Disclaimer: The following is presented for informational purposes only and should not be taken as medical advice. Always be sure to consult with your care provider before changing up your diet, especially during breastfeeding.
Reviewed by Chaunie Brusie, RN, BSN
The Best Breastfeeding Diet for You
I haven’t always done a good job, but over the last decade of pregnancy, breastfeeding, and raising kids, I’ve learned that nourishing my body is a breastfeeding essential and one of the most important forms of self-care as a mom.
Eating healthy foods and regular meals is important to staying fueled for the demanding task of parenting. The right breastfeeding diet is highly individual and embraces your personal preferences, goals, and lifestyle. Here is how to nourish your body if you’re nursing a baby.
The Essentials of a Breastfeeding Diet
Breastfeeding diets can be just as unique as the parent doing the breastfeeding. Every lactating parent is different and so are their dietary needs, food preferences, and goals. However, there are a few things all breastfeeding diets should have in common:
The right amount of calories
First, breast and chestfeeding parents should aim to listen to their body and eat when they are hungry. Making milk is a lot of work and calories provide the energy you need for lactation and fueling your body. If you’re struggling to determine if you’re eating enough calories, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that moderately active, nursing moms aim for between 1,800 and 2,000 calories each day.
A variety of foods
Next, it is commonly recommended that anyone, breastfeeding or not, eat a variety of foods on a regular basis. This is one way to be certain your body is getting all of the different nutrients food can provide.
“The CDC recommends that moderately active, nursing moms aim for between 1,800 and 2,000 calories each day."
Limited caffeine and alcohol
While you don’t have to completely abstain, is important to practice moderation when it comes to consuming caffeine and alcohol. Only a small amount of caffeine passes to breastfeeding infants, so having 2 to 3 cups is perfectly safe, according to the CDC.
It’s only in the case of excessive consumption—like 10 cups a day—that adverse effects are noted in nursing babies. However, some babies may be more sensitive to caffeine, so if you notice your baby gets fussier after a few cups, you may want to try cutting back to see if it makes a difference. If you’re prone to getting mastitis and clogged ducts, reducing your caffeine and drinking more water can also help.
As for alcohol, the CDC says that avoiding alcohol altogether is best, but that a single drink a couple hours before nursing isn’t associated with negative outcomes for breastfeeding infants.
Plenty of water
Getting enough water is huge when you’re breastfeeding. Not only will getting enough water help you maintain your milk supply, but it can also help reduce your chances of complications, like a clogged duct or mastitis. Investing in a reusable water bottle that you can fill up once and keep on hand all throughout the day can make a huge difference in keeping you hydrated. I finally did this and once I realized how easy it made it to drink water throughout the day, I wondered why I hadn’t done it earlier.
Breastfeeding Diet for Increased Milk Production
When you’re breastfeeding a growing babe, keeping up with their hunger can feel like a full-time job! If you’re looking to increase your milk supply, you may be able to support your efforts by adding certain things to your diet:
- Fenugreek. Fenugreek is considered to be a galactagogue, or a food that increases milk production. In 2018, a research review published in Phytotherapy Research documented a significant increase in milk production in people taking fenugreek. This herb can be taken as a capsule, multiple times a day, or as a tea 2-3 times a day.
- Oatmeal. Adding oatmeal to your diet may also increase milk supply. The evidence of this is mostly anecdotal However, it is believed that the nutritional qualities of oatmeal, which is high in fiber and iron, boosts milk production. You can cook up some oatmeal for breakfast, or reach for some yummy lactation cookies.
- Added sessions. Ultimately, breastfeeding is a game of supply and demand. The best way to increase low milk supply is to breastfeed your baby more, whether that be increasing frequency, adding in pumping sessions between nursing at the breast, or encouraging longer feedings.
Breastfeeding Diet for Decreased Milk Production
It’s less common, but some breastfeeding parents may want to slow down their milk production! If overproduction is causing discomfort for you or your babe, there are dietary changes you can make that may slow things down.
- Sage. Add ¼ a teaspoon of sage to your food a few times a day to slow down milk production. You can also create a tea from sage: pour a cup of boiling water over a tablespoon of sage and steep for 15 minutes.
- Other herbs. Adding other herbs, like peppermint, lemon balm, parsley, and oregano to your diet may also help decrease your milk supply if you consume these herbs on a regular basis. Many dishes can be made all the more delicious with the addition of parsley or oregano.
- Cabbage leaves. You’ve probably heard this one before, but it’s there for a reason—it does help. Stick a few raw leaves in your bra to reduce engorgement and help bring your supply down.
- Tea. Teas are a great way to consume peppermint and lemon balm. You can also pick up some ready-made tea bags that are said to help reduce your milk supply.
Breastfeeding Diet for Weight Loss
If you’re hoping to lose weight while breastfeeding, it is always important to consult with your doctor before making major changes to your diet. In general, eating fewer than 1,800 calories isn’t recommended while nursing.
However, if your doctor has recommended weight loss for health reasons, is still possible to lose weight while breastfeeding. According to the Le Leche League, you can lose about one pound per week if you stick to consuming about 1,800 calories per day.
It is also possible to follow a low carb diet while breastfeeding and maintain milk supply. The key is to maintain a calorie intake of at least 1,800 calories after decreasing carbohydrate consumption. Again, however, you’re going to want to check with your doctor before making any drastic changes to your diet—and keep in mind that your baby may react to new foods introduced to your diet as well.
“According to the Le Leche League, you can lose about one pound per week if you stick to consuming about 1,800 calories per day."
Breastfeeding Diet for Fussy Babies
Speaking of foods in your diet affecting your baby, the good news is: most breastfeeding parents can eat a wide variety of foods without it bothering their nursing baby. Since all babies fuss for a variety of reasons, a fussy little one might not be an indication you’re eating something you shouldn’t. Instead, it is a good idea to watch for other symptoms that accompany the fussiness, according to Kelly Mom, like a rash, projectile spit-up, or itchy eyes.
These are symptoms that could indicate a potential food allergy. If you notice a clear connection between a specific food, like dairy, soy, peanuts, or wheat, you can eliminate it from your diet to see if your baby’s symptoms improve.
How to Eat Healthier While Breastfeeding
For most people, breastfeeding isn’t a great time to cut calories or try to lose weight. Keeping your baby, and yourself, fed is a big enough task!
However, this doesn’t mean you can’t eat healthier. It is possible to eat enough food to nourish your body and maintain your milk supply healthy while still making nutritious choices. If you focus on eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, along with whole grains, healthy fats, and lean protein, you can rest easy knowing you are giving your body what it needs to thrive.
Frequently Asked Questions
What foods to avoid while breastfeeding?
Parents can eat normally while breastfeeding. There is no need to make major changes to your diet! That being said, it is a good idea to practice moderation when consuming caffeine, alcohol, and seafood high in mercury, according to the CDC.
How do you lose belly fat while breastfeeding?
You can lose belly fat the same way you lose fat anywhere else on your body, by eating healthy foods, staying active, and creating a calorie deficit. While you’re breastfeeding, it is important to avoid cutting calories below 1,800, so be patient and take the long approach to losing weight.
What are the best foods to eat while breastfeeding?
Most foods that are healthy for non-breastfeeding people will be good for you while you are nursing. Make sure you are eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, plenty of whole grains, and a moderate amount of healthy fats and lean proteins.
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