Nutrition While Breastfeeding

March 28, 2024

Life with newborns can be overwhelming. You're adjusting to new schedules, on little sleep all while trying to master breastfeeding. It can be easy to overlook your well-being, but nourishing your own body is just as important as nourishing your baby’s. Here are some commonly asked questions about what to eat while breastfeeding and our surprising (or not so surprising) answers. 

Is it true I should eat more while breastfeeding?

It is recommended that lactating caregivers should eat between 330 and 400 more calories a day than they would before breastfeeding. 

Are there certain nutrients I should be eating more of?  

Certain nutrients are important for lactating parents. Iodine and choline, for example, are essential nutrients shown to improve an infant's neurological, nervous system, and cognitive development. You do not need to take a supplement necessarily as these nutrients can be found in many dairy and protein food groups such as eggs, meats, seafood, beans, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. If you feel you are deficient in these nutrients or eat a vegan and dairy-free diet, it’s important to talk to your provider about adding a multivitamin to aid in breastfeeding. 

What if I'm at risk for anemia? Can I do anything to increase my iron intake? 

Postpartum anemia is relatively common but there are several ways to combat its effects. Most of the time postpartum anemia happens if moms experience anemia before pregnancy, but can also be caused by blood loss during delivery. Some symptoms of postpartum anemia are extreme fatigue, dizziness and even low milk supply. In some cases this can be severe. As a new parent it can be hard to tell the difference between these symptoms and being tired. (You will be tired). But if you have any concerns, do not suffer, reach out to your doctor and clinical team for help.

The number one thing you can do to increase your iron is to have an iron-rich diet filled with leafy greens, meats, fish and beans. It is also completely safe to take iron supplements while breastfeeding, but you should talk with your provider beforehand. Vitamin C actually promotes iron absorption, so drinking a big glass of orange juice after your supplements or an iron-rich meal is a good idea.  


Is hydration key?

Yes. Hydration is important for so many reasons, but more so for lactating parents as breast milk is about 90% water. On average about 16 cups of water per day is recommended. Try to drink water every time you’re nursing. But remember there are other ways to stay hydrated as well! Many foods you eat daily are a great source of water. Layering in sports drinks or added electrolytes is OK too! 

Should I limit certain foods?

Actually, no. There is no set list of foods lactating parents should avoid while breastfeeding. A common misconception that spicy foods will hurt your baby’s belly is not always the case. It’s completely dependent on the parent’s general habits. If you’ve eaten strong flavors your whole pregnancy, they shouldn’t affect the baby. It’s important to listen to your body and baby’s reaction to know what the best amount for you is. And as for alcohol, use your best judgment. If you wouldn’t drive, don’t breastfeed. 

Can my baby have an allergic reaction to something I’m eating? 

It’s possible. Some common culprits are dairy, soy, gluten, eggs, nuts or fish. But it’s important to know some reactions may not always mean you have to cut these foods from your diet while nursing. If your baby is experiencing extreme gas or bloody stool and you suspect an allergy, talk with your pediatrician about a path forward. Until then, monitor. Overactive letdown (a strong flow) or oversupply of milk can cause your baby to have similar symptoms like fussiness at the breast. You can talk with your lactation consultant about this, but it is not caused by an allergy. Bottom line, not every belly ache means you should immediately cut out your favorite pizza! 

At the end of the day, the most important way to maintain your supply is to nourish yourself. Try to keep as much diversity in your diet as possible, with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, proteins, and healthy fats. Examples like leafy greens, colorful vegetables, nuts, seeds, and beans are rich in nutrients without additives. Stay as hydrated as possible! But always listen to your body. If you’re hungry, eat! Breastfeeding can increase your appetite, so listen to your cues. Lean on friends and family and always talk to your provider if you have any concerns.