Breastfed babies nutritional requirements rely on their mother’s breast milk and healthy diet. A wholesome breastfeeding diet involves a high calorie, high nutrition diet similar to that recommended during pregnancy. While mothers in famine conditions can still produce milk with nutritional content, a mother with poor quality nutrition may produce milk lacking vitamins A, D, B6, and B12. Also, when babies are large or grow fast, the mother’s fat stores gained during pregnancy can deplete quickly, meaning she may find it difficult to eating well enough to maintain and develop sufficient amounts of milk. A nutritionally balanced, nutrient rich diet will help ensure you and your baby are as healthy as possible during breastfeeding.


Nutrient Rich Foods for Breastfeeding

A healthy diet for breastfeeding isn’t all that different than your healthy pregnancy diet. Focus on whole foods and avoid processed food options. Fruits and vegetables provide vitamins B and C as well as micro nutrients like potassium and magnesium. Lean proteins like chicken, fish or eggs give you essential amino acids. Healthy fats like avocados or nuts add vitamin E and omega-3 and 6 fatty acids. Whole grains like brown rice and oats add carbohydrates and can help increase milk production.

Here are examples of foods you can eat to ensure balanced nutrition that you and your baby both will benefit from:

  • Vitamin B1 — Fish, pork, seeds, nuts, and bread
  • Vitamin B2 — Cheese, almonds, nuts, red meat, oily fish, and eggs
  • Vitamin B6 — Seeds, nuts, fish, poultry, pork, bananas, and dried fruit
  • Vitamin B12 — Shellfish, liver, crab, and shrimp
  • Vitamin A — Sweet potatoes, carrots, dark leafy greens, and eggs
  • Vitamin D — Cod liver oil and some mushrooms
  • Folate — Beans, lentils, asparagus, and avocados
  • Iron — Red meat, pork, poultry, seafood, beans, green vegetables, and dried fruit
  • Copper — Shellfish, whole grains, nuts, beans, and potatoes
  • Zinc — Oysters, lean red meat, poultry, beans, nuts, and dairy.
  • Calcium — Breastfeeding draws on your bodies calcium reserves so ensure you are getting plenty. It is recommended that mothers consume1000 and 1500 milligrams of calcium every day while their baby is breastfeeding. Natural sources of calcium include milk, yogurt, cheese, leafy greens like collard greens or bok choy, and legumes.


calcium rich foods for breastfeeding like milk eggs and beans on a table


Benefits of Breastfeeding

Once you’ve given birth, breastfeeding is one of the most important things you can do to protect your baby and promote good health. Best of all, breastfeeding is free.

Aside from saving you money on milk formulas, breastfeeding also helps keep your medical bills lower. Breastfed babies get sick less often with fewer ear infections, respiratory infections, and other problems.

This can be even more important if your family has had a history of allergies. When babies are breastfed, antibodies pass from mother to baby, protecting against illness and allergies. As the baby’s system matures, his body begins to make its own antibodies and be more equipped to handle food sensitivities.

Sucking on the breast also helps with jaw alignment and the development of cheekbones leading to less of a need for costly orthodontic work when the child gets older.

Unlike formula, breast milk is always available, convenient, and ever at the perfect temperature for feeding. It also contains all of the vitamins and minerals your growing baby needs, saving you money.

Breastfeeding also offers many benefits for moms. The baby sucking at the breast causes contractions right after birth, leading to less
bleeding for the mom, and helping her uterus return to its pre-pregnancy shape much faster.

Breastfeeding will also burn calories helping mothers lose weight faster. and creates a unique bond between mother and baby – that formula simply cannot do.


How is Breast Milk Made?

If you are pregnant or have ever been pregnant, you probably noticed a metamorphosis in your breasts. Changes like tenderness or swelling may be one of the earliest clues you have conceived. Color changes in the areola is also an indication of pregnancy. Many experts believe that this change helps newborns find the nipple and latch on to encourage nursing.

Even more incredible than visible changes is the extensive changes taking place inside of your breasts. The developing placenta stimulates estrogen and progesterone release, which in turn stimulates complex biological systems that make lactation possible. Before pregnancy, your breasts are largely made up of a combination of supportive tissue, milk glands, and fat. The fact is, your newly enlarged breasts were preparing for pregnancy since you were in your mother’s womb!

Your main milk ducts were already formed at birth. A flood of estrogen at puberty caused them to grow and swell and during pregnancy, those glands kicked into high gear. Before your baby arrives, glandular tissue replaces most fat cells and accounts for your bigger breasts. Each breast may actually increase by as much as 1 1/2 pounds!

Nestled among the fatty cells and glandular tissue is an intricate network of channels or canals known as the milk ducts. Pregnancy hormones cause these ducts to increase in number and size, with ducts branching off into smaller canals near the chest wall known as ductules. Alveoli, a cluster of smaller sacs, cap the end of each duct. These clusters of alveoli are known as a lobule, and clusters of lobule is known as a lobes. Each breast contains about 15 – 20 lobes, with one milk duct for every lobe.

Milk is produced inside the alveoli, when tiny muscles surrounding the alveoil squeeze and push the milk out of glands into ductules. Those ductules lead to bigger ducts that widen into a milk pool below the areola. These milk pools are reservoirs that store milk until your baby sucks it through the tiny openings in your nipples.

Mother Nature is intelligent enough to have fully developed your milk duct system by your second trimester, so you can properly
breastfeed your baby even if he or she arrives earlier than you are anticipating.


Top view of woman nursing baby girl outdoors in backyard.


When to Avoid Foods While Breastfeeding

Most women can eat whatever they like during breastfeeding. Even though some foods with stronger favors can change the taste of breast milk, many babies seem to enjoy this variety in breast milk flavor. The most common flavor changers include chocolate, spices, citrus fruits, garlic, chili, lime, gassy vegetables, and fruits with laxative type effects, like prunes or cherries. Sometimes, your baby may get cranky at the breast after you eat certain foods. If you notice a correlation, simply avoid that particular food.

Having a cup or two of coffee a day is fine, but too much caffeine can interfere with your baby’s sleep or make them cranky. Therefore, mothers that are breastfeeding are advised to avoid caffeine or restrict intake of it. Keep in mind that caffeine is found in many soda’s, tea, and even over-the-counter medicines.

If you have concerns about omitting food groups from your diet, you should talk to your doctor. Avoiding whole categories of foods may cause a nutritional imbalance, and you may need to see a nutritionist for advice on taking other foods, multi-vitamins or dietary supplements.


Is Alcohol or Smoking Bad While Breast-Feeding?

Heavy drinking is also known to harm infants, as well as mothers. If you are breastfeeding, it is best to avoid alcohol or consume minimal amounts at a time. Excessive alcohol consumption by the mother can result in irritability, sleeplessness, and increased feeding in the infant.
An alcoholic beverage every now and then is ok, but more than one drink at a time can increase your blood alcohol level and the alcohol level in your breast milk.
If you plan to have more than one drink, it’s best to wait two hours or more per drink before you resume nursing or breastfeeding, and avoid any heavy drinking.

Breastfeeding mothers who smoke should use caution. Twenty cigarettes a day or more have been shown to reduce milk supply and cause vomiting, rapid heart rate, diarrhea, and restlessness in infants. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is also more common among babies exposed to smoke.



By following a healthy diet and limiting cigarettes and your intake of the alcohol, you’ll ensure that your baby gets the right nutrients during breastfeeding. This life stage is critical – and you want to do everything you can to ensure your baby is as healthy as it can be.

For answers to all your baby-care questions, schedule a Pediatric Care visit with Sunshine’s Dr. Natalie Cassell. For newborns to 18 years old, well-child check-ups with Dr. Cassell focus on developmental milestones, safety, nutrition, your child, and your family’s emotional well-being. Discuss growth, social behaviors, sleep, nutrition, learning, and family interactions with an experienced pediatrician. Get recommendations about everything from breastfeeding and toilet training to screen time and how to get teens to talk.


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