What's best to eat for healthy breastfeeding?

July 20, 2018 Providence Health Team

A healthy diet of produce, lean meats, whole grains and low-fat dairy is optimal for breastfeeding.

Stay away from sugars, saturated fats and some seafood.

Water is best for staying hydrated.

You know breastfeeding has many benefits: Studies have found it can help with everything from reducing the risk of SIDS and childhood obesity to encouraging healthy brain development in premature infants. (Plus, it can help moms lose weight.) But do you know what types of food and drinks benefit breastfeeding? There are certain things you'll want to include in your diet if you're a breastfeeding mom - and certain things you'll want to do without. Here's a look at some ways to build a healthy breastfeeding diet; to keep track of it all, you can create a food plan through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Choose My Plate program.

Eat a healthy diet - just a little more of it. A diet rich in produce, whole grains, lean meat and low-fat dairy is a good rule of thumb for anyone, and it holds true for breastfeeding moms as well. Generally, you want to increase your normal calorie intake by about 300 to 500 calories to keep up with the demands of feeding your newborn. You may find you can keep up your energy level throughout the day by eating smaller meals every few hours.

Limit added sugars and saturated fats. Again, this universal dietary guideline applies to breastfeeding moms, too. Processed snacks, desserts and fried foods are nutritionally empty calories. 

Go green - leafy green, that is. Dark green, leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale and collard greens are an excellent source of nutrients for mom and baby, including fiber, folate, calcium and several kinds of vitamins. Plus, they're versatile - eat them in a salad, soup or casserole, or blend them with fruit in a smoothie.

Bring your A game. Vitamin A can help with proper growth development and infection prevention in newborns. There's a rainbow of vegetables that have vitamin A, such as carrots, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, red sweet peppers and winter squash. When choosing veggies, you can opt for fresh, frozen or canned, but canned versions should be low-sodium and BPA-free.

Don't forget the fruit. As with vegetables, fruits have a wealth of nutrients and should be part of a breastfeeding diet. But avoid fruits canned in syrup, as well as fruit juices - both forms can have too much added sugar. Look for fruit canned in water, or add slices of oranges and berries to water to give it a flavor boost.

Protein is power. Breastfeeding moms need more protein, but that doesn't mean they should chow down on a hefty rib-eye. There are plentiful sources of protein that don't include fatty cuts of meat: poultry, tofu, eggs, seeds, nuts and lean cuts of meat. And don't forget about the many varieties of beans, such as lentils, chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans and pinto beans.

Be strong in iron and calcium. Iron is an important nutrient for a baby's organ growth and development. Fortunately, many of the above foods supply iron: meat, poultry, eggs, leafy green veggies and lentils are just a few. Other sources can include iron-fortified cereals and whole grains. Calcium is another important nutrient for newborn health and is plentiful in low-fat dairy products such as milk, yogurt and cottage cheese. If you're dairy-free, you can get calcium in foods such as leafy greens, soy, oranges and calcium-fortified products such as non-dairy milks. 

Eat seafood - but there's a catch. Certain types of seafood, such as salmon and trout, can be a good source of protein and iron. But others - including swordfish, tilefish, shark and king mackerel - contain unhealthy levels of mercury and should be avoided while breastfeeding. Tuna consumption should be limited; the USDA recommends eating no more than 6 ounces a week.

And always drink your water. You'll need to stay hydrated to produce breast milk, and water is the best way to do it. The common tip is to drink a glass of water every time you sit down to breastfeed, but you should always drink whenever you are thirsty. Because of the sugars, you want to stay away from soft drinks and fruit juices. Some herbal teas can be beneficial for milk production, but others may have herbs that are inadvisable for breastfeeding. There are also different schools of thought on how much caffeine and/or alcohol breastfeeding women should drink, and most run the gamut from very limited quantities to abstaining altogether. Talk with your physician or a lactation consultant about what is best for you and your baby.

Are you an expectant mom or a new mom? Download the Circle by Providence app for free resources, baby and child development updates, checklists and tools to help guide you through every stage of pregnancy and parenting. If you have any questions about breastfeeding, talk with your physician or explore the lactation services provided at the following locations:

Oregon: Providence Breastfeeding Centers

Washington: Sacred Heart Women's Health Center; Regional Medical Center Everett; Providence Pavilion for Women & Children; Providence St. Peter Hospital Family Birth Center

Alaska: Providence Maternity Center, Anchorage and Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center

California: Providence Maternity Care

Montana: St. Joseph Medical Birthing Center, and Family Maternity Center at Providence St. Patrick Hospital


This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

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