Nutrition During Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding is the best way to provide infants with the nutrients they need for growth and health. Mothers who are breastfeeding may have many questions about the food and drink that are best for their infant. Your diet can affect your breast milk and your baby so use the following information to be fully informed.
Do mothers need more calories while breastfeeding?
Breastfeeding mothers generally need more calories to meet their nutritional needs. Well-nourished lactating mothers have an increased daily energy need of 450 to 500 kcal/day, which can be achieved by a modest increase in a normal balanced diet. Eating a healthy, balanced diet based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) MyPlate Guide will provide mothers with the basics for meal planning. However, nursing mothers require more protein, calcium, and some vitamins.
Should mothers take a multivitamin while breastfeeding?
The dietary requirements for breastfeeding mothers are similar those during pregnancy since the needs for some nutrients increase while breastfeeding. However, there is no routine recommendation for maternal supplements during lactation. Some mothers, such as those with restrictive diets, such as low- calorie diets or vegetarian diets, may not get adequate nutrients through their diet alone and may be at higher risk of nutritional deficiencies. Many clinicians recommend the continued use of prenatal vitamin supplements during lactation.
How much fluid do mothers need while breastfeeding?
Breastfeeding mothers must drink plenty of fluids, such as water, fresh juices, anise, infusions, soup, etc., to compensate for those lost from their bodies through their breast milk. They should drink when they are thirsty, and drink more if their urine appears dark yellow. Mothers should be wary of juices with added sugar and sugary drinks since they can contribute to weight gain.
Are there any foods that mothers should avoid or limit while breastfeeding?
Generally, women do not need to limit or avoid specific foods while breastfeeding. Mothers should be encouraged to eat a healthy and varied diet. Certain foods and drinks deserve caution while they're breastfeeding:
- Seafood: Certain types of seafood should only be consumed in a limited amount. Although seafood can be a great source of proteins and omega-3 fatty acids, most seafood contains mercury or other contaminants that can pose a risk to their infant's developing nervous system.
- Caffeine: Intake of coffee, tea, soda drinks, and other caffeine-containing beverages should be limited to two cups per day (16 ounces) since they may agitate the infant or interfere with their sleep.
- Alcohol: There is no level of alcohol in breast milk that is considered safe for a baby. It is best to abstain from alcohol when breastfeeding or discuss it first with a health care provider.
Could the diet cause the baby to be fussy or have an allergic reaction?
While nursing babies are unlikely to develop a food allergy from breastfeeding, some foods may not agree with the infant. Foods that may cause an infant to be fussy during feedings are spicy foods or gas-producing vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, bell peppers, onions, garlic, and beans. If this happens, mothers should avoid that particular food temporarily and try it again when their baby is a little older.
If your baby becomes fussy or develops a rash, diarrhea, or wheezing soon after nursing, consult a health care provider.
Keep in mind that there is no need to go on a special diet during breastfeeding; focus on making healthy choices, and both mother and child will reap the rewards.
Happy Breastfeeding Awareness Month.
- American Academy of Pediatrics. (2012). Policy Statement on Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk. Pediatrics, 129 (3) e827-e841. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2011-3552
- Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/infant-and-toddler-health/in-depth/breastfeeding-nutrition/art-20046912
- CDC: hhttps://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/breastfeeding-special-circumstances/diet-and-micronutrients/maternal-diet.html#:~:text=An%20additional%20450%20to%20500,per%20day%20for%20moderately%20active
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: https://www.eatright.org/health/pregnancy/breast-feeding/nursing-your-baby-what-you-eat-and-drink-matters
- USDA: https://www.choosemyplate.gov/browse-by-audience/view-all-audiences/adults/moms-pregnancy-breastfeeding/moms-breastfeeding-nutritional-needs
Dima El-Halabi, MSc, RDN
College of Health Sciences
Abu Dhabi University