Nutrition While Breast-Feeding

Topic Overview

If you are breast-feeding, you should eat 500 calories more each day than are otherwise recommended for a person of your height and weight. You may need even more calories if you:

  • Are very active.
  • Begin to lose weight rapidly.
  • Are breast-feeding more than one infant.

Good nutrition for you and your baby

Eating a balanced diet will help you maintain your health while producing enough milk for your baby. Use MyPyramid as a starting point to plan your diet. Make sure to include daily nutritional requirements for breast-feeding women.

  • Folic acid: You should have at least 400 micrograms (mcg) a day. Liver, green vegetables, orange juice, and whole and enriched grains are good sources of folic acid.
  • Calcium: If you are 18 or younger, you should have 1,300 milligrams (mg) of calcium every day. If you are 19 or older, the daily requirement is 1,000 mg. Dairy products are the best source of calcium. Small amounts are found in leafy greens, canned fish with bones, fortified orange juice, and almonds.
  • Iron: 9 to 10 mg are needed every day. If your iron levels are low (iron deficiency anemia) or if your iron levels were low during pregnancy, you may need to get extra iron by eating iron-rich foods or taking a supplement. Talk with your doctor about your iron needs. Meats are the best source of iron. Smaller amounts are found in cooked dry beans, leafy greens, and whole and enriched grains.

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

  • Do not eat dairy products and need extra calcium.
  • Do not eat animal products. These women may need calcium, vitamins B12 and D, zinc, and iron.
  • Are at risk of a poor diet, such as teenagers, low-income women, and women who are consuming fewer than 1,800 calories a day. These women may benefit from nutritional counseling and taking a vitamin and mineral supplement.

Talk to a nutritional counselor or registered dietitian or to your doctor about a safe, healthy weight-loss diet. For more information, see the topic Healthy Eating.

How foods you eat affect breast milk and your baby

Most foods you eat probably will not affect your milk or 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.

If you drink a lot of caffeine, it can pass to your baby through breast milk. Caffeine can cause irritability and sleep problems in babies. Limiting your caffeine intake, such as having no more than 2 to 3 caffeinated beverages a day, will help. Caffeine is found not only in coffee, but also in tea, cola, and chocolate.


Author Sandy Jocoy, RN
Editor Kathleen M. Ariss, MS
Associate Editor Terrina Vail
Primary Medical Reviewer Sarah Anne Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Deborah A. Penava, BA, MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology
Last Updated May 4, 2009

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