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New Mom's Guide to Breastfeeding Nutrition
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New Mom's Guide to Breastfeeding Nutrition

Many new moms have questions about breastfeeding nutrition. What is the best breastfeeding diet? Do you really burn extra calories while breastfeeding? Do you need to give your baby vitamin D drops or can they get all the vitamin D they need from breast milk? Read on to reveal the answers to these questions and more in this guide to breastfeeding nutrition.

What is the best breastfeeding diet?

Breastfeeding nutrition starts with eating a healthy, balanced diet. When you’re hungry and running low on sleep and energy, it’s easy to reach for the most convenient option in the kitchen. But remember, nourishing your body helps make sure you can nourish your little one.

It is important to make good nutrition choices while breastfeeding. Try to eat balanced meals and snacks that are rich in healthy fats (nuts and seeds, nut butters, avocado, olive oil, fatty fish), lean protein (lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, legumes), and whole grains to help keep you fueled for the long hours of nursing each day.

Focus on eating lots of nutrient-dense, colorful vegetables, and fruits, and=some whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, 100% whole grain bread, whole grain pasta) each day. These foods are rich in vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients (plant nutrients), and fiber that you and your growing baby need.

Also, eat a variety of different foods and flavors while nursing. You do not need to limit yourself to bland foods, and, there are no specific foods that nursing moms need to avoid.

Unless you determine that something you eat negatively affects your baby, include various cuisines, herbs, and spices in your diet. Eating a variety of flavors exposes your baby to different tastes through your breast milk. This early exposure to different flavors may help your child accept a variety of solid foods when it is time to introduce them.

Do you really burn extra calories while breastfeeding?

The rumors you heard are true. Your body uses more energy to produce breast milk and maintain a healthy milk supply. In fact, breastfeeding mothers typically require about 300-500 more calories than women who aren’t pregnant or breastfeeding.

While breastfeeding may help support healthy postpartum weight loss, it’s still important to eat enough calories to fuel your body and nourish your little one. Make an effort to listen to your body, eat when you’re hungry, and avoid any restrictive diets unless advised by your healthcare provider.

How can you make sure you’re drinking enough water?

The National Academy of Medicine recommends at least 13 cups of fluid for breastfeeding women. But, everyone has different fluid needs. Make sure you keep your water bottle close as a reminder to drink each time you feel thirsty, and consider drinking a glass of water every time you breastfeed your baby to keep you hydrated.

Your urine color is a great indicator of your hydration status. When you’re well hydrated, your urine will be pale yellow to clear. Dark yellow urine means that you are not adequately hydrated, and you need to drink more water.

Although water is typically the gold standard for hydration, milk, 100% fruit juice, sparkling and fruit-infused water, and certain teas can help you stay hydrated, too. Try to limit sugar-sweetened beverages like soda.

Do you need to take postnatal vitamins to help with breastfeeding nutrition?

Nutrient needs during breastfeeding are different than they are during pregnancy or any other time in a woman’s life. Taking a high-quality postnatal supplement formulated for nursing moms, along with a balanced diet, will provide the essential vitamins and minerals needed for both you and your baby.

As a new mom, you may have been advised to continue taking your prenatal vitamin while breastfeeding. However, prenatal vitamins are formulated specifically to meet your nutrient needs while you’re pregnant, not while you’re breastfeeding. After you have your baby and begin breastfeeding, you need more of certain nutrients and less of others. One example is folate. You need less folate than you did at the beginning of pregnancy when it is essential in forming your baby’s neural tube.* 

Another example is the mineral iron. You need less iron than you did during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy when you have higher iron requirements. Unless your healthcare provider advises otherwise, your iron needs are lower while breastfeeding until your menstrual cycle returns.

What are the most essential nutrients to look for in your lactation supplement?

1. Vitamin D

Vitamin D is essential for your baby’s overall growth and development.* Breast milk generally doesn’t have enough vitamin D to meet your baby’s vitamin D requirements.

Vitamin D is important for your health, too. Vitamin D is only found naturally in a few foods, like salmon, egg yolks, and liver oil, so it can be difficult to get vitamin D from your diet alone. Your body can make vitamin D in response to sun exposure, but there are several factors that affect vitamin D production, like geographic location, age, and environmental conditions. Sunscreen use also affects your skin’s ability to make vitamin D. Experts still advise wearing sunscreen and appropriate sun protection when you spend time outdoors, but just know that the sun may not always be a reliable source of vitamin D.

Vitamin D supplements can help fill in the gaps and make sure you and your baby get enough vitamin D each day.

How much vitamin D do babies need? The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends giving breastfed babies 400 IU (10 mcg) of infant vitamin D drops each day.

Unfortunately, giving vitamin D drops is difficult for many mom and baby duos. Most babies do not like the taste of the drops and refuse them by mouth. Some babies still do not like that taste even when mixed into a bottle of breast milk. Research has shown that less than 20% of families adhere to the recommendation to give vitamin D drops each day.

Also, popular brands of infant drops may contain unwanted artificial flavors and colors, and may not be independently tested for content accuracy and purity.

Some breastfeeding mothers may want an alternative to infant vitamin D drops. A recent study revealed that approximately 88% of breastfeeding moms would rather supplement with vitamin D themselves instead of giving their babies vitamin D drops. The good news: you can – read on to find out how you can make sure your breast milk contains enough vitamin D for your baby and eliminate the need for infant vitamin D drops.

How do you make sure your breast milk contains enough vitamin D for your baby?

Research has demonstrated that breastfed infants whose mothers took 6,400 IU (160 mcg) of vitamin D3 daily achieved the same vitamin D blood level as infants who were given the recommended 400 IU (10 mcg) of vitamin D drops each day. In other words, mothers who took 6,400 IU (160 mcg) of vitamin D3 each day provided enough vitamin D to their babies through their breast milk alone.

The implication of this study is important because it gives nursing mothers a safe, simple alternative to drops. For more information about this study, check out Kelly Mom’s interview with Dr. Hollis.

If you are having a hard time giving your baby drops, or you do not want to give your baby drops, consider taking a postnatal vitamin with 6,400 IU (160 mcg) of vitamin D. This provides another option for making sure your baby gets enough vitamin D each day.

2. Choline

Choline is a B-vitamin-like nutrient that supports your baby’s growth and brain development.* Although you may have never heard of choline, it is one of the most essential nutrients during breastfeeding.

Your requirement for choline is higher during lactation than at any other time during your life. Despite choline’s importance, few women get enough in their diet. National survey results show that only 6% of women in the U.S. meet the recommended amount of choline each day. Also, choline is often left out of prenatal and multivitamin supplements because it is difficult to put into a tablet or softgel.

Be sure to include more choline-rich foods (liver, egg yolks, lima beans, fish, chicken, beef, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts) in your diet. Eggs are one of the richest sources of choline. But remember, the choline is in the egg yolk, so be sure to eat the whole egg to reap the benefits of choline. Two egg yolks contain about 250-300 mg of choline.

Also, choose a lactation supplement that helps you meet your choline needs while nursing (550 mg).

3. DHA omega-3

DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is an omega-3 polyunsaturated fat. Omega-3s are considered essential fats because your body can’t make them. You must consume omega-3s through food or supplements.

DHA is vital for breastfeeding nutrition because of its role in infant brain, eye, and nervous system development.* Infant formula manufacturers add DHA to their formulas because of its known benefits during the early months of life.

The amount of DHA in your breast milk is directly related to the amount of DHA you get in your diet. Therefore, it is important to get enough while you are breastfeeding. Fatty fish such as salmon, herring, sardines, tuna, trout, and mackerel are rich sources of DHA – just be sure to opt for low-mercury options. Choose wild-caught fatty fish when you can, as they generally contain a higher percentage of omega-3 fats than farm-raised fish.

Most experts recommend that lactating moms consume at least 200 mg of DHA per day. If you aren’t eating fatty fish each week, choose a postnatal lactation supplement with 200-300 mg of DHA per daily dose.

4. Iodine

Your body requires iodine for healthy thyroid function – it helps produce thyroid hormone.* This mineral is also essential for nerve and brain development.* Healthy thyroid hormone levels are critical for brain development in children.*

Your requirement for iodine is higher during breastfeeding than at any other time during your life. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for iodine for breastfeeding women is 290 mg. However, some women may not get enough iodine through their diet.

Foods rich in iodine include iodized salt, seafood, and seaweed. The American Thyroid Association recommends that women who are breastfeeding take a supplement with at least 150 mcg of iodine.

Eating a healthful diet, staying well hydrated, and taking a high-quality postnatal vitamin supplement are three excellent nutrition tips for breastfeeding moms.

It is also essential to take care of yourself by sleeping when you can and staying physically active once your doctor gives you the green light to do so. Enjoy this special time with your new baby!

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