Nutrition whilst breastfeeding

Maternal diet plays a role on the volume and quality of some nutrients present in breast milk which are needed to support the phenomenal growth and high energy needs of the infant. Infancy is the time beginning from birth to the first year of life; a period during which their nutrition may impact their health in adulthood life. Breast milk quality is maintained at the expense of the mother therefore it’s important that you meet your nurturing needs through high quality nutritious foods to safeguard your health and the health of your baby.To supply adequate breast milk over the next 6 months, you’ll require an additional 2000 kJ a day. The fat stores laid down during pregnancy do contribute some energy although the majority of additional energy is met by increasing your intake of nutrient-dense foods. Nursing an infant requires patience, energy and self-confidence, all of which good nutrition helps to provide. You can meet all your nutrient requirements from a well-balanced diet. You’ll notice that intakes for protein and essential fatty acids don’t increase but still remain relatively high as they were during pregnancy. Carbohydrate intake further increases to replenish the glucose stores that nursing mothers need to produce the sugar milk called lactose. The food guide below can be used as a guide to meet your increased demands for energy expenditure.

The recommended daily servings from each food group from Food for health: Dietary Guidelines for Australian Adults (includes the adjustments made for calcium according to the Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand, 2006)

Food group Number of serves 8100-10900kJ/day Example of a serve
Grains 5 to 7 2 slices of whole grained or soy bread
1 cup of whole grain cereal
1 cup cooked pasta or rice
½ cup muesli
Fruits 5 1 medium/large sized fruit e.g. orange
2 small sized fruit e.g. apricots
1 cup of canned fruit
½ cup of fruit juice
1½ tablespoons of dried fruit
Vegetables 7 1 cup of green leafy vegetables e.g. spinach
½ cup of raw or cooked vegetables (refrain from boiling)
Dairy 3 250 mL cup of low or reduced fat milk
200 g of low or reduced fat yogurt
40 g or 2 slices of low or reduced fat cheese
Meat/meat equivalents 2 2 eggs
65-100 g (palm sized) cooked meat
80-120 g (palm sized) cooked fish
½ cup cooked lentils
Extra 0 to 2½ 1 (40 g) donut
3 (35 g) sweet biscuits
½ small bar (25 g) chocolate

Feeling thirsty

You’re probably thirsty throughout the day, especially while breastfeeding and this is a normal sensation because making breast milk requires water. To maintain your hydration, an additional 500 mL (2 cups) of fluid each day is required. You can tell if you are dehydrated by the colour or your urine. Dark yellow and potent smelling urine is indicative of dehydration and clear urine illustrates hydration. Keep a water bottle with you whilst breastfeeding and throughout the day to quench your thirst.

Common nutritional concerns during breast feeding

Some women may need vitamin or mineral supplements during lactation to improve their quality of breast milk. Vegans and vegetarians are susceptible to some nutrient deficiencies therefore it’s recommended that they consult with their dietician or doctor about taking supplements. Due to the diet and soil changes, iodine deficiency is common in certain countries including Australia. Since breastfeeding has the highest requirement for iodine than any other life stage or age group, many healthcare professionals recommend taking an iodine supplement (confirm with your doctor if you have a thyroid condition).

The forbidden indulgences during lactation

You are allowed to indulge in the foods that were forbidden during pregnancy except you should still keep avoiding fish that are high in mercury content. Alcohol can easily contaminate breast milk hence to reduce the risk of alcohol toxicity from creating harm; the safest recommendation is no alcohol consumption. On special occasions, toast to your newborn’s health after breastfeeding or express your milk in advanced for use afterward. It takes on average, 1 hour to metabolise 10 grams of ethanol which is the amount found in one standard drink however, this varies from person to person hence to be safe you should wait at least 2 to 3 hours after one drink before breastfeeding. An averaged sized restaurant serving glass contains on average 1.4-1.6 standard drinks. Smoking is also not advised during lactation for nicotine presents itself in breast milk potentially poisoning the infant increasing the risks of causing a colic attack and cot death. Passive smoke is also harmful to your child, especially in their first year of life, thus you should make a conservative effort to keep your baby away from anyone who is smoking at all times.

Maternal diet may play a role in preventing infant colic

There are particular foods that if eaten by the mother may cause an episode of colic in her breastfed infant. Colicky babies are healthy newborns under the age of 3 months, who cry continuously throughout the day and/or night for no apparent reason. Crying episodes last longer than 3 hours, are viewed more than 3 times per week and these infants look distressed. The causes of colic are not yet fully understood although one possible theory is the mother’s diet. Common high risk sensitivity foods include cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli), chocolate, caffeine, spicy foods and allergenic foods such as diary, wheat, soy, onions and peanuts. You can choose to eliminate these foods from your diet one at a time, to pinpoint the culprit. Be mindful that if you cut out dairy products, you need to consume other foods rich in calcium or take calcium supplements to maintain your health. It’s advised you speak to your doctor first to help identify what particular food types maybe causing the problem.

Weight loss during lactation

Whether breastfeeding promotes weight loss is still uncertain and the amount of weight loss varies greatly between lactating women. Breastfeeding mothers generally lose ½ -1 kilogram a month between the first 4 to 6 months, others may maintain or gain weight. Overweight women who restrict energy intake and participate in moderate activity to result in a loss of 2 kg per month during early postpartum are unlikely to affect their breast milk production and infant growth (3) whereas severe energy restriction may hinder milk production. Thus if you are keen to shed the pregnancy weight quickly, be mindful not to restrict energy and nutrient intake too much for the health of your breastfeeding baby.

Breastfeeding recommendations and when to introduce solid foods

Throughout infancy, nutrient needs are firstly met by breast milk or infant formula and over time, complementary foods made without sugar, salt or seasoning are given when breast milk or formula become insufficient to satisfy requirements alone. Mothers are recommended to exclusively breastfeed their infants for the first 4-6 months on demand which offers the best way to maintain lactation. A good indication of the infant’s readiness for solid food is when they have control over their head and neck, chewing, bringing hands to mouth, sitting up with support and leaning towards food. You’ll be able to tell when your infant is ready to progress to further foods; you can use the table below as a guide. Remember to introduce foods one at a time and to wait at least 2 to 3 days before starting another to determine if your infant develops any allergic reactions.

Table: Data extracted from the book titled, Nutrition: What every Parent needs to know, from the American Academy of Paediatrics

Age in months Appropriate foods
~6 Breast milk as well as food can be given

  • Iron fortified cereals either with breast milk, formula or water
  • Mashed pureed vegetables and fruits
  • Commercial baby food
  • Lumpier mashes of vegetables and fruits
  • Pieces of cooked vegetables and fruits
  • Pieces of bread
  • Soft strips of meat and fish
  • Egg
  • Slowly start to increase these food portion sizes
  • Breastfeed or formula feed until 12 months and continue breastfeeding for as long as you both desire


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