Breastfeeding requires extra nutrition, making healthy eating just as important post-pregnancy. Compared to women who are not, women who are exclusively breastfeeding use 400 to 500 calories daily to make the full amount of milk most babies need from birth to 6 months. Two-thirds of those calories should come from meals and snacks containing foods from all five food groups. The remaining calories come from the weight gained during pregnancy. While many women find breastfeeding helps them lose weight, weight loss varies among mothers depending on physical activity, the amount of weight gained during pregnancy and how much breast milk is produced.
A slow, gradual weight loss of 1 pound per week or 4 pounds per month is a safe goal for breastfeeding moms who want to return to their pre-pregnancy weight. Women who eat less than 1,800 calories per day may reduce the amount of milk their bodies make. Stress, anxiety and fatigue also can decrease milk production. Do yourself and your baby a favor — relax and sit down to eat three meals per day. Be sure to drink plenty of fluids and choose healthy snacks between meals. Moderate-intensity physical activity, such as brisk walking, also is good for you and will not reduce milk volume.
Choosing the Right Foods
Eating right while breastfeeding is not complicated and it does not need to be bland. Mothers from many cultures breastfeed successfully on a diet of widely varied foods. Follow these guidelines to reach a healthy weight while keeping your baby well-nourished.
- Eat a variety of foods from all five food groups. Visit ChooseMyPlate.gov to get a personalized eating plan for breastfeeding women.
- For protein, choose lean meat, skinless poultry, fish, shellfish, beans, eggs, nuts and seeds. Eat eight to 12 ounces per week of a variety of seafood from lower mercury sources. No more than 4 ounces per week of albacore (white) tuna, halibut and mahi mahi are recommended. Avoid fish with high mercury levels, such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish.
- Eat colorful fruits and vegetables. Fill half your plate with vegetables and fruit at lunch and dinner, and include fruit and vegetables in snacks. Focus on whole fruits, so limit juice to 1 cup per day and make sure it’s 100% juice.
- Include three servings of low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt or cheese each day. If you aren't able to tolerate milk, try lactose-free milk or calcium-fortified soy milk.
- Choose whole-wheat bread, brown rice and whole-wheat pasta more often than refined grains.
- Use healthful oils, such as olive and canola oil, but in small amounts since they can amount to extra calories.
- Drink enough water and decaffeinated unsweetened beverages to quench your thirst. While you are breastfeeding, your need for fluids increases. Limit caffeine-containing beverages — including coffee, tea and soft drinks — to three or fewer 8-ounce cups a day.
- Make smart food choices that are low in “empty calories.” Empty calories are found in foods and beverages high in added sugars or solid fats including soft drinks, desserts, fried foods and fatty meats.
- Vitamin and mineral supplements cannot replace a healthy diet. Talk with your doctor before taking any vitamin or mineral supplements.
If you have special nutrition needs, consult a registered dietitian nutritionist for a customized eating plan.