You're no longer pregnant, but as a nursing mom, you still want to feast on foods that nourish your baby. Dig in with our primer on the best breastfeeding diet for a happy, healthy infant.

By Brooklyn Presta, Cynthia Ramnarace, and Jessica Hartshorn
Updated July 15, 2021
Advertisement

Here's some good news for nursing mothers: You don't have to follow an impeccable diet to produce nutrient-rich breast milk. But fueling your body with healthy, diverse foods is still important after giving birth. Keep reading to learn more about the best breastfeeding diet for moms and babies.

A Mother's Nutrition While Breastfeeding 

Follow the food pyramid. Following the food pyramid ensures that you'll get the right amount of nutritious foods. Include items from all food groups: grains, vegetables, fruit, dairy, and protein foods (like meat, poultry, seafood, nuts, eggs, and/or beans). You should use sweets and oils sparingly.

Maintain a regular eating schedule. Nursing mothers should also maintain a regular eating schedule. Never skip meals, even when dealing with a jam-packed schedule. Breakfast might seem like the one meal you just don't have time for, but there are a few quick, healthy options: sprinkle berries on cereal or oatmeal, add chopped peppers and carrots to your standard cream cheese bagel, or toss dried fruit and granola into nonfat yogurt. As for dinner, try whipping up healthy entrees in bulk to freeze the leftovers for later (think vegetable lasagnas and soups).

Snack throughout the day. To keep up your energy, snacks are just as important as meals in a breastfeeding diet. Stock your pantry with healthy, easy-to-eat, and prepared foods. High-fiber cereal, instant oatmeal, microwavable veggies, sugar-free yogurt, bananas, and low-fat popcorn make nutritious snacks. Another good idea: Keep smoothie ingredients around so you can whip up a filling, good-for-you mini meal. You may also decide to keep food items in your baby's nursery. Some easy ones that don't require two hands to eat: grapes, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and squeezable yogurt packs.

Breastfeeding Diet
Credit: Tomsickova Tatyana/Shutterstock

What to Eat for a Breastfeeding Diet

Folic acid. This mineral is crucial for preventing birth defects early in pregnancy, but its powers continue through your baby's infancy by encouraging growth. Folic acid is also a friend to your heart. Aim for 500 micrograms each day—slightly less than the 600 micrograms you needed during pregnancy. Try a fortified cereal; 1 cup of Special K and 1 cup of Kellogg's All-Bran Original each has 400 micrograms of folic acid. At dinner, add sautéed spinach, black-eyed peas, or asparagus to your plate.

Multivitamins. Speaking of folic acid, make sure you take a daily women's multivitamin to get this mineral, as well as other nutrients you and your baby need, says Willow Jarosh, R.D., co-owner of C&J Nutrition, in New York City. It will keep you from stressing about a less-than-stellar day of eating. If another baby is in your future, switch back to a prenatal dose of folic acid when you start trying to conceive or get that positive test. Talk to your OB-GYN for more information.

Calcium. If you don't fill up on this mineral must, your body will "rob" your own bones to make sure there's enough calcium in your breast milk to nourish your baby's bones and nervous system. Start with breakfast to hit your daily 1,000-milligram goal: Pour skim milk over cereal, and you're on your way. Some other ideas for heavy hitters: orange juice, cheese, yogurt, and broccoli. For insurance, take a 500-milligram calcium supplement (half your daily need).

Plenty of liquid. It's a myth that guzzling water boosts your milk supply, says Nancy Hurst, Ph.D., R.N., director of lactation services at Texas Children's Hospital Pavilion for Women, in Houston. But it does help your body recover from the physical stress of childbirth and give you more energy. Sip water every time you nurse or pump; you'll know you're drinking enough if your urine is clear.

Omega-3 fatty acids. The more fish you eat, the more omega-3 fatty acids your breast milk will contain, and that's crucial for the development of your infant's eyes and brain, says Lori Feldman-Winter, M.D., a pediatrician in Camden, New Jersey, and a spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics. Chowing down on these healthy fats is also good for you, staving off heart disease and cancer. A 6-ounce salmon filet packs an omega-3 punch, and it's a low-mercury swimmer. Tuna also contains omega-3s, making it ideal for a breastfeeding diet. The canned kind is lower in mercury than tuna steak (which you should limit to 6 ounces a week). Not a fish lover? Snack on a handful of walnuts, add flaxseed to oatmeal, and use omega-3-fortified eggs for your morning scramble.

Lactation foods. Oats, fennel, brewers yeast, and fenugreek  (a common herb used in breastfeeding supplements) are considered foods to increase breast milk supply. Consider whipping up a batch of lactation cookies that contain several of these ingredients. Alternatively, you can buy lactation tea, which is an herbal supplement marketed toward nursing mothers. Many lactation tea options contain fenugreek or fennel, and they can be found at drugstores everywhere.

Frequently Asked Questions for a Breastfeeding Diet

Can I eat foods I avoided during pregnancy? 

You can eat soft cheeses, cold cuts, rare beef, and other potential sources of food poisoning that you avoided during pregnancy. Even if you get sick, you won't pass it on to your baby via breast milk.

Can I breastfeed if I'm vegetarian? 

Breastfeeding moms who follow a vegetarian diet are safe to stick to their meatless meals. Eating animal-derived foods such as dairy products supplies plenty of calcium and protein. For moms who stay away from milk derivatives, a vitamin B-12 supplement is recommended, but like all other supplements, you should consult your doctor first.

Should I stay away from spicy foods? 

Nursing moms don't need to be scared of spicy foods, says Paula Meier, Ph.D, director for clinical research and lactation in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, and president of the International Society for Research in Human Milk and Lactation. By the time a baby is breastfeeding, Dr. Meier says they're accustomed to the flavors Mom eats. "If a mother has eaten a whole array of different foods during pregnancy, that changes the taste and smell of amniotic fluid that the baby is exposed to and is smelling in utero," she says. "And, basically, breastfeeding is the next step going from the amniotic fluid into the breast milk."

Can I drink caffeine while breastfeeding? 

Caffeine is safe in moderation. Your baby may get fussy if you drink more than five caffeinated beverages a day, but in general, a few cups of coffee, tea, or soda won't have an effect.

Can I drink alcohol while breastfeeding? 

Yes, but not habitually, and one drink is the max. Alcohol gets passed to your baby via breast milk. And there's no benefit—tales about beer increasing your milk supply are false, and alcohol won't necessarily help your baby sleep. One drink (a 12-ounce beer, 4-ounce wine, or one ounce of hard liquor) two hours or more before your next breastfeeding session is your best bet for reducing how much baby will receive.

Does my baby have allergies or sensitivities?  

Everything you eat is transmitted through breast milk, but some babies are more sensitive to Mom's breastfeeding diet than others. Some nursing moms note that their babies get fussy after they eat cruciferous veggies like Brussels sprouts or broccoli, or other foods like onions, chocolate, or dairy. But since many babies get gassy from swallowing air during the course of feedings and crying, it's hard to know how much of a role diet plays, and there's not a ton of research that proves these food sensitivities exist. 

That said, if your baby has bloody poops, rashes, or severe abdominal pain, a cow's milk protein allergy could be to blame. This is more serious, and should be checked out by your pediatrician. 

If you have a very gassy baby, it's probably worth going off any food that seems to be a culprit for a week. If that appears to help, avoid that food until your baby is 2 months old (when gas and crying both tend to peak) or has begun to cry less in general, then try the food again. If the symptoms return, you'll have your own data and then you can decide how much your baby's "fuss food" is worth to you right now. 

Being gassy isn't comfortable, but it's not harmful to your baby. Most of these food sensitivities subside within a few months as your baby's immune and digestive systems strengthen.