10 Best Foods to Eat While Breastfeeding (and 5 Foods to Avoid)
Breastfeeding can be a great way to provide your baby with nutrients that support health and development. Similar to pregnancy, knowing what you should and shouldn’t eat, even during breastfeeding, can be confusing. We’ll share our expert recommendations for the 10 best foods to eat while breastfeeding that will support both mom and baby.
Medically reviewed and co-written by Jamie Johnson, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), and Lauren Braaten, Pediatric Occupational Therapist (OT).
Best Foods to Eat While Breastfeeding
If you choose to breastfeed your baby, you’ll want to make sure to optimize your nutrition similarly to how you did during pregnancy. That’s because how you nourish your body during the postpartum period is not only important for the growth and development of your breastfed baby, but it’s important for your own health as a mom.
A nutrient-rich diet can help speed your recovery after birth, promotes milk production, and supports your overall emotional and physical well-being as a busy mom. The good news is that the recommended foods to eat during breastfeeding don’t look too much different from a typical healthy eating plan.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, most people need an extra 200-500 calories while breastfeeding to keep up with the energy demands. This number is different for everyone and will depend on how often you breastfeed, how much milk you produce and the age of your baby.
It’s rare for baby to have an allergic reaction from something in the mother’s diet, but it can happen, most commonly with cow’s milk. Typical symptoms will include blood in the stool, eczema, and abdominal discomfort. Some mothers also notice spicy or gassy foods like garlic and onions can make babies fussy. If so, symptoms should resolve once you stop eating the culprit foods.
You need about 16 cups of water a day while breastfeeding, which can come from food, drinking water or other fluids. It’s a good idea to keep some water next to where you breastfeed to remind you drink up!
A great thing to do before baby arrives is to make healthy freezer meals that can be thawed when you’re ready to eat them. Make meals in bulk so you can have it one night and freeze the rest for another time. Crock pot meals are usually simple and allow you to throw things in the pot and leave it until it’s ready. Take advantage of frozen and pre-cut fruits and vegetables to save time on cutting them up. Also, people will likely be asking how they can help in the first few weeks after baby arrives. Take them up on their offer and ask for a healthy meal. They want to help!
Best Foods While Breastfeeding
The best foods to eat while breastfeeding includes those that are nutrient-rich, such as whole grains, grass-fed proteins and eggs, nuts and seeds, healthy fats, and colorful fruits and veggies like strawberries, bell peppers, broccoli and tomatoes. A healthy postpartum eating plan helps promote healing after birth, prevent constipation, sustain energy levels and much more.
Salmon is a great source of the Omega 3 fatty acids DHA and EPA needed for your baby’s brain development.
Salmon Recipe Ideas:
- salmon salad
- salmon burgers
- salmon tacos
- salmon filet with whole grains and veggies
Eggs are packed with nutrients pregnant women and growing babies need, including protein and choline, the latter being vital for your baby’s brain development and preventing neural tube defects. Most women do not get enough choline, and needs actually increase while breastfeeding, so eggs is an easy way to meet your needs, plus they are so versatile.
Egg Recipe Ideas:
- egg and spinach scramble
- omelet or frittata for breakfast
- a hard-boiled egg for a snack
- egg salad sandwich
- eggs included in homemade baked goods.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts, especially walnuts, are chock full of healthy fats needed for your baby’s developing brain, plus protein, fiber and other nutrients. And raw almonds may help boost milk supply.
How to Add Nuts to your Diet:
- add any preferred nuts or seeds to a salad
- have a healthy trail mix for a snack
- add a few to your favorite smoothie
- use as spreads (almond/cashew/peanut butter)
- eat them plain
High Protein Foods
Protein needs increase by an extra 25 grams than before pregnancy during breastfeeding so make sure to get enough in daily to support your needs.
High Protein Options Include:
- grass-fed beef
- low-mercury fish and seafood
- nuts and seeds
- tofu and tempeh
Breastfeeding can cause calcium to leach from the bones so it’s important to be getting enough calcium. Dairy is a great way to do that.
Dairy Recipe Ideas:
- bowl of cereal and milk
- add yogurt to a smoothie
- yogurt parfait with berries
- cheese and crackers for a snack
Whole grains are full of fiber, vitamins and minerals that support breastfeeding. Oats may help boost milk supply and quinoa is a whole grain high in protein to help meet your needs.
How to Enjoy Whole Grains:
- oat energy balls
- warm oatmeal with chopped peaches
- quinoa and veggie Buddha bowl
- overnight oats
Vitamin D foods
Vitamin D plays a role in many functions in your body, especially with healthy bone development in infants. But deficiency is common among breastfeeding mothers so it’s important to get in foods that have vitamin D, and likely even supplement with vitamin D.
Foods Containing Vitamin D:
- oily fish
- cod liver oil
- some mushrooms
- fortified milk and cereals
Vitamin C foods
Vitamin C is passed through milk onto baby and helps with iron absorption, which is crucial after baby’s iron stores start to drop at around 4-6 months of age.
Foods Containing Vitamin C:
- citrus fruits
- bell peppers
Iodine needs are higher than pregnancy and pre-pregnancy and help with neurodevelopment. The amount in breastmilk can vary depending on your diet so make sure you have iodine-rich foods in your die to prevent cognitive impairments for your baby.
Foods with Iodine:
- iodized salt
Leafy greens, such as kale, spinach, arugula, lettuces, etc, have tons of nutrients that breastfeeding mothers need, including vitamins A and C, calcium and fiber.
Leafy Green Recipe Ideas:
Food to Avoid During Breastfeeding
Thankfully, once you deliver your baby, the list of food restrictions you had during pregnancy drastically decreases. In fact, there aren’t any foods that you need to strictly avoid, however, there are still a few you need to avoid or limit.
Too much caffeine
The recommendation for caffeine while breastfeeding is 300mg a day, which is about 2-3 cups of coffee. Note that caffeine is also found in soda, tea, chocolate and energy drinks. Too much caffeine can have an impact of your baby’s sleep and cause him to irritable.
The CDC recommends limiting alcoholic beverages to one standard drink a day for breastfeeding mothers and waiting 2 hours after drinking to breastfeed. Alcohol peaks 30-60 minutes after your last drink and can decrease milk production by 20%.
High Mercury Fish
Mercury is toxic, especially to infants and kids who are more susceptible to mercury poisoning, which can cause intellectual disabilities, impaired motor skills and speech and language development. Limit tilefish from the Gulf of Mexico, swordfish, shark, king mackerel, bigeye tuna, marlin and orange roughy.
Foods that Baby may be Sensitive to
Most babies are not affected negatively by a mother’s diet, but if you find your baby is fussy after breastfeeding, you may want to try cutting back on dairy, spicy foods, and gassy vegetables like onions, garlic, broccoli, and cauliflower.