Nutrition for Breastfeeding Moms

If you’re breastfeeding, chances are you’ve been given plenty of advice. How much of it is hooey?

Monica Reinagel, M.S.,L.D./N
5-minute read
Episode #55

You Need Some Extra Nutrition While Nursing

Aside from discovering which foods both you and Baby can live with, there are some special nutritional considerations for nursing moms. First, breast feeding consumes a lot of extra calories…anywhere from 200 to 500 calories a day. That usually works out pretty well because it can help you take off any excess weight you gained during your pregnancy. If, on the other hand, you have lost all the weight you need to and you’re still breastfeeding, you’ll need to eat a little bit extra to compensate for this extra calorie burn.

You’ll also need to up your fluid intake. Most breastfeeding moms find that they are more thirsty than usual and drink more water without thinking too much about it. If your urine is dark and concentrated, though, it could be a sign that you’re not getting enough fluid.

While you’re nursing, you’ll need a little bit more of most vitamins and minerals and other nutrients than you would normally. That’s why it’s extra important to eat a healthy diet—plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, and so on. Most pediatricians also recommend taking a multi-vitamin, just to be sure you’re getting all the bases covered.

D for Deficiency?

I especially want to draw your attention to some recent research suggesting that vitamin D deficiency is quite common in both mothers and infants--especially those with darker skin and those who stay out of the sun or are extremely assiduous in their use of sunscreen. If Mom is deficient in vitamin D, her breast milk will not contain enough to supply Baby’s needs.

The amount of vitamin D in a regular multi-vitamin isn’t enough to correct a vitamin D deficiency.   Short of high-dose vitamin D supplements, which I wouldn’t recommend without a doctor’s okay, the best way to get vitamin D may be for both you and Baby to get a little regular sun exposure—without sunscreen. Not enough to get a sunburn, of course. It doesn’t even need to be enough to tan your skin. But the darker your skin is, the more sun exposure you need to top off your vitamin D supply.

Eat This, Not That While Breastfeeding

Of course you want to avoid alchohol, nicotine, and drugs that your doctor hasn’t specifically okayed. All of these substances enter into breast milk and can affect your baby. Moderate amounts of caffeine are okay.

Contrary to what you may have heard, eating peanuts during pregnancy and while you’re breastfeeding does not increase your baby’s chances of developing a peanut allergy. In fact, early exposure to peanut products, including through breast milk, appears to be preventive.

It’s also fine to eat sushi, rare meat, and soft cheeses, which you were probably advised to avoid during pregnancy. Whether it’s cooked or raw, you do want to watch out for fish containing high levels of mercury, though. Mercury will pass through breast milk and can affect your baby’s developing brain. I’ll post a link to information about mercury in fish, as well as links to lots of the research I mentioned in the show notes below.

I’m also going to include a link to a site run by the USDA called My Pyramid for Moms. I talked a bit about My Pyramid in episode #7 (“Keep your Diet on Track”). They’ve got a special section that can help you determine your special nutritional requirements during pregnancy and breastfeeding and also tips on diet and menu planning to help you be sure your diet is up to the very special job of nourishing both you and your baby.


This is Monica Reinagel, reminding you that these tips are provided for your information and entertainment and are not intended as medical advice. Because everyone is different, please work with your health professional to determine what’s right for you.

Keep in touch! You’ll find me on Facebook and Twitter or send an email to nutrition@quickanddirtytips.com

Have a great day and eat something good for me!


Maternal Intake of Cruciferous Vegetables and Colic in Breast-Fed Babies (Medical Journal article)

Cow’s milk proteins cause colic in breast-fed infants (Medical journal article)

Early flavor learning and its impact on later feeding behaviors (Medical journal article)

Vitamin D Deficiency in Infants and Nursing Mothers (Medical News Today)

Vitamin D Deficiency Puts 40% of Infants and Toddlers at Risk (Washington Post)

Vitamin D Requirements During Lactation (Medical journal article)

Food Allergy Advice May Be Peanuts (Science News)

What You Need to Know About Mercury in Fish (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)

My Pyramid for Moms

Breast Feeding image courtesy of Shutterstock