If you’re a new or expectant mother, you might wonder whether you need to follow a special diet to support your breastfeeding journey.
The good news is, simply following a healthy, varied diet is sufficient to support the health of both you and your breastfed baby.
Many nursing mothers ask: ‘What are the best foods to eat while breastfeeding?’
This article discusses the nutritional needs of breastfeeding moms, sensible food choices and what you should avoid to ensure optimal health for you and your baby.
Do I need extra calories while breastfeeding?
Exclusive breastfeeding burns between 500 and 700 calories a day.
To make up for this, breastfeeding women need extra calories from nutrient dense foods.
Nutrient dense foods are whole foods rich in vitamins and minerals, low in saturated fat and free from excess sugar and salt.
Choosing healthy foods helps support the health of breastfeeding parents and breastfed infants.
Healthy foods to eat while breastfeeding
There is no special diet that breastfeeding mothers need to follow.
Simply following a healthy diet containing a wide variety of foods will support your nutritional needs and those of your breastfed baby.
Some suggestions for healthy foods to eat while breastfeeding are:
- Iron rich foods, such as red meat, poultry, legumes and dried fruit
- Foods high in protein, such as lean meat, eggs, seeds and nuts
- Fresh fruits and leafy green vegetables, such as kale and spinach
- A variety of whole grains, such as oatmeal, brown rice and multigrain breads
- Healthy fats, such as oily fish, avocado and olive oil
- Dairy products, such as cow’s milk, yoghurt and cheese, or other foods high in calcium, such as sesame seeds, chia seeds and tofu.
It’s also a good idea to continue to take prenatal vitamins, to avoid any dietary deficiencies.
Can specific foods increase breast milk supply?
A few foods are thought to increase breast milk production in lactating parents. These foods are referred to as galactagogues.
One of the most widely know galactagogues is fenugreek.
Before taking fenugreek to increase breast milk supply, talk to your healthcare provider. There are contraindications that make fenugreek unsuitable for certain people. There have also been cases where mothers have reported that their milk supply had decreased after taking fenugreek.
For more information, you can read BellyBelly’s article Fenugreek And Breast Milk Supply – Does It Help?
Some other foods that are thought to increase breast milk supply are:
- Brewer’s yeast
If you think you have a low breast milk supply, the best way you can increase milk production it is not to eat certain foods, but to seek professional help.
An International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) or your Maternal and Child Health Nurse are two health professionals who can support you through any feeding difficulties you have with your baby.
Often, correct management of breastfeeding is effective in increasing breast milk supply.
For more information, you can read BellyBelly’s article How To Increase Milk Supply | Fast! 9 Best Things To Do.
Can l follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, while breastfeeding?
Vegetarian diets are compatible with breastfeeding, as long as you consume a wide variety of vegetarian foods that contain all the nutrients you need. Many women follow a vegetarian diet and have thriving breastfed infants.
If you do not eat animal products of any kind, or if you follow a strict vegan diet, it is important to supplement your diet with vitamin B12 or to consume adequate vitamin B12 foods.
Vitamin B12 of one of many vital nutrients that affect your baby’s health.
Research suggests that Vitamin B12 deficiency in breastfeeding mothers might contribute to Vitamin B12 deficiency in babies, which can affect their development.
If your diet does not include vitamin D fortified foods, such as cow’s milk, and you have limited sun exposure, you might also need to take vitamin D supplements to avoid a deficiency in you or your baby.
Will foods I eat while breastfeeding make my baby gassy?
Some breastfeeding mothers report that eating foods such as beans, broccoli, cauliflower and garlic makes their babies gassy or colicky.
For more information, you can read BellyBelly’s article How Do I Know If My Baby Has Colic? | 5 Possible Causes.
If you notice your baby is particularly unsettled after you eat a certain food, you might choose to avoid that food or eat it in smaller amounts.
Total elimination of particular foods is not necessary unless your baby has been diagnosed with a food intolerance or allergy by an appropriate health care provider.
Could the foods l eat while breastfeeding cause my baby to have an allergic reaction?
One of the most common childhood allergies is a cow’s milk protein allergy (CMPA); however, it is very rare in exclusively breastfed babies.
Exclusively breastfed babies can develop CMPA through exposure to cow’s milk proteins in their mother’s breast milk.
If your baby has been diagnosed with CMPA, you will be advised to eliminate all dairy products from your diet.
Breastfeeding mothers who eliminate dairy foods from their diet will be advised to take a calcium and vitamin D supplements.
What foods and drinks should I avoid or limit to eat while breastfeeding?
Generally speaking, most foods are ok to eat while breastfeeding.
It’s recommended you limit your intake of highly processed foods, saturated fats and foods that are very high in salt or sugar. These include sugary drinks and energy drinks that are very high in caffeine.
The safest option for breastfeeding mothers is not to drink alcohol. If you choose to drink alcohol, it’s important to plan ahead. Alcohol will be present in your breast milk at about the same level as it is present in your blood. The only thing that will reduce the amount of alcohol in your breast milk is time.
For more information, you can refer to the Australian Breastfeeding Association’s resource on Alcohol and Breastfeeding.
Do I need to avoid caffeine?
Most breastfeeding women can enjoy caffeine in moderation.
If you are particularly sensitive to caffeine, you might notice the effects of caffeine on your baby. This could include, restlessness, jittery movements or poor sleeping patterns.
If this is the case, reduce your consumption, switch to decaf, or have your morning cup of coffee after a breastfeed. That way, your body will have metabolized the caffeine by the time your baby is due for the next feed.
For more information, you can read BellyBelly’s article Caffeine And Breastfeeding | Everything You Need To Know.