particularly if you eat a vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, or otherwise restricted diet. Plant-based diets, for example, have a higher risk of iron or B12 deficiency, which could lead to developmental problems if not supplemented. According to the CDC, the daily requirements for some nutrients, like iodine and choline, go up during breastfeeding.

Most essential vitamins and minerals are found in everyday foods and don’t require supplements. For example, choline can be found in eggs, meat, beans, peas, lentils, and more, while iodine can be found in dairy, eggs, seafood, and iodine-enriched table salt.

Are there foods I should avoid while breastfeeding?

Aside from the occasional vitamin and a diverse menu, there’s nothing you absolutely must eat, but there are some things you might want to cut down on or avoid altogether.

Fish

Fish and other seafood can be a good source of iodine, protein, and other valuable nutrients, but you should limit their consumption while pregnant and breastfeeding. Fish contains relatively high levels of mercury, which accumulate over time and can be passed to your baby through breast milk. Exposure to too much mercury during infancy could negatively impact brain and nervous system development, so limiting consumption is worthwhile. The general guideline is no more than 1 to 3 servings per week, depending on the type of fish.

Caffeine

If you’re the kind of person who enjoys your coffee in the morning or a soft drink or two throughout the day, you might be curious about the effects of caffeine on breastfeeding. Caffeine is passed in small amounts through the milk but usually isn’t a problem for low to moderate consumers. You’re probably in the clear if you drink two or three cups of coffee or equivalent per day. However, higher caffeine intake by nursing mothers has been reported to cause irritability, fussiness, and trouble sleeping in nursing babies.

Alcohol

If having a baby isn’t a cause for celebration, what is? But don’t break out the champagne just yet. Alcohol does make its way into breast milk and takes hours or more to clear, depending on the amount consumed. Moreover, there’s no amount of alcohol in breast milk that is safe for babies to consume. Whenever possible, it’s best to avoid drinking while breastfeeding. If you plan to drink, consider pumping in advance to fill the bottle coffers until the hangover passes.

Nicki Cluff, RN, BSN, IBCLC

Nicki Cluff, RN, BSN, IBCLC

Nicki is a lactation consultant in our South Jordan office.

a happy father receives a kiss from his son

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