What to Eat While Breastfeeding

Baby feeding her mother a banana

You might wonder whether you need to eat more, eat different foods, or drink more water during lactation. How much does your nutrition effect your baby? What should you eat while you are breastfeeding?

The short answer is very simple: your normal healthy diet is good already.

That’s the catch, though. Many of us don’t eat a consistently healthy diet. You probably watched what you ate during pregnancy, and you should continue to make the most healthy choices during breastfeeding. This is a good time to solidify eating habits that will serve you and your family well over time.

In recent years, research has confirmed that even if some nutrients are missing in a woman’s daily diet, she will still produce milk that will help her child grow. There is very little difference in the milk of healthy mothers and mothers who are severely malnourished.

Sheri Lyn Parpia Khan, “Maternal Nutrition during Breastfeeding,” NEW BEGINNINGS 21:2 (March-April 2004), 44.

A Good Diet

A good diet for breastfeeding women looks a lot like a good diet for the whole family. The National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine did a thorough analysis of Nutrition During Lactation. In their recommendations for clinical implementation of their guidelines, they offered the following “Special Recommendations for Lactating Women.”

  • Avoid diets and medications that promise rapid weight loss.
  • Eat a wide variety of breads and cereal grains, fruits, vegetables, milk products, and meats or meat alternates each day.
  • Take three or more servings of milk products daily.
  • Make a greater effort to eat vitamin-A-rich vegetables or fruit often. Examples of vitamin-A-rich foods include carrots, spinach or other cooked greens, sweet potatoes, and cantaloupe.
  • Be sure to drink when you are thirsty· You will need more fluid than usual.
  • If you drink coffee or other caffeinated beverages, such as cola, do so in moderation. Two servings daily are unlikely to harm the infant. Caffeine passes into the milk.

Nutrition During Pregnancy and Lactation: An Implementation Guide, Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, 1992.

Even this advice needs to be looked at carefully, since a vegetarian mother will likely get her calcium from almonds, spinach, or other calcium-rich foods rather than from animal milk. You don’t need to drink cow’s milk to make human milk.


You aren’t likely to need vitamin supplements if you eat a nutrient-dense diet. Again, whether your usual diet is giving you the nutrition you need can be an issue. You may want to evaluate your overall food intake to see how it compares with daily recommendations and adjust to increase your intake of particular kinds of foods.

Lactating women who meet the RDA for energy are likely to meet the RDA for all nutrients except calcium and zinc if the nutrient density of their diets is close to the average for young U.S. women.

Nutrition During Lactation, Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, 1991.

Drink Water

The usual advice is to drink more water, but you don’t need to over-think (or over-drink) this. Your body will tell you when you need more water. Drink when you are thirsty. To be sure that you have water available when you are thirsty, keep water close by at your usual nursing stations. Keep a water bottle in your diaper bag. If the water is available, you can easily drink when you feel the need.

Does it have to be water? No. Your body will work with whatever fluids you drink, though you should avoid sweet and caffeinated drinks as you would when pregnant. That is just part of a healthy diet.

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1 thought on “What to Eat While Breastfeeding”

  1. Interestingly, when my kiddo turned one and I was still nursing, my hair started falling out (again…I’d already gone through the post-partum shed). I also started losing weight and couldn’t seem to keep up with her caloric needs (starving, all the time). My diet is healthy but not low fat. In the end I had to start taking a prenatal vitamin again and up my meat intake. I rarely suggest vitamins or supplements for anyone unless there’s a clear dietary deficiency (malabsorption issues, some chronic diseases) but I do think nursing moms should have a low threshold for prenatal vitamins as they nurse older babies.


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