Top Eating Tips for Nursing Moms

By Elizabeth M. Ward, M.S., R.D.

As a nursing mom, you’re the sole source of nutrition for your baby. In addition to other healthy lifestyle habits, diet determines the quality and quantity of your breast milk. Here’s how to eat to nourish your body, and your baby’s.

Calories

Producing breast milk takes energy – about 500 calories a day. Your body uses some of the fat stored during pregnancy for making milk, so you only need to eat about 330 more calories every day than you do when you’re not pregnant. If you nurse for more than six months, the suggested extra daily calorie intake is about 400.

You may be thinking about fitting into your pre-pregnancy clothes, but wait at least six weeks before cutting calories because your body needs time to heal right after delivery. Most nursing women require at least 2,100 calories a day to produce milk and satisfy their own energy needs.

Protein

Breastfeeding requires extra protein in your eating plan – about 25 additional grams daily than when you’re not pregnant. You can get the protein you need from a variety of plant and animal sources. Most pregnant women need about 75 grams of protein a day. Here’s a list of protein-rich foods:

Food Protein (grams)
Meat, poultry, seafood, cooked, about 3 ounces 21 – 26
Greek yogurt, fruit, fat-free, 6 ounces 14
Tofu, raw, ½ cup 10
Peanut butter, 2 tablespoons 9
Milk, full-fat or 1% low-fat, 1 cup 8
Black beans, canned, drained, ½ cup 7
Cheddar cheese, 1 ounce 7
Egg, large 6

Healthy fats

Docosahexaneoic acid (DHA) is an omega-3 fat that is concentrated in the brain and the retina. DHA is passed to your baby through breast milk. Getting enough DHA every day helps maximize your baby’s brain development and his vision.

Consuming the suggested 200 to 300 milligrams on average of DHA daily can be difficult if you don’t eat fish, which is a concentrated source of DHA.

Certain foods fortified with DHA, such as eggs, milk, and yogurt, can help you meet your DHA needs when nursing. The same goes for dietary DHA supplements designed for pregnant and breastfeeding women.

Alcohol

Delivery day has come and gone, and you’d probably like to go back to having a glass of wine with dinner or a martini or two when you’re out. Not so fast – an occasional drink is probably OK when you’re breastfeeding, but don’t make it a habit. Alcohol gets into breast milk, and it can delay the development of your child’s motor skills, such as walking and grabbing large objects.

Caffeine

Coffee, tea, and energy drinks laden with caffeine may provide the jolt you need to get through the day, but they can also have the same effect on your baby.

Babies can’t process caffeine as quickly as adults, and as a result, they may become irritable and have difficult sleeping, perhaps just when you’re completely worn out.

Limit caffeine consume to 200 milligrams or less daily. The following chart provides guidance about caffeine content.

Beverage Caffeine (milligrams)
Coffee-house brewed coffee, 16 ounces 330
Monster Energy, 16 ounces 160
Coffee, generic, brewed, 8 ounces 95
Cola, diet and regular, 12 ounces 47
Tea, black, brewed, 8 ounce 47

Fluid

Breast milk is mostly fluid, so it makes sense that you need more fluid when you’re nursing – about 32 ounces more each day, for a total of 13 eight-ounce cups.

Plain water is preferable, but coffee, tea, milk and juice count toward your fluid requirements, too. To get enough fluid, drink at least eight ounces every time you nurse your child. You’ll know you’re fully hydrated when you’re urine is clear to very pale yellow.

Vitamin D

If breast milk has a fault, it’s that it’s low in vitamin D. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that all babies, including those that are exclusively breastfed, consume 400 International Units (I.U.) of vitamin D daily from the first days of life to help prevent rickets, a bone-weakening disease.

Ask your pediatrician about giving your child vitamin D drops. Children who drink adequate amounts of infant formula get sufficient vitamin D.


About the Author

Elizabeth M. Ward, M.S., R.D., is a registered dietitian, a writer, and mother of three. She has worked at the Joslin Diabetes Center and the American Heart Association, and for seven years counseled children and adults about healthy eating and disease prevention at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates in Boston.

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