What Can Nutrition Do for My Breastfed Baby?

Women playing with her newborn baby

The time after birth is a great time for women to reevaluate their nutritional needs. You now have a new baby, and you both need nutritional support. While breastfeeding, a healthy diet should restore your nutritional stores, and support your growing baby.

Women that are breastfeeding will need to consume an additional 500 calories per day1. You may want to decrease your caloric intake to lose weight; however, you need those extra calories to keep up with the energy and nutritional needs of breastfeeding. To avoid reducing your milk supply, you should not lose more than 4-5 pounds each month2. Reducing the quality and quantity of your breast milk can negatively affect your baby.

Sticking to a healthy diet can be difficult and time-consuming but well worth the effort for you and baby. Again, the quality of your nutritional status is directly linked to your baby’s health. Here are some guidelines to follow!

What to eat

A balanced diet that includes fruits, vegetables, proteins, carbohydrates, and healthy fats is a good starting point. You should eat foods from all the different groups whenever possible or mix and match as often as you can. These are the main groups:

  • Protein-Rich Foods: protein is one of the key nutrient groups and is the best source of iron.
    • Good sources of protein: fish or other seafood, beef, chicken, turkey, or beans.
  • Milk products: these are the best sources of calcium which is important for building strong teeth and bones.
    • Dairy sources: yogurt, milk, cheese, and leafy greens.
  • Carbohydrates: carbohydrates are your body’s main source of energy, so a large portion of meals should come from this group.
    • Good sources: bread, cereals, grains, and pasta.
  • Fruits and Vegetables: fruits and veggies are the source of many vitamins and minerals like vitamin A, C, and D and are high in antioxidants.
  • Saturated and unsaturated fats: saturated fats include foods like creams, butter, baked goods, and dairy products. These should be eaten in moderation. Unsaturated fats are known as the ‘good’ fat and help lower cholesterol.
    • Unsaturated fats are found in soybean oil, sunflower oil, and fish like salmon and mackerel.

Vitamins, minerals, and other supplements

Though eating a well-rounded diet provides needed nutrients and energy, your body requires more during the postpartum period. Your body not only supports your health but the continuing health of your baby. Investing in a high-quality supplement can supply needed nutrients especially essential when breastfeeding.

Especially those using special diets (vegetarians, vegans, etc.), postnatal supplements help fill any gaps in your nutrition. Actually, postnatal supplements are helpful to any woman with any diet. Though supplements are not a substitute for healthy eating, they can make monumental differences for you and your child. Here are a few examples:

Vitamin A: considered to be one of the most critical vitamins during the postnatal period by the American Pediatrics Association. Vitamin A is essential for tissue and lung development in newborns.

Vitamin D: a high concentration of vitamin D in your breast milk can help reduce the risk of rickets for your baby.

Iron: just as when pregnant, you can become iron deficient after pregnancy. If you become iron deficient, you become anemic. If you become anemic, your breast milk will be negatively affected which will affect your baby.

Choline: during lactation, your demand for choline increases. Choline is essential for your new baby as it aids in brain and memory development.

All women should strongly consider postnatal supplementation. When taken in safe amounts, postnatal supplements support your body and enhance your breast milk quality.

Fluid intake

Adequate fluid intake is an important part of good health. Women are encouraged to drink water while lactating to satisfy thirst and prevent constipation. Drinking a glass of water before and after breastfeeding will help you stay hydrated. Ample fluids are essential to your health and your baby’s while breastfeeding.

Most liquids are safe options while breastfeeding. However, there are some drinks that you should limit.

Caffeine: small amounts of caffeine (ie. a morning cup of coffee) are fine during the breastfeeding months. However, excessive consumption may adversely affect breastfeeding infants. Some research shows that high levels of caffeine in breast milk can interfere with a baby’s sleep1.

Alcohol: there is no level of alcohol in breast milk that is considered safe for a baby1. If you do consume alcohol, avoid breastfeeding until the alcohol has completely cleared from the breast milk. This typically takes two to three hours for 12 ounces (355 milliliters) of alcohol1. Yet, any alcohol consumption while pregnant or breastfeeding is strongly advised against.


Doing all you can to receive optimal nutrition benefits you and your baby. A well-balanced diet and additional nutritional supplementation is the ultimate power duo. Keep in mind that many women consume less than the daily recommended amounts of essential nutrients. Consult with your physician if you wonder whether your breast milk sustains you and your baby’s needs.

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1) Mayo Clinic. Breast-feeding nutrition: Tips for moms. May 2015. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/infant-and-toddler-health/in-depth/breastfeeding-nutrition/art-20046912?pg=1

2) MedlinePlus. Losing weight after pregnancy. Reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team. Last updated 11/16/2014. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000586.htm


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