Nutrition While Breastfeeding

Topic Overview

If you are breastfeeding, your doctor may suggest that you eat more calories each day than otherwise recommended for a person of your height and weight.

Be sure to ask your doctor about how much and what to eat if you:

  • Are very active.
  • Begin to lose weight rapidly.
  • Are breastfeeding more than one infant.

Good nutrition for you and your baby

Eating a variety of foods can help you get all the nutrients you need. Your body needs protein, carbohydrate, and fats for energy. Good sources of nutrients are:

  • Unsaturated fats like olive and canola oil, nuts, and fish.
  • Carbohydrate from whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes (peas, beans, and lentils), and low-fat milk products.
  • Lean protein such as all types of fish, poultry without skin, low-fat milk products, and legumes.

Eating healthy foods when you are breastfeeding is good for your overall health and for the health of your baby. You may already have a healthy diet, or you may need to make some changes in your eating habits.

It's also important to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. These not only give you necessary nutrients but also help you get fiber. Planning your meals can help you add healthy foods to your diet.

It's also important to make sure you are getting enough vitamins and minerals in your diet, such as:

Some health professionals recommend a prenatal vitamin supplement to breastfeeding women, especially for those who:

  • Don't eat dairy products but need extra calcium.
  • Don't eat animal products. These women may need calcium, vitamins B12 and D, zinc, and iron.
  • Are at risk of a poor diet and women who are consuming less than 1,800 calories a day.

Talk to a registered dietitian or to your doctor about a safe and healthy diet. To learn more, see the topic Healthy Eating.

Artificial sweeteners during breastfeeding

It's not a good idea to diet when you are breastfeeding. Still, it's fine to have a diet drink or artificially sweetened foods now and then. Just be sure they don't take the place of the nutrient-rich foods you need when breastfeeding.

The following artificial sweeteners are considered safe to use in moderation when breastfeeding:

  • Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet). But avoid aspartame if you have phenylketonuria (PKU).
  • Acesulfame K (Sunett)
  • Sucralose (Splenda)
  • Stevia (Truvia, PureVia, SweetLeaf)
  • Advantame (no brand name)
  • Sugar alcohols. These include mannitol, sorbitol, and xylitol.

Saccharin (Sweet 'N Low, Sugar Twin) is deemed safe by the FDA for use during pregnancy and breastfeeding. But you may want to check with your doctor before you use it. Some pregnant women choose to avoid saccharin because it has been shown to cross the placenta to the fetus.

Check with a registered dietitian or your doctor if you have questions about artificial sweeteners.

How foods you eat affect breast milk and your baby

Anything you put in your body can be passed to your baby in breast milk.

Most foods you eat probably won't cause colicky symptoms in your baby. But some infants develop a sensitivity to the protein in cow's milk. If this occurs, you may need to stop eating milk and dairy products.

Here are some other things to think about:

  • Mercury can be dangerous to your breastfeeding baby. It's best to avoid high-mercury fish while you are breastfeeding.
  • Caffeine can cause irritability and sleep problems in babies. It likely won't be a problem for your baby if you have a moderate amount of caffeine, for example, no more than 2 or 3 12 fl oz (355 mL) cups of regular coffee a day. But if your baby seems more fussy or has trouble sleeping, it's a good idea to avoid caffeine or limit your intake. Caffeine is found not only in coffee but also in tea, soft drinks, energy drinks, and chocolate. The total caffeine in an energy drink may be more than the recommended amount.
  • Alcohol can cause a lack of energy and other health problems for the baby when a breastfeeding woman drinks heavily. It can also get in the way of a mom's ability to feed her baby or to care for the child in other ways. The safest choice for your baby is for you to have no alcohol.

If you have questions about what to eat or drink and what to avoid, talk with your doctor, your midwife, or a registered dietitian.


Current as of: October 8, 2020

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Sarah Marshall MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Kirtly Jones MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology

Nutrition While Breastfeeding